Ladies and gentlemen, he’s floating in disgrace: The secret of Toby Young’s decades long grift

... I’m sure his Free Speech Union won’t complain about this.

Toby Young stole his status and career. And in every sinew of his body, he knows that. For most people, imposter syndrome is an irrational insecurity; Toby Young should feel that way. He was an imposter at Oxford, he was an imposter in journalism, an imposter in New York, an imposter in education, and most recently has set himself up as the boss of an imposter ‘Union’, acting as if anyone can genuinely call themselves General Secretary.

In a decades long career, Young has been engaged in a grift from the start — nothing is ever right or true, but instead he finds culture war controversies to latch onto, beetroot-faced anger that justifies his existence. Toby Young believes in one thing — the continued celebrity of Toby Young — and will do and say whatever it takes to maintain that.

I am talking about the malevolent egg man for a specific reason, despite knowing that any and all attention is a source of sick joy to him. Yesterday, under the thin mask of his private company poorly masquerading as a union, the Free Speech Union, Young tweeted arguably libellous statements about the Cambridge University academic, Professor Priyamvada Gopal, who teaches in the Faculty of English and is a Fellow of Churchill college.

I’m not repeating Young’s insinuations and false claims here for obvious reasons.

Professor Gopal is an excellent writer, researcher, teacher and academic. She has earned her position and status through the quality of her thinking and research. Toby Young gained his place at Oxford after he failed to make the grade. His father, Baron Young, called academics he knew and greased the wheels. In an interview a few years back, Toby Young said:

After I re-sat my exams, they gave me a conditional offer of 3 Bs in my A-levels but I got 2 Bs and a C. Then I got a letter saying, dear candidate, and I assumed they'd overlooked it. Then I got another letter saying, very sorry, and after a lot of phone calls they felt morally obliged to let me in.

The “lot of phone calls” were made by Young’s father and it was his father’s clout as a peer, respected academic and public intellectual that weighed the scales in Young’s favour. Baron Young was an astounding man. In his lifetime he had a hand in the creation of  Consumers' AssociationWhich? magazine, the National Consumer Council, the Open University, the National Extension College, the Open College of the Arts and Language Line. Toby Young has lived wanking in that shadow.

When Baron Young died in 2002, The Guardian obituary described him as “a towering figure in postwar social policymaking,” pointing to his central role in the drafting of the 1945 Labour manifesto, the blueprint for the welfare state.

In a 2018 profile of Toby Young, The Guardian described him as “juvenile and puerile… a professional troublemaker,” and while he purports to revel in this kind of squalid reputation, it’s clear that Young the Younger despises it. He craves respect and power, the kind of respect and power that his Oxford contemporaries, now ensconced at the heart of political and civil society, have gained and maintain.

In 2018, the catalyst for that Guardian profile was Toby Young’s appointment as a board member at the government’s newly announced education regulator. There was an immediate storm of protest as a range of grim comments from Young’s history as a contrarian columnist floated to the scummy surface — including observations that his wife has “Baywatch tits”, Padma Lakshmi had “massive boobs” when pregnant and “Danny Boyle’s wife’s got huge knockers”. Young did not manage to hold onto the role long enough to make a single meeting. And in that storm, that calling to account for his pathetic words and actions, Young found his new calling — decrying the ‘cancel culture’ that denied him a respectable role.

Because he’s slow of thinking, it took Young until 2020 to formulate his response to people faithfully quoting his own unpleasant words back to him — the Free Speech Union. Joel Golby accurately reflected on the fundamental grift at the heart of the enterprise in an article published in February, just before the pandemic knocked Young’s grifting down the list of things anyone really cares about:

[Young has] very solemnly announced he is the general secretary of the new Free Speech Union (FSU), a sort of grift-cum-movement. For £49.95 a year (£24.95 for retirees and students, though I would pay a sizeable amount of money to observe the day-to-day workings of any student who wants to pay Young to defend them on the internet) Young’s union will protect you if you want to start shit online. “All members will be defended by the FSU if they are penalised for exercising their legal right to free speech,” the silver-member tier promises. “If you’re targeted by an outrage mob on social media, we’ll mobilise an army of supporters.”

In the opening video, Young paints a vision of an all-nations union of people who are just furious that online discourse demands a degree of empathy these days, saying: “Nobody is safe from these witchfinder generals, which is why mavericks and dissenters of all stripes will be welcome in the Free Speech Union.”

The protection level offered to you is known as “Sword & Shield”, which – and if you’ll allow me a moment to exercise my free speech by pointing this out – isn’t a million miles away from the 2018 Shield and Sword far-right festival in Ostritz, Germany, that celebrated Hitler’s birthday. I mean I’m sure that’s a coincidence – as free speech advocates will point out, lots of things have associations with swords and shields, even Pokémon – maybe Toby Young just thinks that Pikachu had some legitimate ideas among the loathsome “pika, pika” rhetoric. Still, come on, guys. Let’s please not attack Young’s right to coincidence. I just bought Twitter insurance off this man.

As many predicted, the Free Speech Union — it’s got about as much to do with real unions as Toby Young has with having a lustrous full head of hair — has proved largely to be a vehicle for its self-appointed General Secretary, a Mr T. Young, to get himself commissions from his usual constituency of tweedy magazines for racists and up-and-coming online platforms for racists.

So far the people that the Free Speech Union has jumped up and down to defend, in the manner of a snide school kid cheering on a bully, just happen to have been fellow right-wing talking heads such as Darren Grimes, a man deemed legally too stupid to fill in a form correctly. It’s quite apparent that the Free Speech Union predominantly exists so that Toby Young has something news producers can put underneath his name that’s less tragic than his correct title Professional Pants Pisser (And Son of the More Talented Baron Young).

I was going to use this edition of the newsletter to detail every scandal that Toby Young has got himself into, blundering around British public life with all the grace and style of a dyspeptic clown in a minefield, but there simply isn’t the space to give his myriad fuck-ups, self-owns, and self-evidently appalling decisions the coverage they deserve.

Read his Wikipedia page and you’ll go on a wonderful trip from his time fucking up The Modern Review to fucking up in New York to fucking up back in Britain with detours through education and politics, before arriving at his current intellectual homes — the Free Speech Union and his tedious (and dangerous) Lockdown Sceptics project which he updates every day with the furious obsession of a middle aged man documenting the history of his complaints to Dixon’s about a faulty deep fat fryer.

I had pondered how to conclude my case against the tedium that is Toby Young and the I remembered that his own wife — in a piece that Young later claimed was essentially fiction — bodied him better than any of his enemies. She wrote:

Toby spent the first week of lockdown in bed convinced he had coronavirus. He didn’t. He is a complete hypochondriac at the best of times and this pandemic has sent his anxiety levels through the roof. He was so worried about catching it that the stress led to a bout of shingles which is what actually laid him up.

But Toby was convinced and started taking hydroxychloroquine, vitamin C and anything else he’d read might alleviate symptoms. There was also a lot of temperature-taking, as well as doing some ridiculous breathing test that has now been discredited. 

Having recovered, Toby’s life has carried on pretty much as normal in lockdown. My life, on the other hand, has changed quite dramatically. Work has dried up and my days are now filled with domestic chores, which with six people in the house all day every day can be quite daunting.

So you can imagine how much I have welcomed comments from Tobe such as: ‘We seem to be managing really well without our cleaner.’

Toby Young is a small man with a small mind and a small mentality. I was going to include a childish joke about penis size in that last sentence — I’ve obviously been reading far too much Toby Young — but predictably, the man himself wrote a weird article, in which he is also racist about Japanese people, for GQ, twenty years ago:

In fact, if I had to opt for one plastic surgery procedure, I'd probably have my penis enlarged. I've never measured it--I don't dare, in case it turns out to be below average--but a couple of extra inches wouldn't hurt. Or, rather, it would hurt but it'd be worth it. This is particularly true today when women are inclined to rank men according to their vital statistics.

For years, insecure men like me have taken comfort from another of Dr Kinsey's findings, namely, that the female orgasm is clitoral rather than vaginal, so the length of a man's penis is irrelevant. Unfortunately, so many women have told me that size does matter, I've had to abandon this salutary myth. It's not the motion of the ocean that counts, apparently, it's the size of the torpedo.

I didn’t have to go digging for that piece, by the way — something he calls “offence archaeology”, as Young has proudly included it along with thousands of other examples of his deathless prose on his own extensive website, the hilariously named No Sacred Cows.

Given that Toby Young has failed sideways and upwards ever since he snuck into Oxford, it’s too much to ask for him to be sued into silent penury. Young is like a tick embedded deep into the arse flesh of the British media, it’s unlikely we’ll be shot of him any time soon. And when the FSU ceases to bring in the cash and attention that Young requires, he’ll be on to the next grift… I mean, ‘project’.