Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Is Toby Young really as naive as he seems?

I mean he can't be? Can he?

I've noticed this before but generally just assumed I'd misunderstood him or something. After all he's Oxbridge educated, had pieces published all over the place, used to be a columnist read by millions and is a successful author.

Surely someone that successful can't be totally naive can they?

Well three things I have seen/heard from him in the last 24 hours make me think he is.

Firstly there was this piece for the Telegraph yesterday where he seems to honestly think that the Conservative Party are going to come to some sort of arrangement with UKIP in individual seats in order to prevent the "vote on the right" from being split in future. Now aside from the fact that it is hopelessly simplistic to think that all who vote for UKIP are naturally inclined Conservative voters (the evidence from Eastleigh proves that is not true by any stretch) the idea that the two parties are going to do some secret handshake based deal is completely unrealistic. For so many reasons. Farage would never do it for a start. He's riding the crest of an anti-establishment insurgency wave. The last thing he is going to do is make a deal with the biggest party currently in government. And the Cameroons have made their views about UKIP perfectly clear. Also if in individual seats UKIP were given a free run (quite apart from how disenfranchising this is and would be see to be) what happens to all the Conservative members and activists in those seats? Are they just going to sit back and happily allow the work they have done over the years to count for naught. Cameron would be risking massive leakage to the upstart party.

The other instances came in quick succession today when I was listening to the repeat of last night's Any Questions (where Young was a guest) in the car. I only actually caught about 5 minutes of it on the way to the supermarket but in that short time he managed to demonstrate a complete lack of appreciation of people without his privileges and also a fundamental misunderstanding of how democracy is supposed to operate.

The privilege point came in response to a question about whether school governors should be paid. He has some experience in this area having set up a free school in London. His response was to say that he wouldn't want governors to be paid because they should be doing it for free for the sake of the school. He then went on to explain how he has been working 40 - 60 hours a week for his school for free since 2009. Now I think there is a genuine argument to be had about whether governors are paid but Young's attempt at oneupmanship by underlining how hard he has worked *for free* is just silly. All I can say is that if he can spare that much time during his week for no pay then he must have substantial financial resources to fall back on. Having been a successful (and presumably well paid) journalist and author for many years that's bully for him. The vast majority of people who would want to help out with something like this would also have to work 40 - 60 hours per week on another full time job and/or look after families etc. His response demonstrated no understanding of how lucky he is to be able to do what he has done and is not an argument against paying governors at all. It's the answer to a different question along the lines of "Toby, please tell us why you are so great.". Maybe that's the prism through which he filters all his questions. It would explain a lot.

The misunderstanding about politics came in response to something Evan Harris on the panel had said about preferring schools to have democratic accountability to local education authorities and councils who can of course be voted out if they get things wrong. Young took exception to this and then tried to use the example of Chris Huhne to prove that democratic accountability doesn't work properly. I'm paraphrasing but his argument was that Huhne tried to pervert the course of justice and yet the Lib Dems still managed to retain the seat, hence somehow proving his point. What an utterly, utterly bizarre thing to say. Nobody else in the party knew that he was guilty of this until a few weeks ago when he suddenly stood down. He did not perform these actions on behalf of the party, he did them as Chris Huhne and he will take the consequences as Chris Huhne. The idea that it is a travesty of democracy for the Lib Dems to then retain the seat in a by-election with a completely different candidate and that this somehow "proves" that democracy does not work is utterly wrong-headed. It's like how you would expect a child to understand politics working.

Until very recently Toby Young was the main political columnist for The Sun on Sunday. All I can say on the basis of my experiences of his lazy and illogical thinking in the last 24 hours is it is no wonder he no longer enjoys that position.


Nick said...

I think you're being a bit naive to assume it's naivety. It's privilege he's displaying - the privilege of someone who's gone through life in a well-connected bubble and never had to actually engage with anyone significantly worse off with him. Sadly, it's pretty much the same privilege displayed by a large chunk of the Cabinet, though they're normally better at hiding it.

Anonymous said...

As Nick says, his attitude is no different to that of many politicians, regardless of party affiliation. It's nigh on impossible for people that have always had money to understand the perspective of the normal person; probably the biggest problem in UK politics.

Toby Young will never have the faintest idea of what everyday life is like for most people in the UK, similarly, most people will never have any political power or influence. It's naive to think we're ruled by anything other than an elite of media and politicans; we don't live in a democracy at all, it's an oligarchy if not a plutocracy and to me Toby Young is just a minor indicator of that broader picture.