Toby Young has quit a universities regulator and apologised for sexist and other offensive remarks he made in the past.
The controversial author and Free Schools founder caved to a torrent of criticism as he announced on the Spectator magazine’s blog that he would not take up the post on the new Office for Students regulator.
“Some of the things I said before I got involved in education, when I was a journalistic provocateur, were either ill-judged or just plain wrong — and I unreservedly apologise,” he wrote.
A petition signed by more than 200,000 people demanded he should not be given the post because of a string of sexist Tweets and controversial articles he had written in the past.
Theresa May had said on Sunday that she was “not impressed” by the things Young had said but had insisted he should be given a second chance.
He would not remain in the post if he repeated his offensive views, she added.
On Monday, ministers defended him in the Commons and handed out ‘lines to take’ to Tory MPs, accusing Labour of “hypocrisy” over his appointment.
Last week, Young said he regrets “politically incorrect” and “sophomoric” comments on social media – including references to the size of women’s breasts – and has deleted up to 40,000 tweets he has posted since 2009.
Critics also highlighted his attitude to working class students, comments about “inclusivity” in a Spectator column in 2012, and remarks aimed at gay people.
Young announced his shock decision in a pre-dawn blogpost on the Spectator’s Coffee House website on Tuesday morning.
“The caricature drawn on me in the past seven days has been unrecognisable,” he wrote.
But he said his remarks were now a “distraction” from the Government’s work for the new regulator.
Disabled Tory MP Rob Halfon, who chairs the Education Select Committee, called Young’s remarks about the political correctness of wheelchair ramps in schools “dark and very dangerous”.
He told MPs on Monday: “I’m not talking about the things he has done on Twitter. What I’m more concerned about is some quite dark articles, when he talks about the disabled, when he talks about the working classes are much more significant, in 2015.
“And I have the article here on what he calls ‘progressive eugenics’. I find this incredibly dark and very dangerous stuff.”
On Tuesday, Halfon told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme on Tuesday that Young had “done the honourable thing” by resigning.
He said: “If we are as a party to stand up for what is right, we have to accept when we’ve made a mistake… That is why I thought he was not right.”
Joey Jones, a former journalist turned political operative, said Young’s appointment was “bizarre” and left him thinking “due diligence had not been done,” given all of Young’s past comments were in the public domain.
Jones added it was more damaging to the prime minister because she had defended him at the weekend, saying it could have escaped wider public attention if she had not mentioned it.
“The writing was on the wall. Theresa May actually pinned her colours to the Toby Young mast. It’s more damaging than it otherwise would have been,” he said.
On Monday, Universities Minister Jo Johnson – whose brother Boris was Editor of the Spectator when many of Young’s articles were published – defended him.
Johnson declared “we want to encourage Mr Young to develop the best sides of his personality” but said that his experience as founder of West London free school and director of the New Schools Network would be important for the new universities regulator.
Labour MP Angela Rayner mocked Boris Johnson’s earlier defence of Young, saying: “It seems the Tory old boys network has failed on this occasion.”
“The Toby Young saga has cast great doubt on the judgment of the PM who failed to sack him in the first place,” she said in another tweet.
“He had to go. Tory cronyism could not save his job.”
Shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler said: “The Toby Young saga has further exposed Theresa May’s total lack of judgement in appointing him and her weakness in refusing to sack him.
“She should have removed him from his post, not personally backed him at the weekend and sent a minister out to defend him in Parliament yesterday.”
Ex-Labour MP Pamela Nash, whose breasts Young once tweeted about during Prime Minister’s Questions, said Young’s appointment had been a “massive error of judgement”.
Jo Johnson defended Young after his resignation, saying his “unreserved apologies for inappropriate past remarks reflects his character better than the one-sided caricature from his armchair critics”.
New Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis defended May’s insistence on defending Young.
He told Today: “He has made comments long ago that were inappropriate… he’s made a decision because he became a distraction.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips said Shakira Martin, the president-elect of the National Union of Students and single mother, should replace Young on the OfS.