We’re aware that opinions of Toby Young can differ. We around here regard him as a Good Thing even if others don’t. But there’s a definite sense of false outrage in this story of how he was appointed to the Office for Students or whatever that quango is called. For why is it outrageous if Ministers decide who gets to be part of government? Isn’t that in fact rather what they’re for? We the electorate get to decide who the Ministers are – or at least which party they come from – they decide who they appoint to govern. What’s wrong with this picture?
The vetting process by which Toby Young was appointed to the board of the new higher education regulator was flawed and rife with political interference, according to the results of an investigation by an official watchdog.
The commissioner for public appointments’ report castigates the Department for Education (DfE) and regulator the Office for Students (OfS) for failing to delve into Young’s controversial writings and social media postings, and uncovers a high degree of direct meddling by ministers in Young’s appointment and No 10 Downing Street in other nominations.
The commissioner concludes that the OfS’s board appointments, including Young, showed a “clear disparity” in the treatment of different candidates, and that parts of the process “had serious shortcomings in terms of the fairness and transparency aspects” under the code governing public appointments.
We can, easily enough, construct a narrative which creates the unease. Imagine that, jus’ sayin’, there was an establishment, a deep state if you wish. One that carried on with doing the actual governing whatever the electorate said and whoever got elected. There are those of us – and we’re lightly persuaded at least of the possibility – who might say that’s roughly what we do have in the UK at present. A nomenklatura that gets all the appointments to the parts of the ruling apparatus which actually does things. Why, we could call them the quangocracy if we liked.
Now note what will happen if the elected representatives have the temerity to try to actually govern the country in any detail. Or to decide who might be appointed to those bits which handle the details. It’ll not just be regret over a gravy train being missed that motivates, will it? It’ll be outrage at the very idea that anyone other than the anointed could ever do the governing.
We don’t insist that this is what has happened. Only that there’s more than a whiff of it having done so in this case. And a vast amount of such a smell around the quangocracy itself.