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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Getting Political Traction from “Distraction”

Theresa May appointed Toby Young, apparently on the understanding that he would “not repeat the offensive tweets and articles” from his journalistic past.

Toby Young didn’t last long as Britain’s director of the Office for Students. Unable to defend his outrageous positions in the past on sensitive issues, including his condescending opinion of both students and teachers, he resigned while offering one of the standard explanations given by those whose less than glorious past is revealed to the public: “My appointment has become a distraction from its vital work of broadening access to higher education and defending academic freedom.”

Citing the “distraction” of his appointment provided Young with an elegant way of distracting attention from his own failings as well as the irresponsible decision-making of those in government who offered him the position.

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Distraction:

The commotion caused by the moral indignation that inevitably follows unanticipated revelations of embarrassing truths about public figures

True to the style of such confessions, Young claimed that it was his appointment rather than his own words and acts that had become a distraction, carefully diverting the blame toward those who contested his qualifications rather than confronting the issues for which he was being shamed.

Contextual note

In the wake of the #MeToo campaign that has recently dominated the news, the media had a field day exposing Young’s patently sexist remarks in the past. He has even been associated with “progressive eugenics” and white supremacy. But the National Education Union, while objecting to his repeated remarks about women’s breasts, more appropriately pointed to his comments about education. “As you will know from the media uproar about this appointment, Toby Young has also made unacceptable comments on disability, students from state schools getting into Oxbridge and children with special educational needs.”

Historical note

British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Young, apparently on the understanding that he would “not repeat the offensive tweets and articles” from his journalistic past. In his resignation letter, Young thanked the PM for “standing by me” and “drawing a distinction between my earlier life and my subsequent record in education.” Young was sorely in need of “distinction.”

As The Independent reports, “Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and Environment Secretary Michael Gove were among other ministers who praised Mr Young, and argued he was ideal for the role.”

With a total lack of irony, Universities Minister Jo Johnson, who refused to call the appointment into question, told MPs prior to Young’s resignation, “We want to encourage Mr Young to develop the best sides of his personality.” This is the language educators usually employ condescendingly when speaking of students who have been found promising but undisciplined.

In the previous edition of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary, we highlighted David Davis’ inability to master the art of irony. Lack of irony seemed to be a permanent feature of this government of the land that over past centuries gave us Chaucer, Jonathan Swift, Spike Milligan and the Monty Python.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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