JO JOHNSON is unfit for ministerial office, Labour suggested today after an official watchdog issued a damning verdict on the former universities minister’s appointment of the toxic Toby Young to a new education body.
And Mr Johnson’s successor as universities minister, Sam Gyimah, caved in to pressure and said the government would re-examine its relationship with Mr Young’s lobby group.
The right-wing journalist and free-school founder resigned from the board of the Office for Students after just a few days in post last month. He had come under fire for a series of misogynistic and homophobic comments and for advocating “progressive eugenics.”
Now public appointments commissioner Peter Riddell has found that the process for appointing board members was subject to political interference. He said “avoidable mistakes” had been made. He also noted a “clear disparity” between the vetting processes applied to different candidates.
Granted an urgent question in the Commons, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said Mr Gyimah had a “simple choice” following the report: he could “learn the lessons or make the same mistakes again.”
And she turned up the heat on Mr Johnson, who was reshuffled to become the rail minister shortly after the Young debacle.
“Is [he] really still suitable for ministerial office, given the findings of this report?” Ms Rayner asked.
Mr Gyimah admitted there were “lessons to be learnt” and said the government “will learn them.”
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran demanded the government review a series of grants awarded to Mr Young’s New Schools Network, which supports bids for new free schools.
The minister replied: “The department is looking at the options for support around the NSN and an announcement will be made in due course.”
According to Mr Riddell’s report, ministers raised concerns that the student representative on the new board should not be connected to the National Union of Students or have a record of opposing the government’s divisive Prevent strategy.
Email records mentioned that “No 10 Googlers” had raised concerns over one candidate’s social media records. “Notably, no such exploration or research was made on other possible appointees, including Mr Young,” Mr Riddell said.
"Due diligence was inadequate and not conducted in respect of all candidates on an equal basis, compromising the principle of fairness.” He argued that Mr Young’s “reputation as a controversialist” should have “prompted further probing” before the appointment was made.
University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt said the report “exposed nepotism at the heart of government.”
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