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Wed 22 May 2019
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Louise Raw argues that the commentator and former free schools boss Toby Young has a track record attacking people with special educational needs.

If Greta Thunberg thought she was going to get away with trying to save the planet, she had another thing coming.

After her visit to London this week, online magazine Spiked published a vitriolic take-down of the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, by editor Brendan O’Neill who stated: “The monotone voice; the look of apocalyptic dread. There is something chilling… about Ms Thunberg”.

Police reports show… hate crimes against the disabled, including those with Asperger’s and SENs, have increased dramatically in the last year.

O’Neill remained unrepentant in the face of criticism about the ethics of attacking the delivery of a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), speaking in her second language.

From this point, it was ever only a matter of time until another choleric middle-aged gentleman of the press entered the fray, and Toby Young did not disappoint.


Playing the Player – with Low Blows

On Twitter, Young asked us to “imagine if a 16-year-old who’d been diagnosed with Asperger’s was being lionised around Europe for making speeches… urging kids to skip school until welfare payments were reduced”.

This swipe at Thunberg was part of Young’s defence of Darren Grimes – tangential at best, considering Grimes is 25 and in trouble for allegedly breaching EU spending rules during the 2016 EU referendum, not for ‘making speeches’.

Twitter users asked Young what Thunberg’s AS diagnosis had to do with anything. He did not respond, but he did drop direct references to AS, instead accusing ‘Saint Greta’, as he called her, of spreading “fake news” on climate change.

Young posted Neuding’s extraordinarily detailed analysis of Thunberg’s depression, eating disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome and OCD, and the mental health of her sister, Beata, aged 14.

All through yesterday, Young continued to post articles by others which were less circumspect, however. These included Ross Clark’s Spectator blog accusing Thunberg of being a ‘proxy’ for Left anti-capitalists, and asking without a hint of irony: “Who will dare criticise a 16-year-old girl with Asperger’s?”

Apart from O’Neill, Young, and Clark himself, Paulina Neuding of Quilette, the online journal Young edits, also ‘dared’.

Young posted Neuding’s extraordinarily detailed analysis of Thunberg’s depression, eating disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome and OCD, and the mental health of her sister, Beata, aged 14. She called the sisters “highly dysfunctional” and claimed her concern was that “romanticizing” Greta was “not responsible ” – attacking her, presumably, was fine.

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Punching Down

Young’s own form for indiscreet comments about (though not limited to) young women and those with special educational needs (SENs) and disabilities, is legend.

In a 2015 Spectator article he railed: “Schools have got to be inclusive these days. That means wheelchair ramps… and a Special Educational Needs department that can cope with everything from dyslexia to Munchausen syndrome by proxy.” On learning disability, he opined: “Any exam that isn’t ‘accessible’ to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will be judged to be ‘elitist’”.

Then London Mayor Boris Johnson and Toby Young with Headmaster Thomas Packer at the opening of the West London Free School

Because of comments like this, Young’s 2018 appointment to the Government’s Office for Students was greeted with widespread outrage, and he was ultimately forced to step down. Prior to the appointment, he had hastily deleted an astonishing 50,000 tweets: but they surfaced anyway.

A fair number were devoted to the comparative size of women’s breasts, including the ‘huge knockers’ of Danny Boyle’s 17-year-old daughter (who he thought was Boyle’s wife): perhaps we should be grateful his comments on Thunberg have so far been confined to her politics and AS.

Autistic teenagers get abuse like this and worse every day.

Disability advocate Becca Jiggens

To some, however, Young’s most disturbing comments are those espousing eugenicist ideas.

In a 2015 essay for Australian publication The Quadrant, Young proposed that, once scientific advances allowed the pre-determination of the likely intelligence of a baby, prospective working-class parents would be encouraged to select and implant only the ‘best’ embryos. “My proposal is this: once the technology becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs?”

He called this ‘progressive eugenics’.


Eugenics and Prejudice

As I reported last year, an investigation by the London Student newspaper revealed Young’s attendance in 2017 at an invitation-only pro-eugenics conference at University College London. Before the expose, the London Conference on Intelligence had been held at least three times at the university, which holds the archive of Frances Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin and architect of Eugenics.

Speakers at these conferences included Richard Lynn, formerly of the University of Ulster. Lynn edits Mankind Quarterly, which critics have labelled “Scientific Racism’s keeper of the flame’. He has advocated “eugenic policies that would raise the Irish IQ”, which he says is “low”, and written that “raising the intelligence of blacks or others still remains beyond our capabilities”. Lynn was targeted by the Anti-Nazi League in the 1990s.

Police reports show that not only racism, but hate crimes against the disabled, including those with Asperger’s and SENs, have increased dramatically in the past year.

Disability advocate Becca Jiggens told me that the treatment of Greta Thunberg is nothing new: “Autistic teenagers get abuse like this and worse every day”. Autistic IT manager Mark Robinson says he has recently noticed online gaming communities, and sites like 4Chan, beginning to “throw around ‘autistic’ as a slur”.

When commentators like Young push the so-called Overton window of public discourse to normalise ableism, real people outside their bubbles of wealth and privilege suffer the consequences.   

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