The row over the Conservative-supporting journalist Toby Young’s appointment to the universities watchdog has been intense. Despite the relative obscurity of this public position, the left wing Twitterati have been besides themselves with rage. The affair has culminated in his resignation, over some tweets he posted. They are certainly a bit near the knuckle, to say the least.
Yet a great deal of Twitter consists of verbal abuse of one kind or another. Perhaps sensitive souls should steer clear of this medium of communication.
There was an altogether more sinister and fundamental aspect to the attacks on Young. He was deemed by many academics to lack suitable qualifications for the post. He did not have sufficient “expertise”.
Danny Blanchflower, a Gordon Brown appointment to the Monetary Policy Committee, called him “totally unqualified” and suggested that universities should boycott the Office for Students until Young is fired. It would be a diversion to recall Blanchflower’s own prediction that unemployment under George Osborne could rise to 4 or even 5 million. Forecasting errors of this magnitude seem an essential qualification to be on the MPC.
Young was educated at both Oxford and Harvard and taught at Cambridge. He is a founder of the successful New Schools Network. So it may not be readily apparent to the non-expert why he lacked the skills to serve on a body which regulates universities.
Perhaps a clue lies in the abuse of Patrick Minford in the latest issue of the newsletter of the Royal Economic Society (RES). Minford, a distinguished academic economist, is a strong supporter of Brexit.
The BBC is attacked in the newsletter for giving publicity to a report by Minford published by the group Economists for Free Trade. An Oxford professor is cited with approval for saying that Minford is not an expert in international trade. His views on the topic are those of a “maverick”.
Very few economists specialise in international trade. I have to confess here that I was one of the few to take the then available option on international trade theory in my final year at Cambridge. But I did so on the grounds that it seemed pretty straightforward and easy.
But a lack of this esoteric expertise has not prevented the “overwhelming majority of the economics profession”, according to the RES newsletter, from disapproving wholeheartedly of Brexit.
Underlying the great turmoil of politics at the moment is precisely the view that the “experts” are less trustworthy and objective than they purport to be. The suspicion is that they attempt to appear knowledgeable to impose the policies they prefer all along.
If we have a question on quantum physics, we might reasonably rely on an answer from Stephen Hawking. More prosaically, we can rely on an engineer to build us a bridge.
But many economic and social issues, such as Brexit or regulating universities, are far more complex. They do not admit answers which are scientifically proven in the same way.
What we are seeing is a concerted attempt by the metropolitan liberal elite to impose a bogus consensus on us. One which, dressed up as “expertise”, excludes any other views.