The correct, safe response when asked to contemplate Toby Young is probably to hold no opinions whatsoever about the man. After all, he seems to have constructed a public identity for himself that thrives on attention, and he doesn't give a toss whether that's expressed as love or hate. Pretending he's a figment of one's own imagination may be feasible, except that he's clearly a figment of his own, so he'd take this imitation as being a sincerely ironic form of flattery.
But, damn it, I just can't help myself. I first encountered his name when he was a member of the cabal that produced my favourite magazine of all time, the Modern Review. After his falling-out with La Burchill, he decamped to NYC and reinvented himself as a sort of journalistic Clouseau, getting himself crossed off all the best guest-lists and driving his bosses to near-derangement. Then, on returning to London, he fell in with Boris Johnson's Spectator crowd, reinventing himself as a neo-fogeyish scourge of PC and the liberal left (this from the son of the man who wrote the 1945 Labour Party manifesto). It was in this latter incarnation, as the Speccie's theatre critic, that he committed his most heinous sin, when he suggested that Zoe Wanamaker is not sexy, which surely makes him either blind, witless, a eunuch, a repressed homosexual or a devotee of our old buddy L Brent Bozell.
So, pretty much a downward trajectory so far. But events of the last few days have made me reconsider TY (not that TY) yet again. First of all, he was subjected to a brutal evisceration by Paul MacInnes of the Guardian. According to MacInnes, Young had turned the recent spate of murders of black teenagers in London into a quasi-racist rant in the Evening Standard. And, on the basis of MacInnes's quotations, this seemed to be the case.
But then began the redemption of Toby Young. Not only did he prove himself to be one of the few hacks with the balls to stick up for himself in the public arena of a comments box (rather than the letters page of a paper, or via a quiet word with the editor in the Groucho), but he also posted the original version of his piece on his own site. The uncut version suffered from a couple of lame jokes, but was rather different from the hysterical, glad-to-be-bourgeois drivel that the Standard subbing machine had turned it into. It seems to be a wry love song to all that's great about 21st-century, multi-cultural London; an attitude that seems alien to the Standard's mindset of reflex paranoia. I'm now starting to reconsider that peculiar I-survived-the-tornado-and-ended-up-in-Claridge's piece that gave us all such amusement a few months ago. Maybe that author too had her words twisted to fit the smug, vile world-view that infests every tendril of the Mail group. But if so, she didn't have the guts to come out fighting.
Toby Young, I never thought I'd say this, but you seem like a decent chap again. Although, to be fair, the best old-media response to the murders was by Martin Samuel, in The Times.
First I have kind words for Toby Young, then I say nice things about the Murdoch press. It's the heatstroke, I tells ya...