Mee-oww! Here come the women of Fleet Street, claws unsheathed, revealing the tyrannical tabbies they really are when they realise, sniffing the air through the cat flap, that the neighbourhood wily Tom, whose success they have probably envied for years, is wearing a plastic collar and a stunned expression.
You are probably too busy to care about this latest spat, living as you do outside the media/Westminster bubble, but take note: the now neutered cat could have been part of a government body that dictates how your children are educated.
Toby Young – once a full-time hack, but for several years a founder of free schools – has retreated with ears torn, the price he has paid for a series of bad-taste tweets some years ago. ‘Perennially mediocre, untouchably arrogant,’ wrote one female columnist yesterday. ‘Foul, duplicitous… sloppy… [and] obnoxious,’ wrote another.
Toby Young stood down from his role at the University regulator over ‘obscene tweets’
I worked with Young for years when I was features editor of a London evening paper, and although a senior colleague disliked him – calling him ‘a relentless self-promoter’ – the fact he was funny, affable, a bit shy and usually said yes to my crazy story ideas made him indispensable, given the self-righteous female writers I’d endlessly beg to accept a commission would drive me nuts. ‘But the book’s really looooong!’ they’d whine. And ‘Well, I have to take the labrador out, then pick the boys up from school’.
Yes, Young’s late night outpourings were ill-judged at best, and at worst downright sexist. It is sadly inevitable he had to quit the university watchdog to which he’d been appointed. But you know what I find more insufferable? The holier-than-thou stones being scattered through the glass houses of Fleet Street.
Like those tweets from a female newspaper columnist calling me a c*** and a practitioner of bestiality. Unlike Toby Young, that particular tweeter has yet to apologise; I should have taken her to court, but I was worried the legal fight would bankrupt me; oh, the irony!
I wonder why these volatile, always-think-I’m-right people go on Twitter and Facebook in the first place. Unless you’re 12, Facebook is facile. I can’t stand all those tweets that give you a link to some pompous arse’s latest article; I actually live in hope my articles DON’T go viral, because for every wise-headed reader of the printed page, there are 1,000 internet trolls on the hunt for the slightest offence to inflame their precious sensibilities.
In case you’re wondering at the huge LJ-shaped void in the virtual mediasphere, I’m not allowed on Twitter. I opened an account for a couple of hours in 2011 – mainly to post photos of my cats – only to be shut down swiftly by my then boss.
This wasn’t just because of the death threats and name-calling from people who objected to the fact I happen to think women shouldn’t dress like prostitutes (after that particular musing, Rihanna tweeted that I’m a ‘menopausal mess’ – which in my book is much worse than looking like a hooker).
It is simply because everyone is better off with a filter: a copy editor, or a wife who will tweak an elbow and tell you to shush.
Perhaps in that sense Toby Young has helped educate us all. Tweet in haste, repent for e-ternity.
All of which makes you wonder why anyone who wants to sleep at night would put their head above the parapet. Wasn’t George Orwell prescient when he wrote in his diary in 1942: ‘The only time when one hears people singing in the BBC is in the early morning, between six and eight. That is the time when the charwomen are at work.’ He also wrote, ‘We are all drowning in filth.’ My, aren’t we just.