Office for Students boss spoke at conference that featured antisemitic and racist TV show host

He also endorsed the re-election of Hungarian president Viktor Orbán

The boss of England’s university regulator, and the man who ran Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, just spoke at a conservative conference during which platformed a notorious homophobic and racist TV show host.

Office for Students (OfS) chair Lord James Wharton spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) which also featured Zsolt Bayer, who has previously referred to Jewish people as “stinking excrement,” demonised black people and referred to Roma as “animals”.

Lord Wharton said the international conservative conference was a “great chance to pick up new ideas” and an opportunity to “reconnect with friends across the world.”

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), wrote on Twitter: “We are concerned by this issue and have contacted Lord Wharton to seek urgent clarification due to the impact this could have on Jewish students.”

Wharton also took the opportunity to welcome the re-election of Hungary’s conservative party, led by controversial prime minister Viktor Orbán.

“I was in Budapest only a few weeks ago to see the election result there, to see that we can win, just as in Hungary as we have in the United Kingdom,” Wharton said.

Orbán has previously been slammed for introducing “the most homophobic law” in Europe, after he banned the inclusion of LGBTQ+ content in education materials at school.

He also was responsible for “forcing out” a university, and bastion of liberal thought, from Budapest. The president of the Central European University (CEU), Michael Ignatieff, described the move as a “tragic and serious violation of academic freedom in the heart of Europe.”

In a letter to the Conservative Party, chair of the Labour Party Annalise Dodds wrote: “Will you urgently explain whether the Conservatives think it is acceptable for the chair of the Office for Students to publicly endorse Mr Orbán at a time when Lord Wharton is responsible for defending academic freedom in this country? And will you condemn Lord Wharton for sharing a platform with racists, antisemites and rightwing extremists?”

Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson said: “It’s incredibly disturbing that the head of the independent regulator for higher education moves in such circles. There’s no reasonable excuse for keeping such company.

“This is a really bad look for the OfS and completely undermines their stated zero-tolerance policy on racism and antisemitism. The education secretary must investigate Wharton’s attendance at this event without delay. Students from ethnic minority groups and Jewish communities deserve answers.”

The OfS told The Guardian that Wharton was not speaking in his capacity as chair of the university regulator.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “I support the chair of the Office for Students for all his work that he’s doing in improving outcomes for students in our universities.”

Lord Wharton has been contacted for comment.

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