The UK General Election in June of this year turned around with some quite unexpected results. One of these, on the other side of my city, was the former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg being beaten by a relatively unknown man called Jared O’Mara, a Labour Party candidate.
It seems that O’Mara was unprepared for power, delaying the announcement of the result so that he could find a 24-hour store open in order to buy a suit, but there was a sense that members of the public were wishing him well. Disabled and relatively young for the job, O’Mara was a Corbynite and, to many, a breath of fresh air.
Now, just a few months later, the man stands disgraced after conservative bloggers found old online postings in which O’Mara displayed blatant homophobia and misogyny. It has now also been alleged that he verbally abused a woman who was on a night out a few months prior to the election, calling her an “ugly bitch”.
The Sheffield Hallam MP has denied the “ugly bitch” claim but has accepted that he did the offensive postings over a decade ago online. He has apologised for this and stepped down from his position on the government’s Women and Equalities Committee.
O’Mara’s current position
While it is clear that a committee dedicated to issues on women and equalities is no place for somebody who has espoused homophobic and sexist remarks in the past, this does leave the committee without a single disabled member; O’Mara had been the only one until he stepped down.
His position in the Labour Party is also currently tenuous. He has been suspended and is under investigation, something that could ideally have been avoided if the party had carried out decent checks into him as a party candidate in the run-up to the General Election. This is the Labour Party that spent so much time banning members who had tweeted occasional support of, say, the Green Party leader or who had publicly posted on Facebook about disapproving of one of Labour’s policies, so that they could not vote in their leadership election.
Could they not have applied at least some of that conscientious screening to someone who was ready to stand for them in Parliament?
What went wrong?
Had O’Mara posted a naïve comment online that turned out to be questionable, or had he laughed at something that, on reflection, was downright offensive, the problem he is facing would not be quite so huge. The issue is that the man repeatedly posted damaging and hurtful statements that, while they happened some time ago, still took place in his 20s, his adulthood.
And, of course, we could all find things we have said in our past that are awful. Like many have said since this story blew up, I’m glad that Twitter didn’t exist when I was teenager, and I dread to think how many dodgy views I’ve grown out of. And maybe this will be a theme with a new generation of politicians: “edgy” comments from music forums will come to the surface and we will learn how to deal with them appropriately.
It is the consistency of O’Mara’s hateful speech that is most worrying to me, and he has yet to prove that he has truly changed. He is saying the right things, but is he working with women’s organisations and LGBT groups to make a difference? Is he putting his money where his mouth is?
Amidst all of this, the fact that O’Mara is a disabled person cannot be ignored. Not only has his resignation from the Women and Equalities Committee left them woefully inadequate to deal with real equalities issues, he has raised problems with accessibility in Parliament as a whole since his election. We need more disabled voices, and we have to ask ourselves – in a climate where MPs like Philip Davies gleefully express anti-women views and the Home bloody Secretary talks about ‘picaninnies’, is O’Mara being made an example of because he is less establishment than his Tory counterparts?
O’Mara is, after all, a keen Corbynite and generally pretty left wing. He is supported by his party leader (until this recent blow up, at least), and this will automatically make him an enemy of many of the leading press publications. Is he being treated more harshly because he’s disabled? Because he’s not a typical MP?
If it turns out to be true that O’Mara called a woman in his establishment an “ugly bitch”, then he must go. If evidence shows up that he still uses slurs like “fudge packer” and “poofter” to describe gay men then there is no place for him in modern politics. The Labour Party is right to be investigating the claims against him, but his status as a disabled person cannot be ignored in a Parliament where kyriarchical convention rules above all.