Richard Blackledge meets new MP Jared O’Mara, who has cerebral palsy, wants to be an inspiration for disabled people – and hopes Parliament will move.
After pulling off a stunning political upset by ousting Nick Clegg to become Sheffield Hallam’s first-ever Labour MP, music venue manager Jared O’Mara is pledging to be a tireless voice for disabled people – inspired by his own life experiences.
The 35-year-old, previously best known in his home city for running popular venue West Street Live, has cerebral palsy and has already made waves nationally since being elected in June as he pushes for a greater national debate on how society treats the disabled.
Earlier this summer, O’Mara claimed the Conservative Government’s policies amounted to ‘eugenics’ – controlled breeding. He maintains that the statement was not melodramatic.
“The statistics have been buried. There are people who have been suffering and dying because of Tory policies, with the Lib Dems too before that, but you don’t hear these voices in the mainstream media.”
Jared was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at just six months old. He “can’t exactly pinpoint” the cause, but believes the valium his mother, Linda, was prescribed during her pregnancy was a prime factor.
Linda was struggling with depression at the time as she had suffered a miscarriage 18 months earlier.
She and Jared’s dad, Ian, were later told their son would likely be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life, but years of physio, occupational and speech therapy at the Ryegate Centre in Crosspool worked wonders.
He also needed surgery, including muscle transfers in his leg and arm, to boost his strength.
“We’ve got to the stage where it’s not even noticeable,” he says.
O’Mara believes Parliament should move to new premises because of the Palace of Westminster’s poor access for disabled people.
“I think it’s a wonderful grand old building with so much history, but we’d be better off moving the business of the Commons and Lords to a purpose-built building that’s fit for the 21st century, then that building could be a museum.
“There aren’t even 650 seats for all the MPs in the chamber.”
The new MP has told the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, that a disability access audit must be carried out.
He has also been given permission to wear a plain black T-shirt under a blazer, with no tie, for debates.
“I can’t do up a tie and doing up buttons on a shirt is incredibly difficult for me – it takes me up to an hour. Even then, there’s no way I can do the left cuff.”
Parliament remains far from being truly representative, he believes.
“About one in five people have got a disability of some kind, and one in four have a mental health problem.
“That should be reflected in the make-up of parliament.
“I want to see more younger MPs, transgender MPs, and members with learning difficulties as well, and to keep pushing to get the gender balance to 50/50.”
O’Mara says he is still coming to terms with his new political responsibilities after his shock victory.
After coming into the post with no staff or office, O’Mara has now hired a small team including a parliamentary advisor and has found a constituency office.
When the Hallam result was announced in the early hours of June 9, it became one of the defining moments of the General Election.
As a bleary-eyed, emotional-looking Clegg dealt with the reality that he had lost his seat, Jared – wearing a blazer borrowed from his dad – delivered a hastily-prepared address.
“Thirty minutes before I was up on the podium I was told ‘Right, you’ve won, you’d better write a speech’.
“But I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid.”