For a start, he has barely turned up for the job. In the Commons, the number of debates and votes he has taken part in is well below average. In his constituency he has repeatedly failed to turn up for work, shutting his office for a whole month this April and cancelling constituency surgeries as he scrambled to hire an entire new staff team, his former team all having quit or been fired.
He also doesn’t represent my values: values of respect and a rejection of intolerance that we should be able to expect in all our politicians. Prior to becoming an MP, he used sexist, homophobic language serious enough to result in an internal Labour Party investigation and formal warning. In a statement last week, O’Mara denied that he had ever received such a warning and defended himself against past allegations. Whatever the truth of this, in that same statement he admitted to sending harassing messages to a female staff member while drunk and ‘‘delusional’’.
Following Labour’s investigation in 2018, O’Mara promised to “restore the faith” his constituents had placed in him during the election, and yet when we urged him to resign in March this year he issued a statement claiming such calls were similar to “a hooligan on the terraces threatening the referee whilst drinking flat lager and smelling of processed meats”.
O’Mara has not shown his constituents, staff, women or minorities basic respect and has not upheld his responsibilities towards them. He has not restored my faith.
This article is not aimed at him, however. While I do not believe his mental health excuses harassment and abuse, I appreciate that it is not constructive to publicly attack (as his former aide Gareth Arnold has done) a man who is so clearly struggling with the demands of a job still poorly designed for anyone suffering from ill health.
What I am taking aim at is a parliamentary system which has allowed O’Mara to remain so long in that job without the support or oversight of his constituents, his party, or his Parliamentary colleagues. The Women’s Equality Party has been campaigning for amendments to the Recall Act 2015 and for changes to the way investigations into MPs are conducted since 2017.
In response to the 2017 Westminster abuse scandal, Parliament finally brought in an Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme last year but MPs voted to exclude investigations of historic cases, effectively letting colleagues like O’Mara off the hook. Recent recommendations mean that this will soon change, but recall conditions remain hugely restricted. At present, constituents can only recall their MPs if they are suspended from the House of Commons for at least a fortnight (which is only possible for a second suspension), are found guilty of a misleading expenses claim or receive a custodial sentence.
Therefore, if O’Mara changed his mind about resigning then never turned up to work again, continued to use misogynistic language and repeatedly harassed the women who work for him, his constituents would be stuck with him until the next election.
If O’Mara had been properly investigated by an independent process rather than by his party, then the initial investigation into his offensive remarks might have resulted in actual consequences. If the Commons kept a record of MPs’ attendance, contacted them to question consistent absences, ensured they held regular constituency surgeries and referred them for sanctions when they fell below a minimum standard – none of which it does at present – then MPs might be more accountable to the people they are meant to serve.
If constituents were empowered to recall their MPs for a wider range of behaviour – including misconduct or harassment – then they might have been able to hold O’Mara to account. The fact that they still cannot shows how urgently this process needs to change.
When an MP is suspended from his party and sits as an independent, as O’Mara currently does, they effectively slip through the cracks of a system in which parties look out for their own at the expense of the public who put them there. Is it any wonder that so many people feel their politicians no longer speak for them?
Charlotte Mead is Sheffield branch leader of the Women’s Equality Party