YES, it was scandalous that Jared O’Mara – Sheffield Hallam’s absentee MP – should threaten this newspaper with the police after he deigned to turn up at Parliament for last weekend’s ‘not-so-Super Saturday’ debate in Brexit.
He was irked when asked by The Yorkshire Post to clarify the date of his long-overdue resignation.
Yet the real crime is that Mr O’Mara is still a MP, and representing a proud city built on industry and integrity, after apparently admitting over the summer – in yet another sandal unbecoming of an elected representative – that he planned to tender his resignation, and step down, in early September.
Now, before the supposed politician’s supporters accuse me of undue bias against Mr O’Mara who suffers from various disabilities and has a history of mental health issues, let me say that I wrote, shortly after his shock 2017 election win, that he should take the opportunity to become a champion for disabled rights because he could offer personal experience and insight.
Just as Sheffield’s very own David Blunkett overcame blindness to become Home Secretary, and a much respected senior statesman, there was nothing to stop Mr O’Mara following this example.
Or that of current Tory minister Paul Maynard, or Robert Halfon, the much respected chair of the Education Committee, who have never used their own ailments as an excuse.
Yet there’s one difference. They were, and remain, full participants in Parliamentary proceedings. They take part in debates, they ask probing questions of Ministers and they dutifully represent the best interests of their constituents.
This is, of course, in stark contrast to Mr O’Mara who, prior to last weekend, had not taken part in a single Commons division since the beginning of April and who frequently shuts down his constituency office for unspecified periods because of staffing and other issues.
After backing Sir Oliver Letwin’s bill to delay approval of the Brexit deal until it has passed all stages of Parliament, he did take part in subsequent votes this week.
And while Mr O’Mara, now an Independent MP, probably deserves the benefit of the doubt for delaying his resignation – there was still an expectation in September that there would be an early election – this possibility appears to have receded for now.
This state of flux is no consolation to the voters of Sheffield Hallam – or taxpayers of the United Kingdom who continue to pay Mr O’Mara his £79,000 a year salary, plus perks such as free first-class travel on the trains, while he, and his team, appear to do the bare minimum.
Again I sympathise – Mr O’Mara was foisted on the constituency by Labour who then abdicated its responsibilities to its newly-elected MP when he ousted former Lib Dem leader Sir Nick Clegg in the biggest upset of the 2017 election.
But Parliament, as I have written previously, clearly needs to look afresh at the ‘recall’ laws – ironically introduced by Mr O’Mara’s predecessor – which were intended to restore public trust and improve accountability so MPs can be voted out, and a by-election held, if their behaviour falls short of acceptable standards.
At present, 10,000 voters can force a by-election if their MP is jailed, breached rules on expenses or been suspended from the Commons for 10 sitting days.
This is not good enough – the remit of the law needs to be far wider so that the reputations of hardworking politicians are not brought further into disrepute by so-called MPs like Jared O’Mara, and even more so at a time when public trust is already so strained. Now that would be criminal.
THE LIb Dems must have read my recent musings about seats such as Pudsey being a ‘no go’ area for them – a mailshot has now arrived at Richmond Towers.
It contained as many references to Boris Johnson – 10 – as it did to the party’s new leader, Jo Swinson, and basically accused the PM and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of being threats to democracy.
Yet there was only one passing reference to the B-word – Brexit – and no mention of the Lib Dem pledge to revoke Article 50 and declare the 2016 EU referendum result ‘null and void’.
I wonder why. It couldn’t be that the powers-that-be are having second thoughts about a supposedly democratic party pressing so strongly for a very undemocratic policy?
STRONG advice from political grandee Michael Heseltine, as a new rural commission begins work in North Yorkshire, that countryside communities join forces with their urban neighbours to maximise opportunities.
“If you want really to empower the countryside and enrich it, it must be enjoined with the wealth-creating centres that it surrounds,” said the former Deputy Prime Minister. “So, I very much hope that we will see a drive to unitary counties with mayors, not just the present compromises in the local government structure.” Do you agree?
DESPITE The Yorkshire Post’s best attempts, the Department for Transport did not immediately respond last weekend when it emerged that just 53.5 per cent of Northern trains – one in two – were on time over the past four weeks as performance plummets.
I guess it explains this extraordinary admission by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to MPs: “The culture of a railway that actually runs on time hasn’t been at the centre of quite a lot of what we do for quite a long time.” One question.
Just what was the DfT doing under his predecessor Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling?