Jared O’Mara scandal must be a turning point for political candidate selection process: Jayne Dowle

It’s all very well blaming the voters of Sheffield Hallam, many of whom are likely to be students, for electing disgraced MP Jared O’Mara into office at the 2017, ousting former Liberal Democrat deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in a shock victory.

I’ve heard some unsavoury mutterings since Leeds Crown Court jailed 41-year-old O’Mara for fraud, after finding him guilty of attempting to claim £52,000 of taxpayers' money to help fund a vodka and cocaine habit.

O’Mara is now serving a four-year sentence and (some) people are saying we get the politicians we deserve.

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A former manager of a trendy Sheffield city centre bar, local school governor and volunteer for disability information services and charities? When he stood for office six years ago, O’Mara seemed like a breath of fresh air who would keep politics ‘real’. How were voters to know he was a sham, who turned into a crook who made up invoices for an imaginary company, amongst other insalubrious things, such as posting racist, sexist and homophobic messages?

Photo issued by South Yorkshire Police of former Labour MP Jared O'mara who has been found guilty of making fraudulent expenses claims to fund a cocaine habit while in office.Photo issued by South Yorkshire Police of former Labour MP Jared O'mara who has been found guilty of making fraudulent expenses claims to fund a cocaine habit while in office.
Photo issued by South Yorkshire Police of former Labour MP Jared O'mara who has been found guilty of making fraudulent expenses claims to fund a cocaine habit while in office.

The question is, what happened to the checks and balances in the selection process that put him forward as a prospective Parliamentary candidate in the first place? Only now is it emerging that many in the Labour Party were surprised by O’Mara’s victory. If this is the case, then why was he chosen for such a high-profile seat, or indeed any seat at all?

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard is blaming the Labour Party’s perilous state when O’Mara was selected; it was then being led by Jeremy Corbyn and riven by accusations of anti-semitism.

“I think we know why Jared was selected - at that point, the Labour Party was in a mess,” Mr Coppard told BBC’s Politics North, who mentioned that O’Mara was offered help from Labour colleagues when he started to flounder.

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“Jared often turned down that help. Jared is the person who ultimately made the decisions he did, Jared wasn’t fit to be an MP and ultimately the Labour Party has moved on,” Coppard added.

Alexander Stafford, Tory MP for Rother Valley, has pitched into the debate, saying that “there seems to be something really rotten” with the process for selecting Labour politicians in South Yorkshire.

Well, perhaps Mr Stafford would like a reminder that a fish rots from the head down. We’re still dealing with the likes of former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who remains under investigation by Parliament’s Privileges Committee over claims he allowed ‘Partygate’ activities to carry on unchecked at Downing Street as the rest of the nation suffered under Covid lockdowns and restrictions.

And former Health Secretary Matt Hancock showed no respect for his constituents when he went off to Australia to eat witchetty grubs in the jungle.

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What needs saying is that we don’t get the politicians we deserve, because apart from deciding on election day, we have no control over their selection in the first place. When we place our X in the box at the ballot box, we are simply finishing off a process that too often starts in whispered conversations behind closed doors.

We don’t choose the selection of candidates in front of us, whether they’re standing for General or local election.

The choice is made by political party procedure. But when we live in a world in which even those entrusted with the highest office in the land appear to break the rules, is it any wonder there is so much potential for error?

It is such a shame, because such calumny leads the public to lose faith in all politicians.

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O’Mara refused to attend the House of Commons of deal with constituency matters for two years, leaving the good people of Sheffield Hallam was effectively left without parliamentary representation. In a democracy? We might sneer if this was in a corrupt undeveloped nation, but in a country which gave the world the Mother of Parliaments?

Neglect of public service on this scale does the hundreds, if not thousands, of loyal and selfless politicians at all levels of government - national, regional and local - a massive dis-service.

As we gear up for the next General Election, in 2024, I implore those in charge – across all parties – of selecting candidates to put post-it note on their desk bearing the words “remember Jared O’Mara”. The truth is, whatever the problems in the Labour Party in 2017, this shameful individual was enabled, celebrated even when he toppled Nick Clegg, and no-one did anything until he was caught filing false expenses funnelled through a fake autism charity.

If he got through, who else did?

So don’t blame the voters, blame the system. It’s high time for standards in public life to be reinstated and reiterated. And then we really might get the politicians we deserve, instead of the ones who sneak into the corridors of power for their own selfish ends.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​