THE newly-elected Sheffield Hallam MP, Jared O’Mara, has, quite rightly, been vilified for the degrading comments that he made about women in an online post 15 years ago. Even the innocence of youth offers no excuse or justification for his misogyny, hence his immediate resignation from Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee.
Yet it is not just Mr O’Mara’s offensive views from the past which are causing great embarrassment after Labour was forced to launch an inquiry of its own into his “comments and behaviour” when new sexism allegations emerged. The party also has every right to be very concerned about the politician’s record since he defeated Nick Clegg, the former Lib Dem leader, on election night.
Even though he looked bewildered when the shock result was declared, Mr O’Mara had an unique opportunity, as a sufferer of cerebral palsy, to become not just a powerful advocate for Sheffield and Yorkshire, but to also use his privileged position to champion the rights of the disabled.
However his record to date leaves much to be desired as the controversy intensifies. Since June’s State Opening of Parliament, Mr O’Mara has voted on just 20 occasions prior to yesterday’s proceedings and made no verbal contributions on the floor of the House of Commons, not even on the vexed issue of Universal Credit.
This does not compare favourably with Labour’s three other newly-elected MPs from Yorkshire. John Grogan has taken part in 17 divisions and made 35 verbal contributions – the Keighley MP even led this month’s adjournment debate on devolution. Colne Valley’s Thelma Walker has voted 24 times and spoken on 15 occasions, including a passionate maiden speech on education. And Alex Sobel, the MP for Leeds North West, has spoken 11 times and taken part in 24 votes.
What is Mr O’Mara doing? Even leaving aside the fact that it takes time to set up a Commons office, and become accustomed to Parliamentary life, this is a role which requires diligence and diplomacy. It’s not a role for bystanders – MPs are public advocates for their constitutents and need to make their mark early on. Until now, his background was his best asset. And at a time when every Yorkshire MP needs to be fighting for this region’s best interests, his future actions need to speak louder than his shameful words of the past if he is to even begin to repay the electorate’s faith.