Shamed MP Jared O’Mara’s office says he is working “very hard” since being suspended by Labour in October. But they won’t reveal the last time he turned up for work and can't name an occasion where he has helped a constituent. Chris Burn reports.
It was one of the biggest election night shocks on a night full of surprises; former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg losing his seat to a 35-year-old music promoter and DJ who had to borrow his father’s blazer to make his acceptance speech.
The election of Jared O’Mara appeared to be something of a personal fairytale and the embodiment of Labour’s ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ election message; in addition to his work on the local music scene, O’Mara was a disability rights campaigner with cerebral palsy who had dreamed of becoming a politician since he was a teenager.
O’Mara ended his brief acceptance speech by saying: “I would like to finish with a little anecdote. Twenty years ago, there was a 15-year-old with cerebral palsy who went to his careers advisor at school and his careers advisor asked him, ‘What would you like to be when you grow up?’
“That 15-year-old boy with cerebral palsy said ‘I would like to be a politician’. That boy is me. I want every single disabled person, everybody who has learning difficulties, mental health issues or has a physical disability like me or has any illness, I will be on your side, I will be your ally and friend and champion in Westminster.”
In subsequent interviews, O’Mara seemed shocked by his victory and described to a local music magazine how becoming an MP was like “being chucked in the deep end without a rubber ring or armbands”, with his lack of political knowledge making it difficult to hire staff and set up an office.
But he repeatedly reiterated his desire to make a difference, particularly on the issue of disabled rights, while also promising to intercede in the ongoing dispute between Labour-led Sheffield Council and local campaigners on the controversial issue of tree-felling work in the city.
However, just a few months later, his political dream became a nightmare. The political blog Guido Fawkes unearthed a series of offensive, misogynistic and homophobic remarks he had made online in the early 2000s when he was in his 20s; some of which were made around the time he was standing for election as a local councillor.
After resigning from his role on the women’s and equalities committee, O’Mara gave an apologetic interview in which he said he had been on a “journey of education” and blamed the remarks made when he was a younger man on growing up around “lad culture and football”.
He then suggested that while he shouldn’t resign because he could educate people about prejudice, a Conservative MP who had made similar remarks should quit unless “they’d honestly changed and believed in equality, but the very culture of conservatism doesn’t foster that equality”.
The following day after allegations of more recent online comments including offensive remarks about women came to light, which O’Mara denied, he was suspended by Labour in October to allow the party to conduct a full investigation.
Since then, he has cancelled constituency surgeries and hasn’t been seen in Westminster. In December, a statement was released by his office that said O’Mara was limiting his work activities on the advice of his GP, which included attending Parliament.
But it added: “Jared continues to serve as the MP for Sheffield Hallam and continues to represent his constituents in other ways. He and his staff are working very hard to serve his constituents in Sheffield Hallam, including with casework inquiries.”
But a visit to his constituency office by The Yorkshire Post has raised further questions about how O’Mara is representing the people of Sheffield Hallam and whether he is justifying his annual MP’s salary of over £74,000.
The website They Work For You shows O’Mara has not attended a Commons vote since October 18 and has not spoken in a single debate even prior to his party suspension, meaning he is yet to give a maiden speech.
But since his party suspension, he has submitted 45 written questions to the Government on topics like local government funding, Universal Credit and mental health.
O’Mara has claimed just under £10,000 in expenses for travel, office costs and accommodation since becoming an MP – far below the £178,000 his predecessor Nick Clegg spent on similar areas plus staffing costs in 2016/17. Clegg spent a similar amount to other Sheffield MPs last year.
When The Yorkshire Post visited O’Mara’s constituency office on Friday, the day he had previously set aside for his constituency surgeries, there was no sign of him. Maggie Flude, office manager for O’Mara, said he did come to the office but would not say how regularly or disclose the last time he had visited. She said herself and a senior caseworker were dealing with constituents’ questions.
“This office has remained open. We have got a senior caseworker and we are in touch with Jared over problems. We have got emails. On medical advice, he has slowed down. He does come into the office.”
When asked by The Yorkshire Post if she could provide a specific example of a case where O’Mara had assisted a constituent, she said: “No I can’t.”
She said issues raised by constituents are being dealt with.“We are in touch with the MP. If a constituent rings this office, they will get a service.”
When asked if it was known when O’Mara will return to normal duties, she said she was not certain. “Jared is not making any more statements at the moment, there is no further comment.”
Prior to his suspension, O’Mara had promised to pass on a petition signed by 8,000 people asking Jeremy Corbyn to intervene in the ongoing dispute in the city about tree-felling.
But the planned handover fell through after he was suspended.
Tree campaigner Alan Story, who lives in the Hallam constituency, said while what is happening with O’Mara is a “tricky situation” given it is medical grounds which are keeping him away from Parliament, he did not feel the MP is currently properly representing the people he was elected by.
He said O’Mara should be keeping the public updated more regularly on when he plans to return to work or if he can’t yet do so – and also called on Labour to speed up their investigation. “I don’t think a political party should essentially keep a person under suspension indefinitely.”
Labour said it would not give a running commentary on the investigation and when it is likely to conclude.
But unless O’Mara decides to resign, there appears to be little prospect of him losing his seat before the next election. Under the Recall of MPs Act, it is only possible to lose a seat in the House of Commons if a politician is convicted of a criminal offence, barred from the House of Commons for at least a fortnight or convicted of making false or misleading allowance claims.
For the foreseeable future, Sheffield Hallam is represented by a missing MP.
Questions that need answering
Mr O’Mara failed to respond to a series of questions put to him by The Yorkshire Post in relation to his work as a constituency MP.
He was asked how often he attends his constituency office and when the last time he did so was; as well as if he could provide any examples of where his personal intervention had assisted a constituent.
Mr O’Mara was also asked whether he feels he is acting as an effective advocate for the people of Sheffield Hallam and justifying the salary he receives as an MP.
He was also asked when hopes to restart attending Parliament and whether he was frustrated by the apparent lack of progress in the Labour party investigation into him.
Mr O’Mara did not respond to several emails and phone calls.