It feels like people should know by now that what happens on the internet stays on the internet. For ever. Before Jared O’Mara, the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, has even made his maiden speech in parliament, he has resigned from the Women and Equalities select committee over a catalogue of abusive online posts he made prior to being elected in June, when he unseated Nick Clegg.
Dating from around 2004 (when the now-36-year-old was in his early twenties), the comments really do a thorough job of covering the hate-speech bases: homophobia, body-shaming, misogyny. Ranging from nasty references to Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus to obscene homophobic slurs to jokes about having an orgy with Girls Aloud, it’s not a great look for a party that has been dogged by accusations of a women problem. Presumably, either Labour did not conduct a thorough vetting process on their candidate or, when they did, these comments weren’t an issue for them.
At a private meeting last night, O’Mara told fellow MPs and peers, in a reportedly “very passionate, emotional speech”, that he would be stepping down from the committee. Colleagues have since come out to state that they believe he has reformed his views.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has said she doesn’t believe O’Mara should resign as an MP, telling the Today programme: “Jared has said he held those views 15 years ago, but he changed those views and that is the important thing. He recognised it was wrong. People do change their views… it is important that they recognise that and apologise and correct that behaviour.”
I made the comments as a young man, at a particularly difﬁcult time in my life, but that is no excuse. Misogyny is a deep problem in our society
A cynic might question the motives of right-wing critics who have jumped to deride his comments and call for his suspension from the party. It should be noted that Tory MP for Shipley Philip Davies remains on the committee, despite rarely appearing in a news story without being accompanied by the phrase “controversial comments”.
In 2016, Davies told a men’s rights conference that the British justice system favoured women and stated “the feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it”. He has consistently voted against gay rights, same-sex marriage and raising welfare benefits. Meanwhile, the committee, albeit rightfully, has lost one of the few MPs with a disability, which is a shame.
O’Mara’s public statement is at least more convincing than other recent non-apologies, which apologise for the offence taken by other people, rather than the offence-causing actions themselves:
“I was wrong to make [those comments]; I understand why they are offensive and sincerely apologise for my use of such unacceptable language.
“I made the comments as a young man, at a particularly difﬁcult time in my life, but that is no excuse. Misogyny is a deep problem in our society.
“Since making those comments 15 years ago, I have learnt about inequalities of power and how violent language perpetuates them.”
Our society is arguably too quick to discount the possibility of redemption, and people should be allowed to change and reformulate opinions.
But we must hold our politicians to a high level of scrutiny and it is plain that anyone capable of using this kind of language publicly (even when they were much younger) is not the best representative voice on a committee to target inequality.
Update: Since this article was published, Jared O’Mara has been accused of verbally abusing a woman in March of this year. Sophie Evans, one of his constituents, told the Daily Politics show on BBC2 that having initially met O’Mara on a dating app, he was abusive to her on a night out. Although the initial meeting, which “didn’t really work out” ended with “no hard feelings”, O’Mara subsequently called Evans “an ugly bitch” and used transphobic slurs. Evans claims that she is unsurprised by the revelation of previous abusive language and that she has never received an acknowledgement or apology fro O’Mara for his more recent behaviour. O’Mara did not respond to a request for comment from Daily Politics.