No, Jared O’Mara wasn’t disciplined for being working class

 We shouldn’t allow low expectations for anyone, whatever challenges they face. 

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First, Jared O'Mara, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, was suspended for a series of offensive comments he made in his twenties, in particular about women. Eight months later, the suspension was lifted. And a week after that, he quit the party claiming it had treated him like a criminal

No part of the saga is satisfactory for anyone involved. The Labour Party and O’Mara have both shown themselves to be lacking in understanding of what his offence means. Both in relation to those he insulted then, and why it matters to those of us in the party who remain determined to wipe the scourge of misogyny from the party and wider society.

O’Mara does have some legitimate complaints and has clearly had a dreadful time. I wouldn’t wish his emotional distress on anyone. The lack of support he received is a stain on the party and its processes.

Nobody – not someone who has been accused of an offence or someone who has made an accusation – should have to wait as long as he did for a resolution of their case. That is unfair on all concerned. In the case of someone suffering already from clinical depression and anxiety, any disciplinary process should seek to minimise, not exaggerate, existing pressure. Labour – a party formed from the expertise of those fighting for workplace rights – should know better how good procedures make a real difference to everyone involved, whatever the outcome is found to be.

However, in his resignation letter, it is not the process that O’Mara chooses to focus on, but that he should have been disciplined (or “made to feel like a criminal” as he puts it) at all. First of all, he minimises his offence, calling it “distasteful”, “clumsy” and an “attempt at satire and sarcasm”. This only goes to reveal how little he has learned. If he had kept the Labour whip, part of the ask of him from the party was mandatory training. That might have shown him not just how offensive his remarks were in the first place, but how attempts to then minimise them are doubly wounding.

The quite light-touch discipline that the party attempt to enforce was in no way analogous to being treated like a criminal. Mandatory training is not the same as hard labour. Indeed, other MPs who have gone through disciplinary processes have welcomed the chance to reflect and truly learn and grow from it. Take Naz Shah for example, who has spoken eloquently about her own journey of learning after being suspended for anti-Semitic comments.

Most concerningly, O’Mara seems to paint the condemnation he has received as an attack not on his personal behaviour, but on his as a “working class, underprivileged, disabled man”. This is an incredibly dangerous route to take.

None of the prejudices that O’Mara previously exposed are working class characteristics. Nobody with a disability gets a pass for sexism, any more than I as a woman would (or would want) a pass for being ableist. Solidarity only means something when it is solidarity for everyone. We shouldn’t allow low expectations for anyone, whatever class they come from and whatever challenges they face. We certainly shouldn’t allow it in those privileged enough to be elected to represent us.

O’Mara was reinstated to a job he was probably unsuited for. It is fair to say that Labour was not expecting to win Sheffield Hallam in 2017, and there was arguably not enough oversight put into his selection in the first place. Had there have been, Labour would have already known about his online history.

He was given a second chance. A chance to continue as a Labour MP, receive training and learn and grow through that into a person with a deeper understanding of equalities and the need to challenge the kind of language he once revelled in.

That he has squandered that chance and turned his back on an opportunity to develop as a man is probably the saddest part of this sorry tale. For his sake, I hope he is offered another chance in the future.

As Labour closes the book on yet another unsatisfactory disciplinary process, I hope it too can seize the chance to fix a clearly broken system. This is as important for the sake of those accused like O’Mara as much as it is for those making accusations. O’Mara let people down with his original offence and has done so again compounding it now. But he too has been let down by a system that is currently working for no one.