Jared O’Mara, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, has quit the Labour Party a week after his eight-month suspension for homophobic and sexist social media posts made in his twenties as well as accusations he called a constituent an “ugly bitch” was lifted, accusing his former party of treating him “like a criminal”.
In an open letter to his constituents, O’Mara said Labour’s investigation into his conduct had been unfair, and accused the party of making him feel unwelcome. It comes despite Labour choosing to readmit him with mandatory diversity training rather than refer his case to a quasi-judicial investigation by its National Constitutional Committee, which could have resulted in his eventual expulsion.
It is with great sadness that today I have decided to announce my departure from the Labour Party with immediate effect. This decision has not been taken lightly but has been made following careful reflection of the decision to re-admit me back into the Labour Party following my suspension last October. I feel I have not been listened to or been given a fair investigation as I do not believe they considered my supporting evidence or got in touch with my witnesses. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that the Labour Party no longer shares my commitment to the true definition of equality and compassion.
There is no doubt that I made mistakes as a young man using distasteful language as a clumsy attempt at satire and sarcasm online. But that does not mean that is who I am today. I am sure that there may be many of us who have done things in our past which we wished we had never done. That said, you can’t take it away and I am truly sorry for any offence that I caused.
I didn’t commit any crimes, yet I have been made unfairly to feel like a criminal. Nobody should be made to feel ashamed for mistakes they make when they are young. Someone from a youth charity recently said to me that “young people should be free to be anti-social”. I was not anti-social by definition but agree with the sentiment. It’s part of learning and growing up.
I believe I am the first autistic MP in our history, and this sadly got lost in the narrative of my interview with ITV earlier this week. I ask for everybody to go on the internet and read about autism, and about my other disabilities; clinical depression, cerebral palsy and anxiety. Then, with that reading and research, seek to exercise empathy over apathy and antipathy. All I’ve ever wanted to do in life is help those who suffer more than I do. I ask that you all share this ambition and concern with me.
I also ask my constituents for understanding and sympathy during this challenging time. I would be lying to those of you whom I represent, and those close to me like my parents and sister respectively, if I continued under the pretence that I feel there is a place of acceptance and empathy for me as a working class, underprivileged disabled man within the Labour Party. I have experienced little to make me feel welcome, understood and accepted during this last year.
Finally, I ask the media and general public to be patient with me. I am still the MP for Sheffield Hallam and I am still available to help my constituents with casework if you need my help. I might be leaving Labour but I am still at your side.
I am not perfect, but nor are any of us. And that isn’t a bad thing. We all need to love ourselves and forgive our mistakes, foibles and flaws. Let us all instead celebrate our good qualities and strengths. This is what life experiences to date has taught me and I must share that with you all.
Labour were made aware of O’Mara’s decision to quit ahead of the publication of his open letter. A spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed Jared has decided to resign from Labour after we won the Sheffield Hallam seat from Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems last year. We wish him well for the future.”
A party source insisted the investigation into his conduct had been handled with care, sensitivity and respect for O’Mara’s welfare. Members of Corbyn’s press team had distributed clips of his first broadcast interview since his suspension was lifted – in which he apologised, blamed his comments on lad culture, and admitted he had made three attempts on his own life – to journalists earlier this week.
His broadside will nonetheless fuel growing discontent about Labour’s disciplinary procedures and its handling of complaints against MPs, as well as the fitness for purpose of its candidate vetting procedures.
There is nonetheless some consolation for the party: it can be argued that its electoral prospects in Sheffield Hallam are a fair bit rosier, in relative terms, than they were at the point O’Mara was readmitted last week (I analysed what it meant for Labour in Hallam and more generally here).
His decision to quit negates the need for his constituency party – some of whom expressed concerns about his selection by Labour’s ruling national executive committee ahead of the 2017 election – to attempt to deselect him ahead of the next general election. The process would not have been straightforward and would have only exacerbated already the local party’s already grim PR.
It will also allow Labour to at least attempt to regain some ground on the Liberal Democrats by selecting a new candidate. The Lib Dems – who held the seat from 1997 to 2017 – selected Laura Gordon, a local aid worker, last November, and won every one of the wards that make up the seat in May’s local elections.
While O’Mara has quit the Labour whip as well as his party membership, it remains to be seen whether his decision to do so will have any meaningful impact on parliamentary arithmetic. For the votes he was present for during his suspension, he universally obeyed the whip. He pledged last week to make a maiden speech before the Commons breaks for its summer recess on July 24th.