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25 October 2017

How could Labour allow the Jared O’Mara scandal to happen?

A factional dispute has arisen about who, exactly, is to blame for the failure in vetting.

By Stephen Bush

Jared O’Mara is under investigation by the Labour Party, not as a result of his historical forum posts, which he does not deny, but because of allegations that in March this year he described a constituent in sexist and transphobic terms, which he disputes. 

Labour being Labour, a factional dispute has arisen about who, exactly, is to blame for the scandal. Matt-Zarb Cousin, former Corbyn spinner turned leader’s office outrider, blames the party’s structures and the fact that the national executive committee imposed candidates on local parties as a result of the snap election for letting O’Mara drift through. On the other hand, Corbynsceptics point out that O’Mara was the leader’s office’s preferred candidate, and that Jeremy Corbyn himself voted through the NEC’s emergency powers.

Who’s right? Well, the awkward truth is both of them are. I know of only three senior figures who can credibly claim that at the onset of the election, they thought Labour might make gains: Corbyn’s chief of staff Karie Murphy, John McDonnell’s economic adviser James Meadway, and Diane Abbott’s aide Bell Ribeiro-Addy. The party’s shortlisting committee, from right to left, was united in believing the only battles that mattered were those in seats where the incumbent MP was standing down (and even then, not all of those).

(There was a similar slapdash approach to selections on the Tory side. “There are a lot of people who are going to become MPs who I wish weren’t,” one CCHQ hand told me early on. Be careful what you wish for.)

That the NEC was selecting so many candidates meant that it in some cases neglected its shortlisting role, and if one side or another was pushing someone strongly, no one was that inclined to press the point. And in the case of Sheffield Hallam MP O’Mara, the side doing the pushing was the leader’s office and its allies in the labour movement.

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But those going on as if this is unique to the Corbynite left or even to Labour should look a little closer to home. If the allegations against O’Mara are true, it won’t be the first, tenth or even 100th time that one faction in one party or another has turned a blind eye to bad behaviour towards women because the suspect is “one of us”.

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