Jared O’Mara and our cruel politics

Let’s not make the struggling MP’s mental health problems into a Twitter joke.

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Last night, fully-fledged members of the political bubble will have noticed a scandalous story unfolding before their very eyes. Not on the Ten O’Clock News, but on Twitter. An aide to an MP was tweeting his resignation from the MP’s official account.

In an explosive, no-hold-barred thread explaining his decision, the now former chief of staff Gareth Arnold attacked and exposed the behaviour of the MP he had worked for, Sheffield Hallam’s Jared O’Mara, calling him “disgustingly morally bankrupt”.

It was a very unusual and very public way of quitting, so of course sparked a slew of reactions from political commentators on Twitter before it made the regular news. Many of the reactions I saw were jokey.

“May we never forget Gareth the staffer. A true public servant,” said one councillor and former MEP candidate. “If someone could do a Jared O'Mara but for Jeremy Corbyn, that’d make my year.” “If the poor staffer who sent these wants a beer my DMs are open,” said a prominent journalist, with another saying his tweets had “got me through the day”. One writer compared the tweets to drama in the same evening’s episode of Love Island.

Granted, it sounds like Arnold had been through a lot, and O’Mara is not a popular figure.

After ousting Nick Clegg for Labour at the 2017 general election, his fall from grace was rapid, as homophobic and misogynist comments he’d made online were dredged up (he called gay men “poofters” and “fudge packers”, said Michelle McManus only won Pop Idol because “she was fat”, wrote derogatory comments about children in Sheffield, called Danes “pig shaggers” and Spaniards “dagos”, and referred to women dancing to Arctic Monkeys as “sexy little slags”). He later apologised.

At the same time, a Sheffield bar worker accused him of “transphobic slurs” and calling her an “ugly bitch” (O’Mara denies the allegation). He was suspended from the Labour Party, and now sits as an independent MP; he resigned following his reinstatement by the party last year, without calling a by-election.

He’s had three months of absence on the advice of his GP, and has revealed that he made three suicide attempts following his suspension, while Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to continue supporting him out of concern for his welfare. Earlier this year, he shut his office for a month after losing all his staff. Constituents lose out from all this, and O’Mara's refusal to hold a by-election after resigning has been unpopular in Westminster and Sheffield alike.

There is little doubt that O’Mara has been a poor MP, and constituents are within their rights to express concern, and the local press to scrutinise. Yet this public, spiteful and personal resignation – and its embrace by many of the Twitterati who comment day after day on British politics, often trying to police its tone – is a sign of cruelty in public life.

O’Mara is clearly unwell; he has spoken about developing an anxiety disorder, as well as trying to take his own life. Arnold himself points out in his resignation tweets that his former boss drank “a full litre of vodka” before a morning TV interview. Is this the sign of someone who has a healthy relationship with alcohol?

“He’s such a bloody laugh. Twat”, Arnold concluded of that particular incident.

While I’m sure Arnold and his colleagues had been pushed to the limit by their boss’s behaviour, this kind of public outing shows a stark lack of compassion – not least as Arnold explains that he tried to seek help for O’Mara.

So he knew he was ill, and he did it anyway, and online commentators lapped it up. It’s fitting, really, that Arnold dedicated more of his tweets to the number of media requests he was receiving than to his acknowledgement of O’Mara’s mental health problems.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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