Sheffield politics expert: Jared O’Mara’s stormy two years ‘highlight range of issues at Westminster’
Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara’s turbulent two years in office and forthcoming resignation have shed light on a ‘range of issues’ in parliament, says a politics expert who predicts a ‘bitter battle’ to win the seat in a by-election.
O’Mara has said he will tender his resignation following the MPs’ summer recess, which is due to end on September 3.
It came after the most turbulent week of his controversial time in office. His former aide Gareth Arnold resigned in a foul-mouthed Twitter rant on the MP’s own Twitter account, and a former member of staff accused him of ‘sexual harassment’.
Dr Felicity Matthews, a senior lecturer at Sheffield University, said his case highlighted issues around the Recall of MPs Act 2015 – the legislation by which MPs can lose their seat if a petition demands it – and the support MPs get with mental health issues.
She said: “Politics should be accessible to all. In the 21st century, we should be in a place where anyone from any background can see themselves representing people in the house.
“But MPs’ work will always entail long periods away from their own home and long hours so there is an issue there that politics should be open to everybody but at the same time people have got to think if they can do it – I know I couldn't.”
The 2015 Act states that a recall petition can be issued if an MP has been convicted of an offence and received a custodial sentence or ordered to be detained, been barred from the House of Commons for 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days, or convicted of providing false or misleading expenses claims.
But as O’Mara did not meet any of the criteria the legislation requires, his constituents were left powerless.
Dr Matthews said: “The Act is quite restricted. Jared, as far as we’re aware, has not been convicted of any crimes and he has not been suspended from the house so that raises its own questions but as it currently stands there are no mechanisms to recall him.”
O’Mara, 37, said he was ‘not well and in the process of receiving medical help’ and would be handing in his resignation on September 3.
The MP said: “Please let everyone be assured that I will be tendering my resignation via the official Parliamentary process as soon as term restarts.
“I am not in any fit state to continue and nor would that be appropriate if I was. I reiterate my apology to my constituents, the people of Sheffield and the people of the UK as whole.”
Dr Matthews said MPs who want to resign must following a formal procedure which is laid out in legislation from 1624 and when that’s been approved a 'writ' is written, which then has to be agreed by MPs.
She said: “That can only be done when parliament is sitting.”
The lecturer said by-elections are normally held within several weeks of an MP declaring they intend to resign.
She added: “You could be looking at a by-election by the end of October and that’s interesting in itself because I live in Sheffield Hallam and the Lib Dems have been out since it lost its seat in 2017.
“It’s going to be a real bitter battle and Labour were not able to publicly campaign against Jared before his resignation and even now it's going to be interesting.”
On the evening of July 23, Gareth Arnold commandeered the official Hallam MP Twitter account and lambasted O’Mara for having ‘contempt’ for his constituents.
He said he was a friend of O’Mara’s and had been told by those around him that he was the one person who could ‘help him try and turn it around’.
A lengthy ‘joint’ statement from the pair was later released, saying the politician would be taking time out to seek professional help for his mental health, and that he wanted to apologise to his family, friends, constituents and a staff member he said he was in love with during a ‘delusional episode’.
The statement was released less than 10 hours before the allegations made by the same staff member, Jen Barnes, were made public.
These included text messages sent to her, including one she received in which O’Mara claimed to be ‘madly in love’ with her.
She claims he described her as ‘effortlessly pretty’ and a ‘delicate little flower’ in other messages.
When asked to comment specifically on the allegations, the MP – who was portrayed as a ‘sex pest’ in the resulting tabloid furore – said: “It’s all true.”
The statement added: “The poor attendance was due to my mental health. The jokes were jokes and I am not apologising for them. Nor should anyone who writes jokes as a form of fiction.
“Please understand that humour is fiction and an art form. I’m not calling myself a comedian, however to be clear. My sense of humour has always been blue. And dark and satirical.”
He added: “I don’t even see gender. I see people as individuals. Now please respect my privacy and allow me to focus on my health rather than trying to drive me to suicide again with straw man sensationalism about my views on sex and equality.
“I will always stand up for free speech. I reiterate my apology but messages during my delusion were never sexual. Nor did I ever have any attraction to her. I was going through a delusional episode. If you must know, like many disabled people and mentally ill people, I barely have a libido.
“Now please everyone don’t hound me to my death and give me some space.”
O’Mara has cerebral palsy and autism. Following his election in 2017 he enjoyed a brief honeymoon period, during which he pledged to be a champion for disability rights. But a short time later, misogynistic and homophobic posts surfaced that he had made online as a younger man, and his reputation in Hallam – and the political arena generally – never recovered.