Reinstated Sheffield MP Jared O’Mara has told how he made three attempts on his life after he was suspended from the Labour Party for abusive online comments, as he publicly apologised this week.
Having beaten his Lib Dem rival Nick Clegg at last year’s snap general election, O’Mara was suspended for nine months after catalogue of social media comments and postings came to light, some dating back as far as 2002, drawing accusations of misogyny, racism and homophobia.
“I was just a mess. I was shaking. I was crying,” he told ITV’s Calendar.
“I’ll not mince my words. I made three attempts on my life.
“I was harassed and hounded by the press… I was too scared to go home.”
It came as the Sheffield Hallam MP, who is paid more than £74,000 a year, publicly apologised for the comments, saying he was “ashamed of the man I was”.
‘Give me a second chance’
Labour’s national executive committee readmitted him last week, ruling that the comments fell short of necessitating expulsion, but issued him a formal warning and compulsory training.
In a statement O’Mara, 36, said: “I am pleased that this matter is now resolved and that I can focus my attention fully on representing the people of Sheffield Hallam as their Labour MP.
“I regret that this has impacted upon them and will work hard to restore the faith they put in me at last year’s general election.
“I will also work hard with my party colleagues to build a more equal society for all. I hope they will see that I have changed and give me a second chance.”
But Penny Baker, a city councillor and Deputy Leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats, said the city “deserves better” than to have O’Mara as an MP, and accused Labour of not taking misogyny and homophobia seriously.
Success turned sour
Only in September O’Mara gave a speech at the University in a Sheffield Labour Students event. But the success turned sour the next month as he faced calls to resign over his online record.
The surfaced comments, made before he became an MP, saw O’Mara write that Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus had only won “because she was fat”, and refer to women on a music website as “sexy little slags”.
Among other postings, he also said that singer Jamie Cullum should be “sodomised with his own piano”’.
O’Mara apologised for these comments when they were revealed, but denied Sophie Evans’ allegation that he made comments to her in March that “aren’t broadcastable” and called her an “ugly bitch”, whilst DJing in a nightclub.
Yet to make a maiden speech in parliament as is custom, O’Mara says he will speak in the House of Commons for the first time later this month. He has previously voted with the Labour whip on several key issues.
Colleagues divided on the decision
Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Politics, Hull North MP Diana Johnson was more optimistic: “Clearly misogyny, sexism, racism has no place in the Labour Party.
“And so I’m sure that Jared will have reflected on that, will as I understand it be undertaking some training as well, and I’m sure that when he comes back to Parliament he will want to engage fully as a Member of Parliament for his constituency.”
Conservative MP Andrea Jenkins called Labour’s decision “hypocritical” after the party joined the chorus of criticism at the appointment of Toby Young to the Department for Education, forcing his resignation, for offensive online comments.
O’Mara added: “I was in a bad place back then, and after being bullied and called many of those abusive slurs myself, I repeated them as a way of deflecting from my own low self-esteem and depression. But this is not an excuse and I take full responsibility for the unacceptable language I used.
“I am ashamed of the man I was then. I’ve been on a journey of education since, and I am continuing to listen to and learn from others’ experiences and educate myself about tackling prejudice and discrimination. I will be pleased to attend the training mandated by the panel, and I hope this will deepen my understanding of these issues further.”
It is thought that some members of Labour’s National Executive Committee, which ordered the decision alongside around 70 separate hearings on antisemitism in Labour, pushed for O’Mara to be referred to the national constitutional committee which would have the power to expel him.
The NEC could only make a judgement on whether O’Mara behaved within Labour’s constitution, rather than deciding whether he acted suitably as an MP.