When I saw that Jared O’Mara had been suspended from the Labour party I felt a rush of relief. My only wish was that it had happened even sooner. If we have learnt anything in the last few weeks, it is that women do not feel always safe; we do not feel safe in the workplace, we do not feel safe on public transport, we especially do not feel safe walking home alone in the dark. The Labour party needs to be a space in which women, as well as members of the LGBTQ community, can be 100% confident that they are safe and respected. The comments that were made by Jared O’Mara were counter to this goal – they damaged the idea that Labour is a party committed to equality and I think that O’Mara should never have even been allowed to stand for parliament.
When it emerged that O’Mara had made comments a decade ago which were degrading to women, homosexuals and indeed ‘fatties’, what shocked me the most was the immediate reaction from certain left-wing activists (*cough, cough* Owen Jones) and some MP’s. There seemed to be little condemnation of O’Mara, pointing to his age when he made the comments and the fact that he had changed. Considering that O’Mara was older than I am now when he made those comments, I have little sympathy with them. He was not a child, or indeed even a teenager, but a fully grown adult who must take responsibility for his past actions. My main problem was with the argument that O’Mara had changed; there seemed to be little conclusive evidence for this. Instead there were allegations from March this year from a constituent who claimed O’Mara had been physically abusive, calling her a “fucking bitch”. O’Mara of course denies these claims. I do not deny the possibility for people to learn as they grow-up and I imagine we have all made comments that we now regret, however, the evidence for change in this instance is hard to find. Moreover, O’Mara occupied an immensely important public position and the comments he made – no matter how far in the past – were unacceptable and irreconcilable with the responsibilities of an MP and the Labour party’s stance on gender equality.
Allegations from March this year from a constituent claimed O’Mara had been physically abusive, calling her a “fucking bitch”
Many have now retracted or altered their original positon on O’Mara but nevertheless the initial response concerned me. It saddens me that my first thought on seeing these comments was “You wouldn’t be saying that if he were a Tory MP, you would be calling for the Tory Party to take action.” Left wing activists and politicians need to be apply a critical feminist perspective across the political spectrum and remember that membership of the Labour party does not preclude an individual from being misogynistic. I firmly agree with the argument that, had a Tory MP made such remarks, there would not have been such a media frenzy; all you need to do is look at Boris Johnson to know that this is true. However, to say that, at least O’Mara isn’t Phillip Davis (who has in the past filibustered bills seeking to tackle domestic violence against women) or Jacob Rees-Mogg (who recently claimed it was ridiculous for a man to call himself a feminist), provides me with little comfort. If the Labour Party are setting their bar for equality as ‘slightly better than the Conservatives’, then they are setting the bar remarkably low.
O’Mara’s comments have damaged the idea that Labour is a party committed to equality
The Labour Party has shown a commitment to parliamentary equality: they are the party of all women shortlists and 50% of the shadow cabinet are women. If they are to continue on this positive trajectory they must take a zero tolerance stand on voices and attitudes which are contrary to the promotion of gender equality; this includes examining the past views of those who want to represent the party in parliament and excluding those who have failed to give women the fundamental respect which they deserve. Some might argue that this is a little harsh, I think it is just what is necessary to prove to women that they are welcome and respected in the British political sphere.
We live in a country of 65 million people; we have a parliament of 650 elected MP’s. Surely we can do better than a man who has previously shown such flagrant disrespect for women and members of the LGBTQ community. The Labour Party can do better in sourcing representatives – it has to do better if it is to prove to women that it is serious about tackling the deep rooted sexism that prevails in our society.