Disabled MP’s offensive remarks ‘should end his political career’

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A series of offensive remarks made by a disabled MP about other minority groups and women should end his political career, according to members of a disabled women’s collective.

Sisters of Frida was among disabled groups and activists who spoke to Disability News Service (DNS) this week following revelations that Labour’s Jared O’Mara, now aged 35, had posted a string of homophobic, misogynist and racist comments on websites when he was in his 20s.

The disabled MP was forced to resign from the Commons women and equalities committee after he apologised and admitted posting the comments, which had emerged through the political blog Guido Fawkes.

But new concerns then emerged about further offensive comments O’Mara (pictured) was alleged to have made to a woman in a nightclub just seven months ago, comments he is reported to have denied making.

Labour subsequently suspended him from the party and launched an inquiry into that incident, which is also likely to investigate the historic online comments.

There has been little sympathy for O’Mara from prominent disabled campaigners this week.

Eleanor Lisney, one of the founders of the disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida, said they believed that O’Mara’s political career should now be over, although it was “up to his constituents” to decide on his future.

But she added: “We don’t think he should be an MP if he has those kind of views.

“He should know from lived experience how it feels like to have those kind of remarks said about you.”

She said Sisters of Frida had ruled out any engagement with O’Mara, and added: “We don’t want to have anything to do with him.”

She said members of Sisters of Frida were “disappointed” and “really surprised” that O’Mara managed to become an MP after previously making such misogynist, racist and homophobic comments.

She said: “We can’t accept that kind of attitude. It’s not whether he said it 15 years ago or whether he said it now. It’s just not acceptable.”

Lisney said Sisters of Frida believed the claims made by the woman who said O’Mara had directed offensive remarks at her in a nightclub earlier this year.

And she said O’Mara had compounded the seriousness of those remarks by then calling the woman a liar.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, supported Labour’s decision to suspend O’Mara.

He said that, as a disabled person, O’Mara should have been more aware of other equality issues.

He said: “We must all remember that it wasn’t just a single throwaway remark or misguided joke.

“If negative comments had been made about him or disability by one of the groups he has demeaned there would have been an outcry from all of us.

“Seems we have someone who is only really sorry because they have been caught out. His suspension is absolutely justified.”

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “Jared O’Mara is entitled to due process and a fair hearing.

“We will know after that whether he can be an important voice for disabled people in parliament.”

She added: “Diversity and inclusion should be part of all politicians’ core values. Politicians need to be sensitive to all groups in society. The key words are dignity and respect.

“All MPs need to get some good quality training which involves role play and self-assessment, not just a lecture.”

Rebecca Boot, a disabled Labour party member, told DNS: “Jared O’Mara said some inexcusable things, which no one should be defending.

“He says he no longer holds those views, but he needs to follow that up with substantive action.

“All minority communities have experienced people just paying lip service to ‘change’ and are rightly sceptical of that.

“O’Mara has been a good advocate for disabled people in parliament, highlighting the barriers in getting to elected office, issues with the practices of the House of Commons and the damage that austerity policies are inflicting on disabled people.

“If he can prove that he has changed, that he no longer holds the homophobic and misogynist views that he did as a 21-year-old, and if the latest allegations are false, then I would welcome his continued involvement in disability politics.

“However, we cannot throw women and LGBT+ people under the bus by allowing him to speak for disabled people if the pattern of his behaviour does not hold with his words.”

Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, told DNS on Tuesday: “Anybody that makes any derogatory and discriminatory remarks must be held to account.”

She said Labour was launching an investigation into the comments, but she added: “We must allow due process.”

The following day, a Labour party spokeswoman confirmed that the investigation had been prompted by the allegations concerning the remarks made seven months ago.

But she said it was likely that the investigation would also examine the historic comments he made on social media.

She confirmed that O’Mara had been suspended from the party but would still be expected to vote on party lines.

Earlier in the week, women and equalities minister Justine Greening said, in a letter to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: “Violent, sexist and homophobic language must have no place in our society, and parliamentarians of all parties have a duty to stamp out this sort of behaviour wherever we encounter it, and condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”

She said the comments showed “the deep and persistent stain on Labour’s ability to represent women, the LGBT community and wider society”.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable had called on Labour to withdraw the whip from O’Mara for his “completely unacceptable behaviour”.

He said: “People must have confidence that MPs will stand up against prejudice. As MPs we cannot let ourselves fall short of those standards, particularly in our dealings with the public.”

After the first – misogynistic – comments emerged, and he was forced to resign from the committee, O’Mara had released a statement saying that he was “deeply ashamed of the comments I made online” and that he understood “why they are offensive and sincerely apologise for my use of such unacceptable language”.

He said: “I made the comments as a young man, at a particularly difficult time in my life, but that is no excuse.”

He added: “Misogyny is a deep problem in our society. Since making those comments 15 years ago, I have learned about inequalities of power and how violent language perpetuates them.”

The allegations have emerged only months after O’Mara won a shock election victory over former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in the Sheffield Hallam seat.

There were hopes after his election that he would provide a strong new voice in parliament for disabled people.

He said he wanted to highlight the impact of austerity on disabled people, and said Tory ministers had “completely torn up the welfare system” which had supported disabled people.

He also accused the government of introducing policies inspired by “eugenics” in the hope that disabled people would “suffer and die”.

O’Mara later told DNS that he wanted to see the House of Commons draw up a policy on bullying and harassment by MPs to prevent the kind of behaviour he had witnessed since joining parliament.

And he said he wanted to “get some decorum and professionalism in the chamber and get it into the 21st century” and try to “make it a comfortable environment and make it an inclusive environment”.

*The idea that different forms of oppression can combine and overlap, for example with the discrimination experienced by black women, or by gay disabled men