Star Interview: Why Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara is ready to get to work

Labour MP Jared O'Mara.
Labour MP Jared O'Mara.

It is one thing pulling off a stunning political upset by ousting Nick Clegg to become Sheffield Hallam’s first-ever Labour MP.

But to then face a cold start as a brand new member of parliament is a challenge all of its own. With no HQ or team, and a non-existent support network in Westminster, Jared O’Mara has had to build his operation from the ground up.

“I’m happier now than I was in the first few weeks,” he says, sipping from a large glass of orange juice in a wine bar close to his flat in Kelham Island.

Other than a handful of interviews and public appearances, the 35-year-old has kept a low profile.

“Being on my own, and not having staff or a base in Sheffield, it’s been a bit difficult.”

But his first two out of four staff have now started work, a parliamentary advisor has been hired in London and contracts have been exchanged on a new constituency office on Tapton House Road, on the edge of Crosspool.

“I’m getting into the swing of things now.”

When the Hallam result was announced in the early hours of June 9, it became one of the defining moments of the General Election. As a bleary-eyed, emotional-looking Clegg dealt with the reality that he had lost his seat, Jared – wearing a blazer borrowed from his dad – delivered a hastily-prepared address.

“Thirty minutes before I was up on the podium I was told ‘Right, you’ve won, you’d better write a speech’. A couple of colleagues helped me get some bullet points together but that was as far as we got.

“But I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid.”

Already 50 constituents have been in touch with casework, and at one point Jared was receiving 200 emails a day, with messages of congratulation from as far away as Yemen. Many of them were from supporters thrilled that the MP, who has cerebral palsy, had pledged to be a tireless voice for disabled people.

There is no question that he will offer a different kind of politics. With a broad Sheffield accent and a life lived in the city – school at Bradfield and Tapton, and years spent running music venue West Street Live – he offers an appealing normality.

He took a few days off when parliament broke up for recess, and spent the time watching local bands at Tramlines.

“I’m a Sheffield lad, it’s my home. I don’t really like going on holiday to be honest. I just hang out with my mates and go to the pub. Theresa May going abroad for three weeks – that’s not me.”

Sorting out the office has amused him, as he still cannot afford a home in Hallam – or to put a deposit down, at least. An annual salary of £74,000 should lift his bank balance, but in the meantime a move to an apartment at the old Wards Brewery building on Ecclesall Road is on the cards.

He and his predecessor’s views do align on one issue. Between now and Christmas, Jared promises to make the controversy over Sheffield Council’s felling of street trees his key priority.

He has lined up meetings with the council and its contractor, Amey, in an attempt to broker a solution, but warns: “I’m not holding my breath.”

“I don’t want to see the war memorial trees on Western Road in Crookes or the Vernon Oak in Dore being chopped down. We’re getting to the stage now where there’s nobody alive in Sheffield who fought in the Great War. We can never forget what happened, so these trees need to stay. The oak is a majestic old tree that doesn’t need to go either. Particularly when there’s probably going to be cheap engineering solutions.”

Jared calls the High Court case, where injuctions are being sought by the council against protesters, a ‘sorry state of affairs’.

“It detracts from the brilliant work the Labour council does in other areas.”

Campaigning to cut air pollution, and keeping an eye on progress as the £25 million Mercia School takes shape off Carter Knowle Road are other pressing matters locally.

But by pushing for a greater debate on how society treats the disabled, he has already made waves nationally.

Earlier this summer Jared claimed the Conservative Government’s policies amounted to ‘eugenics’ – controlled breeding. He maintains that the statement was not melodramatic.

“The statistics have been buried. There are people who have been suffering and dying because of Tory policies, with the Lib Dems too before that, but you don’t hear these voices in the mainstream media.”

Jared was diagnosed with cerebral palsy aged six months. He ‘can’t exactly pinpoint’ the cause, but believes the valium his mother, Linda, was prescribed during her pregnancy was a prime factor.

Linda was struggling with depression at the time as she had suffered a miscarriage 18 months earlier. She and Jared’s dad, Ian, were later told their son would likely be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life, but years of physio, occupational and speech therapy at the Ryegate Centre in Crosspool worked wonders.

He also needed surgery, including muscle transfers in his leg and arm, to boost his strength. “We’ve got to the stage where it’s not even noticeable.”

Jared’s maiden speech in the Commons is planned for the first two weeks of the next term in September. He will not be attending party conference in Brighton – instead he feels he is ‘best placed in the constituency’, without wishing to snub leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“I think he’s a prime minister in waiting. He’s got no airs or graces, he just really cares about his country.”

Next Monday there is even a chance to see Jared back at West Street Live, for a one-off DJ spot, ‘just for a bit of fun’.

He freely acknowledges his status as an unknown quantity at the last election, and the role the 2015 Labour candidate, Oliver Coppard, played in chipping away at Clegg’s majority.

Hallam can expect a more personality-driven O’Mara campaign at the next poll - set for 2022, he predicts, reasoning that the £1 billion for Northern Ireland promised by the Conservatives as part of their deal with the Democratic Unionist Party will be ‘staggered over five years’.

“It won’t just be paid upfront. It is disappointing. I’m ready to be a backbench MP in a Labour Government.”

‘The Commons and Lords need to relocate’

Parliament should move to new premises because of the Palace of Westminster’s poor access for disabled people, says Jared O’Mara.

“I think it’s a wonderful grand old building with so much history, but we’d be better off moving the business of the Commons and Lords to a purpose-built building that’s fit for the 21st century, then that building could be a museum.

“There aren’t even 650 seats for all the MPs in the chamber.”

Jared has told the Commons speaker, John Bercow, that a disability access audit must be carried out. He is also been given permission to wear a plain black T-shirt under a blazer, with no tie, for debates.

“I can’t do up a tie and doing up buttons on a shirt is incredibly difficult for me – it takes me up to an hour. Even then, there’s no way I can do the left cuff.”

Parliament remains far from being truly representative, he believes.

“About one in five people have got a disability of some kind, and one in four have a mental health problem. That should be reflected in the make-up of parliament.

“I want to see more younger MPs, transgender MPs, and members with learning difficulties as well, and to keep pushing to get the gender balance to 50/50.”