Jared O'Mara's predecessor as the Labour candidate for Sheffield Hallam responds to funding claims

Jared O’Mara’s predecessor as the Labour candidate for Sheffield Hallam has responded to funding claims made by Mr O’Mara in a statement released yesterday, and says he hopes he receives the support he needs to ‘step down and move on’.

By Sarah Marshall
Tuesday, 30 July, 2019, 17:11
Picture shows Oliver Coppard, Labour Party's Parliamentary Candidate in Sheffield Hallam, at the 2015 general election count for the Sheffield constituencies at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Picture: Ian Hinchliffe/RossParry.co.uk

Despite running a well-publicised campaign, Oliver Coppard still came 2,353 votes short of toppling former Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, in the 2015 general election.

And so, when newcomer Jared O’Mara managed to win the seat for the Labour for the first time in the constituency’s history in June 2017’s snap election, it was one of the biggest stories on a night full of surprises.

People present at the count claimed that when news of his 2,125 majority began to filter through, Mr O’Mara was so unprepared for victory that he did not attend the count in formal clothes and had to run to Tesco to buy a suit.

Mr O’Mara has subsequently endured a difficult and controversial two years in the seat, during which he quit the Labour Party after they suspended him for homophobic, misogynistic and xenophobic comments he is alleged to have made online. He has also been criticised by his constituents for failing to vote on a number of key Brexit votes, and currently has a Parliamentary participation record of just 30 per cent.

He hit the headlines again earlier this week after his aide, Gareth Arnold, resigned using Mr O’Mara’s own Twitter account, and claimed he was doing so because Mr O’Mara had such ‘contempt’ for his constituents and ‘believed something big needed to happen’.

Mr O’Mara, who has cerebral palsy and autism, refused to comment on the claims made by Mr Arnold until yesterday afternoon, when a lengthy ‘joint’ statement from the pair was released on his official website.

In the statement, which is attributed to Mr O’Mara, he claimed Mr Coppard had received national funding and support from the Labour Party, but said the same help was not offered to him.

He also described Mr Coppard as a ‘top bloke’ and said he believed he should be the Sheffield Hallam MP.

Mr Coppard has now responded to Mr O’Mara’s comments.

He said: “Since Jared was elected in a Sheffield Hallam in 2017, I’ve tried not to comment too often on his ongoing problems, challenges and travails. However his statement yesterday made some claims that are not quite right, and I thought may be worth correcting.

“Jared mentioned in his statement that our campaign in 2015 had received ‘funding and support nationally’. It’s always been a matter of pride to me that we built our campaign in Sheffield Hallam from the ground up.

“I was selected at a time when Sheffield Hallam was not considered a winnable seat by the Party. We had no money and just a few volunteers. Both during and immediately after my selection it was made clear that we wouldn’t receive any support from the national or regional Labour Party - financial or otherwise.

“Other than around six weeks in February and March 2015, when the Party provided some staff support and limited funding, that remained true throughout the campaign. I don’t say that with any malice; campaign resources are always limited, and direct funding from the Party would have come with more interference and central control. Frankly, we weren’t prepared to give up that local control.

“The campaign we ran in 2015 was always a positive one; a positivity that grew out of the enthusiasm of the volunteers who supported us and a community who saw the opportunity to have an MP who put their constituency responsibilities first.

“Clearly, Jared has been unable to meet that brief. I was pleased to see that he’s intent on receiving help, but I do hope that any support he receives ultimately allows him to step down and move on. Being the MP for Sheffield Hallam is not just a huge privilege but a daunting responsibility and it’s more than clear he’s not in a place to do the job. For those people who desperately need an effective MP, particularly as we face the growing possibility of a no deal Brexit, a by-election in Hallam can’t come soon enough.

“Whatever happens next I would hope that all political parties learn lessons from Jared’s experience in Sheffield Hallam. At any election, voters expect and deserve to be given a choice of candidates who are capable of effectively representing them.

“If an MP is not able to do the job it would seem only right that people are given the chance to elect someone new. When I stood in 2015 I said I’d put in place a local ‘right of recall’; so at any point if 20 per cent of people locally had signed a petition saying I wasn’t doing a good job, I would have stood down and called a by-election. I’d commend that idea not just to Parliament, but to the current candidates in Sheffield Hallam too.

“If we’re going to restore trust in politics locally, and more broadly if we’re going to make sure that our MPs remain accountable throughout their time in office, right of recall would seem like a good place to start.

“Whatever happens in the short term the next MP for Sheffield Hallam has to be willing and able to put the constituency first, above all else. Good MPs can make a huge difference to the lives of the people in their community and Sheffield Hallam is long overdue someone who makes our community their priority. Jared is not able to effectively represent the constituency and I can only hope his successor is given the chance to do a better job, sooner rather than later.”