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Jared O’Mara and the Unforgiving Eternity of the Internet

Jared O’Mara and the Unforgiving Eternity of the Internet

Just cos he writes about gayness and gay issues, doesn’t mean he drives up the marmite motorway.’

‘I just think that this story is much more poignantly romantic than fudge packing Jake.’

‘A rhythm section that’s tighter than your mother was when I took her virginity all those years ago.’

You could be forgiven for reading the above statements as the deranged blabbering of a sulky, and confused teenager. If only it were so. Instead, they represent the historic online comments of elected Labour MP Jared O’Mara.

O’Mara made headlines in the snap election when he displaced Nick Clegg from his seat of Sheffield Hallam. He was seen as a candidate who was very much carried along on the crest of the Momentum wave.

That was June, this is October, and O’Mara has been suspended from the party following a string of vile revelations broken by Guido Fawkes, a right-wing gossip blog infamous for exposing the worst digressions of Members of Parliament.

O’Mara’s ire was not limited to homosexual people, or other people’s mothers. ‘Fat’ people, women, Spaniards, Danes and teenage girls have all felt the sting of O’Mara’s vitriol over the years. Angela Rayner, a member of the Shadow Cabinet, defended O’Mara by claiming that these comments were made a long time ago, and that his opinions had evolved. This is a pretty weak defence, and weaker still given that we can simply check the dates of his comments in an online forum and ascertain that he was 21-years-old.

Now, I’m 23, and as vulgar and detestable as my colleagues might find me, I would argue that I know that referring to teenage girls as ‘sexy little slags’ is not the social norm, and I would also have known two years ago that it was unacceptable.

While it would be easy to sit here and pull apart O’Mara’s views, and the sub-standard Labour vetting process that allowed him to contest a seat, the best lesson learned for figures of public prominence is the damage that the digital world can wreak on a reputation. O’Mara is 35-years-old now, and is perhaps one generation too late to have truly grown up with the internet.

But given the way he is now being torn to shreds in the media, this raises an interesting question over whether this is something we can expect to see more of, as more public figures who have grown up with online forums, Facebook and Twitter come into the spotlight.

This can at times be a source of amusement. The SNP’s Mhairi Black was just 20 when elected (you may have seen her, in a blinding lack of self-awareness, lamenting ‘career politicians’ recently), and some of her old tweets from her teenage years were dug up after her selection. They were quite funny to the casual observer, and rather embarrassing for Black herself.

 

 

 

Andre Gray, the Premier League footballer, had a more sobering experience when explosive homophobic tweets from his past were pulled up. He faced FA disciplinary action as a result. 

Trial by social media is not a new phenomenon, but as those who have grown up hand-in-glove with the internet move into positions as MPs and figures of public influence, there could be much more scandal yet to come.

Being cautious or vigilant in the here and now is clearly not enough. Do people remember all that they have done and said in the past? Should they continue to be made to atone for it? Is the best course of action to completely erase your digital footprint?

Online is forever, and as Jared O’Mara is finding out, there is no hiding place once all is revealed.

Just how many more skeletons are there in how many more closets? Halloween is on the way, so another fright may be just around the corner.

 

Could Jacob Rees-Mogg really be the saviour of the Conservative Party?

Two years ago, the idea that a man famed for taking his nanny canvassing, using the word ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ in the House of Commons, and who is regularly referred to as ‘the honourable member for the early twentieth century, could become the next Conservative Party Leader would have been met with derision. But that was before the surprising ascendency of Trump, Macron and Corbyn. Tellingly, the bookies now have Jacob Rees-Mogg as more likely to become the next Conservative Party leader than Boris Johnson and Ruth Davidson, and there has been a flurry of ‘Moggmentum’ articles both for and against his candidacy show just how seriously many are taking the idea.

Critics of Rees-Mogg ironically highlight many of the traits that many Conservative Party activists actually find appealing: he uncompromisingly supports Brexit and the free market (he recently called for the abolition of stamp duty, something many of his detractors jumped on as proof that he is ‘for the rich’), he isn’t afraid to voice unpopular opinions, and doesn’t attempt to hide his privileged roots. In fact, it’s this authenticity which, like Corbyn, is the key to his popularity. As James Delingpole writes in The Spectator “He’s quick on his feet, comfortable in his skin, knows his own mind and is beholden to no man. Having made his fortune as a value investor in emerging markets before becoming an MP, he is in the unusual position of being able to say what exactly he thinks — and from a position of knowledge and experience”.

We shall have to take our business elsewhere.

A post shared by Jacob Rees-Mogg (@jacob_rees_mogg) on

So could Rees-Mogg be the Conservatives’ antidote to Corbyn?  He certainly has significant grassroots support. In a survey for ConservativeHome, Jacob-Rees Mogg was the second most popular option after David Davis to take over as leader – despite voters having to submit his name, rather than it appearing on the dropdown list. Over 23,000 have signed the ‘readyformogg.org’ petition. He has legions of online fans (pages such as ‘Middle-Class Memes For Rees-Moggian Teens’ have nearly 50,000 likes), and this is only set to increase, given that he has recently joined both Instagram and Twitter. And given how many people seem to warm to him even when they disagree with his politics (e.g. Jess Phillips MP describes him as “charming and funny, kind, mad and totally himself” and Mhairi Black MP refers to him as “my boyfriend – he’s my favourite”), it seems possible that he could reach out and win over a large proportion of the public.

Despite this, could Rees-Mogg ever realistically become party leader? In short, probably not. The way that the Conservative Party elects their leadership differs significantly from other political parties. For example, Jeremy Corbyn was first able to stand as leader of the Labour Party after securing the nomination of just 35 of his fellow MPs before the Labour membership were able to vote for him. In contrast, Conservative MPs are given the task of voting on candidates until they have whittled them down to a final two. Only then are party members able to vote on them. Conservative MPs are unlikely to put forward such a wildcard who has never held a ministerial role before. Moreover, Heidi Allen MP has already threatened to resign from the party if he ever did become leader, demonstrating the uphill battle that he would face in any leadership campaign.

Sadly, for his supporters, we may never get the chance to find out if Rees-Mogg could be successful in a leadership bid. Even he has ruled it out (for now) stating that “I neither am a candidate, nor wish to be one… Nor is this some clever plan to seek other office; if it were, it would have been scotched some weeks ago when it was suggested to the PM, who giggled in response rather more than my mother considered tactful”.

But this hasn’t ended speculation. There is clearly an appetite amongst the grassroots for something a little bit different from the usual names circulated as Theresa May successors (David Davis, Philip Hammond etc), and for many, Rees-Mogg is a viable alternative. Whatever happens, it is clear that the next leader of the Conservative Party is far from a foregone conclusion.