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Posts tagged ‘Jared O’Mara’

A Very Reasonable Adjustment

Jared O’Mara MP

The Speaker of the House of Commons ruled recently that male MPs need not wear a tie when in the Chamber. There has been much fuss made in various newspapers about this. As well as ill-informed comments by MPs themselves. Many correspondents to letters pages seem to regard it as a lowering of standards. 

The House of Commons is a strange and at times, eccentric place of work, with its old traditions and rules. All MPs still have a ribbon attached to their coat hook for hanging a sword on. Less than 20 years ago MPs still had a wear a collapsable top hat if they wanted to raise a point of order. MPs are also never referred to in the Chamber by their own name. My MP, for instance, is the Honourable Member for  Vauxhall. MPs who are members of the Privy Council or have a knighthood are addressed as Right Honourable. 

Such old style forms of address hardly sit well within a 21st century House of Commons. Many new MPs find themselves baffled by the procedures and customs. They do not make for a welcoming work environment. Some have likened it to going to Public School for the first time or even arriving at Hogwarts. 

The Speaker, John Bercow gave no specific reason for his decision about ties other than it was for him as Speaker to decide what was “seemly and proper”. He continued saying that in his view; “a tie was no longer an essential part of business attire”.

But there is another story behind this announcement. That of making a “Reasonable Adjustment” at work for disabled people, as required by the Equality Act 2010. The new Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, Jared 0’Mara has cerebral palsy and is unable to do up buttons on a shirt or fasten a tie.  He had previously indicated that he may need to ask for such an adjustment. 

John Bercow, like any manager in a workplace has had to make a sensible and pragmatic decision. And not wanting to cause embarrassment to a new MP who has a disability, he made a general announcement. Would it have been better to give a more specific reason? I think not. As disabled people we do not what to be  called out for our differences. But we do need employers to make suitable and reasonable adjustments so we can do our jobs easily and well. 

This is precisely what John Bercow has done. He has also handled his decision with tact and sensitivity. I wish all employers would behave in the same way. 

Many City firms, still require their female staff to wear skirts and high heeled shoes to work. This sexist and outdated attitude should be long gone. It was at the end of the 1960’s that the then Speaker Dr Horace King decreed that women could wear trousers in the House of Commons.

Surely this too, is a change that all employers should be making? Women should have choice in what they wear to work.

The law requires reasonable adjustments for disabled people. I can see no reason to restrict dress codes just to those of us that need them, they should be equally valid for all. 

This post first appeared in my Blog on the Huffington Post UK site, where more of my writing can be found.

The Strangest of Elections

But some wonderful outcomes

I have been involved in helping to run election campaigns since I was 14. Then I was helping at the constituency office in Okehampton, Devon where I went to school. For many years I was an organiser and then Election Agent. I worked in by-elections as well as General and European elections. I’ve seen a lot in 45 years.

But this election was unlike any other I’ve ever been involved in. 

For the first time, Social media had a huge impact. I was running two different twitter accounts. I was also re-tweeting for our next door candidate, who is a personal friend. I could have spent my whole time doing nothing but tweeting everyday. There were also two Facebook pages to maintain and update. I also had a very sharp learning curve in how to use Instagram. I still don’t really understand why the memes I posted had so much impact. 

The next thing that was so different was the diametrically opposite campaign strategies of the two main party leaders. Theresa May, seemed very reluctant to meet any of the public. Possibly a sensible strategy, bearing in mind how badly she came over when people tried to talk to her. Jeremy Corbyn was the opposite, and welcomed meeting voters and listening to what they had to say. 

But the most noticeable difference to me was the lack of political mud slinging from Jeremy’s team. It made a refreshing change and was clearly popular with the electorate. 

For many people it wasn’t ‘All about Brexit’ as Theresa May wanted it to be.  Talking to people on the doorstep, what excited people were the Labour manifesto pledges. The memes about them were some of the most popular images shared on social media.  

What was also new in this election, particularly in the Labour Party was the involvement of Momentum, the campaigning organisation set up to back Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bids. Momentum ran an excellent social media campaign. They also attracted large numbers of young people to help with phone banking. Some of the training sessions were run by staffers from Bernie Sanders’ campaign team.

Two other organisations, Collective Voice and EL4JC, produced wonderful literature and memorable short videos. The endorsement from actors, film makers and grime artists ensured the enthusiasm of the younger generation.

They also surprised the pollsters by going out and voting.

For me as a disabled person, I was able to be involved in campaigning from my bed. Many other disabled people helped the campaign by being able to phone-bank from the comfort of their own homes. There will always be room for more inclusion, but we have made a good start.

Two Labour candidates with disabilities won seats, and a third came within 1,200 votes of winning. Marie Rimmer who retained her seat of St Helens South and Whiston has a hearing impairment.  She was Shadow Minister for Disabled People before the election. So Labour now has three MPs with declared disabilities. 

Stephen Lloyd is the only Liberal Democrat MP with a declared disability. He has had a hearing impairment since childhood. Two Conservative MPs, Paul Maynard and Robert Halfon both have cerebral palsy. I have been unable to discover any other MPs who have disabilities. By having less than 1% of MPs with a disability, Westminster is clearly not representative of the 19% of disabled people in the UK. 

It is often difficult for people with a disability to get accepted as political candidates, either for local councils or for Parliament. For a few years the Access to Elected Office Fund was able to give financial support to disabled candidates to cover extra expenses. But this fund closed in 2015, just four years after its launch. It leaves prospective MPs or councillors who are disabled with no additional funding support. 

One previous parliamentary candidate was unable to stand during the recent campaign. Emily Brothers who has both vision and hearing impairments, was a Labour candidate in 2015. She was financially supported and able to campaign effectively. This time with no funding available she felt unable to be a candidate.

Mary Griffiths Clarke, was another Labour candidate with a disability. She  has ME. She stood in a Tory/Labour marginal in Afron, Wales. Mary was beaten by just 92 votes. I’m sure the extra money would have supported her and enabled her to win. It is disgraceful that the last Tory government closed the AEO Fund. I would expect any future Labour government to restore it as soon as possible. Disabled people have a right to enter public life and should be assisted to do so.

The two new Labour MPs, Marsha de Cordova, who is visually impaired and Jared O’Mara who has cerebral palsy both had historic victories.

Marsha won Battersea, overturning a Tory majority of almost 8,000. She ousted Jane Ellison, a Treasury Minister, in an amazing campaign. She had hundreds of young people, many from Momentum, door-knocking and delivering leaflets for her. This, together with Marsha’s own work ethic, activist background and focus on local issues assured her victory. I’m proud that I played a part, albeit a small one. 

Jared’s victory over Nick Clegg was considered one of the most dramatic results of election night. He again was a local activist and campaigner, who like Marsha had worked for disability charities. I know little of his campaign, but he must have got the vote of every student in the city who wanted revenge on Nick Clegg. A former Liberal Democrat leader, he dramatically u-turned on his party’s policy of free university tuition, once in coalition. 

I wish the our new Labour MPs well and will be keeping my posters and t shirts ready for when this current coalition of chaos implodes.

This blog was also posted on the Huffington Post 



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