We’ve all said things we’ve regretted. We’ve all posted things online that we would look back at in horror when subjected to public scrutiny. But we haven’t all described women as “sexy little slags” or used lewd language to demean and objectify. We don’t all indulge in casual racism or use vile homophobic language. And we don’t all do all of this whilst at the same time professing to stand up for social justice and whilst holding others to a far higher standard.
Since the story about Jared O’Mara broke, Labour figures, from Owen Jones to Angela Rayner, have closed ranks suggesting that O’Mara deserves a second chance and that he’s been ‘on a journey’ since making these comments. According to this reasoning, we all make mistakes and what matters is that we atone for these mistakes by acting differently in future.
The smell of hypocrisy in this defence is palpable because figures like Owen Jones are the first to call for Tory resignations in similar circumstance, something Jones openly admits in his Guardian column this week. Indeed, Jared O’Mara alluded to the fact that, if he were a Tory MP, he would have resigned already because Conservatism and egalitarianism, are, in his mind at least, mutually exclusive.
Of course, this ignores the fact that racist, sexist and homophobic abuse undermines values that we share – values that are not the exclusive preserve of any one political party or political ideology. It need hardly be said (one would hope) but the basis of a liberal democratic society such as ours is that we are owed – as an absolute minimum – equality of respect.
People are far too willing to leap to the defence of those who make crass or ill-judged comments, seeing it as the folly of youth. But the reality is that youth is no excuse. O’Mara’s remarks are the symptom of a wider disease, where people judge it to be acceptable to make comments like this because it’s just ‘banter’ amongst friends. Or, even worse, because comments such as this are positively encouraged by a ‘lad culture’ that trivialises the harm that is done when these casual remarks go unchallenged.
Jeremy Corbyn did the right thing by suspending O’Mara today, but it took far too long to do so and it wouldn’t have happened at all had it not been for the steady stream of fresh allegations, highlighting a pattern of inappropriate and ill-judged behaviour on his part.
We must all hold ourselves to higher standards, which means challenging such abuse when it happens, whether this is at the pub, in our workplaces or in our public life. Of course, everyone deserves a second chance, but allowing a culture of abuse to go unchallenged is too high a price to pay and it puts the perpetrator before the victim.