I guess one overlooked consequence of 13 years of Tory misrule is that being exposed to such a rich barrel of rotten apples means all corruption in public office is inevitably painted blue. How easy it is to forget the Labour MPs that have fallen foul of the law, not least those who were named and shamed (and, in one or two cases, imprisoned) following the expenses’ scandal. So, considering the supposedly ‘nobler’ alternative to the Tories could well end up in government a year or two from now, it’s rather timely to be reminded that some of their own are just as capable of crookedness as those on the other side of the House. Take Jared O’Mara – you remember him, of course; he’s the one-time ginger geezer who caused one of the biggest upsets of the 2017 General Election by ousting Nick Clegg. Well, yesterday he was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to four years in the clink. Convicted on six counts that the judge described as ‘cynical, deliberate and dishonest’, the former MP for Sheffield Hallam had stooped to play the mental health card as a defence for his actions, but it didn’t wash. Said Judge Tom Bayliss in his summing-up: ‘I have concluded that, although Jared O’Mara was without doubt suffering from autism at the time of the offences, that does not reduce culpability.’
Even before the cocaine habit that he bent the rules to fund became public knowledge, Jared O’Mara’s political career had ground to a premature halt in a matter of months following the surfacing of archaic tweets of a sexist nature along with allegations of sexual harassment. After a period of suspension, he stepped down at the 2019 General Election. Whereas his predecessor in the constituency was rejected due to the sacrifice of pre-Election Lib Dem promises on the altar of coalition, it rapidly emerged his successor was one of those Honourable Members who has little time for his constituents, his attitude towards them being described as one of ‘vile, inexcusable contempt’ by a former aide. In O’Mara’s case, revelations at his trial suggested it was no wonder he didn’t bother, considering he devoted most days to a steady ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ diet of five grams of cocaine and a bottle of vodka. The ex-nightclub manager evidently didn’t alter his lifestyle to fit his new responsibilities and carried on regardless. But it was the deception he employed to screw cash from the public purse that elevated his actions above mere hedonistic hubris.
O’Mara’s defence lawyer attributed his client’s behaviour to being ill-equipped when it came to ‘the stresses and strains of public life’, which is a fair enough explanation for an individual to turn to a chemical crutch; but O’Mara didn’t simply sink into substance abuse, something which many might have expressed sympathy towards had he received treatment and then emerged rehabilitated. For someone allegedly suffering from autism on top of an expensive drug habit, O’Mara displayed a clear and calculated business head when attempting to claim taxpayers’ money in the region of £24,000 for a nonexistent charity called Confident About Autism South Yorkshire; this fake organisation was a front for a friend of his he’d falsely named as his constituency support officer, though said friend appeared to have had his name taken in vain, as the jury cleared him of any part in the fraud. Another acquaintance on behalf of whom O’Mara had attempted to extract cash totalling £4,650 from Ipsa in relation to PR work that was never actually undertaken was less fortunate, found guilty of three counts of fraud and receiving a 15-month suspended sentence.
Understandably desperate to blame his actions on his ‘condition’, Jared O’Mara’s barrister Mark Kelly KC said, ‘When he felt he was being hounded by the media…he felt under pressure for certain circumstances that had come to light; he resorted to taking drugs and alcohol, distancing himself in many respects from those around him. These circumstances were very difficult circumstances for him to cope with, with his particular disabilities.’ This approach, however, failed to convince either judge or jury; the mental health card was not an adequate excuse, something Tom Bayliss KC emphasised in his conclusions. ‘You, Jared O’Mara,’ said the judge, ‘are a highly intelligent man. You were, I am quite sure, able to exercise appropriate judgement, to make rational choices, and to understand the nature and consequences of your actions. You may have occasionally behaved bizarrely or demonstrated disordered thought, but whether that was caused by your disorder or by your consumption of drugs – or both – is neither here nor there so far as this fraud is concerned. You knew perfectly well what you were doing with this fraud, you were behaving rationally, if dishonestly, and you were using your autism diagnosis to extract money from Ipsa to fund your cocaine and alcohol-driven lifestyle. It was deliberate, it was cynical and it was dishonest.’
The judge’s summing-up seems a fairly succinct summary of Jared O’Mara’s character and yet another sober warning when it comes to endemic Labour Party policy of selecting a candidate not on the grounds of merit but on box-ticking. In O’Mara’s case, his playing of the mental health card satisfied the criteria of the Momentum-dominated National Executive Committee, who went over the heads of the local constituency party to select him for the seat; his surprise success in winning it eased concerns, but his unsuitability was quickly exposed. One suspects a party so immersed in the ideology of Identity Politics probably won’t learn from its mistake.
BURT BACHARACH (1928-2023)
The emergence of the self-contained pop music artist in the early 60s undeniably dealt a body blow to the dominance of Tin Pan Alley; but the best of the professional songwriters were a resilient bunch and found there were still outlets for their talents. Not all of the bands at the forefront of the Beat boom and British Invasion contained in-house hit machines, and there were also what used to be called ‘girl singers’ in abundance – young, spunky sirens for whom the elegant standards of the 50s were old hat; the likes of Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Petula Clark and others were in need of their own standards, ones that reflected the changing mood of the 60s; and few songwriters delivered what was required better than Burt Bacharach, whose death at the grand old age of 94 was announced yesterday.
It would be easy to pay tribute to Bacharach by simply listing the staggering roll-call of hits that flowed from his genius melodic mind; although the 60s saw the end of the era in which standards were shared between all the great song stylists so that no performer could claim theirs was the definitive interpretation, Burt Bacharach’s songs – the most well-known being collaborations with lyricist Hal David – would still find themselves in the set-lists of most solo singers, whether or not they’d had the hit version. And sometimes the original recording would inspire a cover that would then be regarded as the definitive article; this occurred when The Carpenters had their breakthrough with ‘Close to You’, which was first recorded by the woman who served as Bacharach’s muse for several years, Dionne Warwick. Bacharach managed to achieve an almost symbiotic relationship with the women he wrote for; prior to his partnership with Warwick, his day-job had been arranger and bandleader for Marlene Dietrich when the Teutonic chanteuse was still touring the world’s concert halls; it was a steady income for Bacharach, but he knew he needed to devote his full-time to what he was best at – penning instant classics.
Bacharach was pivotal to what became known as ‘easy listening’ as the 60s progressed, which was basically the old pre-rock ‘n’ roll grownup pop coolly restyled for the new decade; his songs often seem tailor-made for a very 60s ‘Lounge-core’ vision of suave 30-something men in bachelor pads, handing a Martini to a languid lady in false eyelashes as a prelude to laying her clean as a whistle. His winning streak may have waned by the 70s, but his phenomenal output prior to that left behind a breathtaking legacy that will remain the gold standard of pop songs while ever there are people still around to listen to them.
© The Editor