This week, Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam Jared O’Mara became a victim of his own historic stupidity. He was exposed by the Guido Fawkes website as having posted racist, misogynistic and homophobic material on music forums in the mid-2000s, alongside more recent claims of verbal abuse against women.
Some people have questioned how he made it through Labour’s selection process in the first place- asking how did no-one spot this material before it was too late?
This is, of course, easier said than done.
The abbreviated snap election campaign meant that Labour had to select 400 odd candidates in the space of just a couple of weeks, inevitably meaning corners were cut on vetting and quality.
I do not know specifically what processes they had in place, but the time and resources required to fully explore the background of that many individuals are just not available to a political party in the height of an election campaign.
It is therefore not surprising that Jared O’Mara’s long record of appalling conduct slipped through the net– although I am sure that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats wish that they had bothered to do some due diligence on Mr O’Mara in the weeks leading up to polling day.
In fact, during the campaign itself we saw a number of other Labour candidates who would have benefitted from some concerted due diligence- from Caroline Kolek tweeting conspiracy theories about ISIS, to Douglas Beattie accusing British troops of having ‘blood on their hands’.
Political parties of all stripes need to be aware that candidates are now coming of age from a generation that grew up using the Internet. Moreover, it is a generation that pre-dates carefully curated social media accounts. Instead, as Marie Le Conte points out in the New Statesman, they used the Internet as “a largely unregulated playground with few social rules.”
I am sure that Labour will try and close this particular stable door now that the horse has bolted, and invest more time and resources in checking exactly who they are selecting as candidates.
Indeed, politically exposed individuals and public figures from all walks of life would do well to invest in the same sort of vetting, self-research and due diligence. This is especially true for CEOs who are increasingly being treated as political candidates themselves by the very same outside campaign groups debating Jared O’Mara’s future inside their party today.
Companies, trade associations, campaign groups, and activists are all on the receiving end of political-style campaigns, and that inevitably makes their senior staff targets for opposition research.
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After all, Jared O’Mara was just one person among many posting on a message board. His fellow members may not have gone on to become politicians, but that doesn’t mean that their past utterances won’t one day appear in the papers.
Andrew Goodfellow is Vice President of UK Policy Group, a consulting firm specialising in campaign-style research.