The prospect of Labour being forced to fight TWO crucial by-elections in Yorkshire drew closer today after right-wing website Guido Fawkes published new revelations about the conduct of Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara.
The recently-elected MP has already apologised after the site reproduced homophobic and misogynistic comments he posted online when he was a young man.
It has now emerged he engaged in a racist rant online. The Tories and Lib Dems called this afternoon for Jeremy Corbyn to withdraw the whip from O’Mara.
Labour party officials believe O’Mara can cling on to his job for now.
But they have warned that any further gaffes – or the emergence of any more skeletons in his closest – are likely to lead to clamour from the public and political opponents for him to stand down as an MP.
In a separate development, speculation is mounting that long-serving Labour MP Caroline Flint – who represents nearby Don Valley – will run for mayor of South Yorkshire – in a move that would require her to give up her safe Labour seat.
The prospect of two avoidable by-elections is causing party managers a huge headache.
Influential figures including former Labour leader Ed Miliband, who represents Doncaster North, has warned privately that support for the party is softening in the Labour-supporting town – Flint held her seat in June with a reduced majority of 5,169, down from 8,995 in 2015.
Recent council election by-election results have lent support to Miliband’s theory that Labour support is falling in towns and rising in cities. That is one reason Corbyn has been touring small towns in the Midland and the North in recent weeks.
O’Mara narrowly won Sheffield Hallam by defeating former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in a shock victory that was one of the most memorable moments of election night.
But in a fresh twist, it has emerged that friends of Clegg are urging him to re-stand if a vacancy becomes available.
They believe his vocal campaign against Brexit could win him back the seat, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in June 2016.
The South Yorkshire mayor will be handed significant powers when the post is created next year.
Flint is believed to be weighing up a bid to become Labour’s candidate. If she succeeds, she will follow in the footsteps of senior figures Sadiq Khan, Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham by opting to leave the opposition benches to build a municipal powerbase.
Party bosses are now worried that a double whammy of by-election losses could stall the momentum Corbyn has enjoyed since he defied pundits to win 262 seats in June – four more than Gordon Brown won before he resigned as Labour leader and Prime Minister in 2010“Jared’s incompetence and Caroline’s self-indulgence could cost us” said a senior Labour source.
They fear a repeat of the disastrous Copeland by-election of last year, when labour lost the seat to the Tories for the first time in more than 80 years. It failed to win Copeland back in the general election.
The loss of two seats would be particularly significant given the current state of the parties.
Theresa May failed to win an overall majority and formed a government only after striking a “confidence and supply” agreement with the DUP.