This week in British Politics #2: A guide through the headlines (Monday 6 Feb to Friday 10 Feb)

This week, unbelievably, something Sheffield-related is front page news and it is my great pleasure to fill you in on it, though I’m sure many of you will have read all about it already.

Some of you will probably remember Jared O’Mara, the short-lived MP for Sheffield Hallam. It was slightly before my time (I got to Sheffield in September 2019) but I do remember that in December of that year, during the general election campaign, the Liberal Democrats did their best to use the legacy of O’Mara to take the seat back. Their former leader, Nick Clegg, had lost it to O’Mara in 2017. This wasn’t quite successful. Olivia Blake won the seat back for Labour – O’Mara had been sitting as an independent – by beating the Liberal Democrat candidate Laura Gordon by around 800 votes.

This week, O’Mara was convicted and sentenced for fraud. It was the end of a long process. O’Mara and his co-defendant – former chief of staff Gareth Arnold – were both arrested and released under investigation in August 2019, then charged in August 2021. O’Mara was sentenced on Thursday 9 February 2023 to four-years imprisonment, and Arnold received a 15 month sentence, suspended two-years.   

It’s all pretty mad. O’Mara defrauded the taxpayer out of thousands of pounds to fund a cocaine habit – he was said to be taking five-grams a day at points, as well as drinking and smoking heavily – and he owed thousands to his drug-dealer. He barely worked and was, by all accounts, a pretty terrible MP. This story in The Mirror gives a far better, more detailed account of the whole story. Luckily justice has been done, and Sheffield Hallam now has a good MP, someone I’m proud to say I helped campaign to get elected.

Also this week, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in the UK, meeting Rishi Sunak and King Charles III, and addressing MP’s in Westminster Hall. It was Wednesday 8 Feb, and the Ukrainian President urgently wanted jets from the West – during his address at Westminster Hall, he thanked the UK for military support, including an offer that Sunak made to train Ukrainian pilots in Nato-style jets, but also appealed for western allies to send jets to Ukraine. Is this likely? We’ve not agreed to anything yet, and Downing Street has said that “escalatory risks” must be considered – yet, Sunak has also said that “nothing is off the table”, and that providing these jets is very much part of a conversation that the government is having. Sunak is obviously keen to continue to present Britain as Ukraine’s strongest ally in the West, as well as present ourselves as a regional and global leader in the support of Ukraine. Last month, our decision to send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine was said by Politico to have put pressure on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to send German Leopard 2 tanks – Germany has since done so, and the US have pledged a battalion of M1 Abrams tanks. Perhaps a UK drive to send jets could have a similar effect, given both Germany and the US have refused to send jets at this time. If there is any time to ramp up military support for Ukraine, it is now. In this last week, it has been reported that Russia has launched fresh assaults in the east and south of the country.

There was a by-election this week, in the West Lancashire constituency. Labour MP Rosie Cooper made the decision to step down last year, and in Thursday’s by-election the Labour candidate Ashley Dalton triumphed, adding 10-points to Labour’s existing majority. Though this is a safe labour seat, this result does not inspire particular confidence in Sunak’s Conservative party’s ability to hold on to the red-wall seats they gained in 2019, even with the addition of Lee Anderson into the Tory cabinet.

Final bit of news – any Pink Floyd fans here? Those of us waiting eagerly for another reunion (we all knew it was unlikely) have had the idea put definitively to bed this week. Roger Waters has always been the most outspoken (ex) member of the group, and he is undoubtable a genius, being instrumental in the creation of all of Pink Floyd’s best albums. Waters left the group in 1985 and they have only played together once since, a reunion for Live 8 in 2005. Waters has recently been speaking a lot about the Ukraine war and was actually invited by Russia to address the UN Security Council on Wednesday. He has also spoken a lot about the Israel-Palestine conflict and other political issues. Before Wednesday’s address, though, on Monday 6 February David Gilmour’s wife Polly Samson tweeted at Waters, calling him “antisemitic”, a “Putin apologist”, and various other things. Waters’ former bandmate Gilmour quoted-tweeted his wife’s post, adding his own verdict: “Every word demonstrably true.”

Waters has replied that the comments are “incendiary and wildly inaccurate” and may be considering legal action. This is all pretty sad, but perhaps not unexpected considering Waters’ and Gilmour’s history and their opposed views on the Ukraine Issue – in 2022, Pink Floyd (at this point, only Gilmour and Nick Mason), released the song Hey, Hey, Rise Up! with all proceeds going to the Ukraine Humanitarian Relief Fund. Waters is a critic of NATO who said on Wednesday, as well as condemning the “illegal invasion of Ukraine”, that: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine was not unprovoked, so I also condemn the provocateurs in the strongest possible terms.” There is certainly a clash here.

Image: Ukrainian Presidents Office

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