Fall of the house of Osamor
Kate Osamor’s resignation is a symptom of more serious political sicknesses, argues Jim Grant
The resignation of Kate Osamor as Labour’s shadow international development secretary must be filed as one of history’s more avoidable blunders.
Her son’s conviction for drugs possession at last year’s Bestival music festival has turned into a wider disaster than the family tragedy it would inevitably have been. It leaves her - one of the ever fewer MPs not wholly a product of the Westminster party machines, a lower-middle class woman from the same working class region of North London that includes her constituency - in disgrace, and possibly facing disciplinary action for misleading the public. It leaves Jeremy Corbyn down one shadow cabinet member, who happens to be one of the tiny handful of MPs who nominated him for the leadership in good faith in 2015. Whatever her merits in the abstract, she is not easily replaced.
There is something pervasively dispiriting about this whole saga, another of those scandals which finds persecutors and persecuted both floundering in the mire.
Let us first scrutinise Osamor’s behaviour then. Her verbal (and liquid!) assault on The Times journalist Will Humphries is quite understandable at a time which is clearly a very difficult one for the Osamor clan. It is still hardly good form. We have had cause many times in this paper to criticise MPs for failing to acknowledge that the occasional public beasting is the price of doing business in the public square, and the alternative - the world envisaged by MPs demanding ‘something be done about abuse’ - is far, far worse. Long may the ladies and gentlemen of the press address themselves to these sorts of bungles.
Nonetheless, the scandal would have been straightforwardly survivable - and the more excessive muckraking easily batted aside - were it not for serious errors of judgment on Osamor’s part. It would, first of all, not have been a matter of public interest, had her son not been employed by her office as a researcher, after the nepotistic pattern of Westminster at large, where jobs for the kids, the hubby and the wife are scattered about liberally. As we were all taught by our grandparents, however, just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean you ought to; and such appointments are always risky in exactly this way - incidental scandals like Ishmael’s conviction cannot but highlight the corrupt nature of their employment, and so the sins of the son will be visited on the mother.
Even the ‘everyone’s doing it’ defence falls, however, when we come to consider the sharpest weapon of Osamor’s tormentors - to wit, her bizarre decision to state that she had not learned of her son’s conviction until his sentencing: an untruth as easily exposed as it was hard to credit in the first place. Not only was she aware: she had written to the judge urging leniency in his sentencing, after he had already pleaded guilty. The letter was soon enough in the hands of the press, and it was this that prompted Humphries’ fateful doorstopping expedition.
Nobody ever lost a million underestimating the diligence of Britain’s bourgeois press corps, but the lowliest work-experience boy on the Star could hardly have failed to rumble this little ruse. It is true that some senior politicians get away with this sort of naked defiance of the facts - an especially orange example springs to mind. Osamor is MP for Edmonton, one of the poorest seats in London, however, not the president of the United States. No qualified majority is needed to impeach her.
Call me Ishmael
The nature of young Ishmael’s ‘crime’, however, cannot escape our notice.
He was no doubt one of many amiable young persons who rolled up in Dorset last August with a thirst for musical entertainment and a big old bag of drugs to make the special moments that much better. The police lifted him with £2,500 worth of gear, including class-A cocaine. He claimed initially that this was all for personal use (which would have him going at quite a rate over the four days), and then that he was holding onto it for someone else - the latter story having been accepted on the basis that nobody seems to have caught the chap actually selling the drugs.
But really, what if he was? Let us restore some perspective here - seeing as how we are talking about avoidable blunders! The prohibition of drugs must surely count as one of the 20th century’s greatest of those - a fruitless struggle against a piece of human nature, made worse by its obvious hypocrisy, and the source of extraordinary evil the world over. Sentenced to a little community service, Ishmael Osamor will get off lightly, compared to the tens of thousands crushed between the military hammer and the cartel anvil in Mexico, or the legions of (mostly black) men corralled into America’s brutal, exploitative prison-industrial complex.
How good it would have been to hear Kate Osamor declare that her son had been convicted of a crime that should not be a crime, that the war on drugs is simply a hypocritical exercise in arbitrary authority, with no greater effect than to punish people for being poor and not having MPs for mothers to write to judges pleading for leniency, and that it is high time that the lot should be legal!
Alas, such an action would have panned out even worse for her (unless she suffers further action for her dishonesty). Rightwingers are very keen to remind us that Jeremy Corbyn did not sack her, but frankly we expect that he would have done if she had had the courage to denounce this injustice. One of the great disappointments of this foot-shuffling, endlessly embarrassable ‘left’ leadership is that it is unwilling to exploit its outsider status to escape the self-imposed ideological prisons of wider politics - the most absurd of which must surely be the ‘war on drugs’. If the abolition of drug prohibition was part of Labour’s policy, then the Osamors’ plight might have been redeemed; unfortunately, it is not, so they are hung out to dry.
None of this deals with the nepotism, of course; but there the answer is staring us in the face. Labour MPs should not have a choice of the staff they employ, but rather the power should devolve to the party itself. That it does not already is a concession to the careerist methods of the vast majority of Labour MPs; how unfortunate, if not surprising, that a Corbynista should be the latest victim of nepotism’s double edge.