Weeks before the 2017 General Election, Jeremy Corbyn high-tailed it to Cambridgeshire to meet the local candidates. Or, to be precise, one of the local candidates.
‘I urge all of you – do everything you possibly can to get this wonderful woman elected as the MP,’ Mr Corbyn as a young black woman joined him on stage to pose for photographs.
A ringing endorsement from the Labour leader, particularly given that few people in the room, let alone further afield, would have known the first thing about Fiona Onasanya.
Corbyn told voters to do ‘everything you possibly can to get this wonderful woman elected as the MP’ prior to the 2017 general election
Eighteen months on, how things have changed.
For one, everyone knows who she is – she’s the Labour MP who got flashed by a speed camera while driving her car and then chose to lie about who was at the wheel. Not once, but over and over again.
Found guilty of perverting the course of justice before Christmas, she then refused to stand down as an MP, vowing to fight on for the sake of her constituents and comparing herself to Jesus Christ.
This month, the convicted criminal even returned to the Commons to cast her vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. No surprise, then, that Mr Corbyn has spent the past few weeks desperately trying to distance himself from ‘this wonderful woman’.
But the fact remains that she rose to the top under his patronage – first as an MP, then further promoted to the front bench as a whip, responsible for party discipline and order. All of which raises serious questions over the ability of the Labour leadership to run their party, let alone the country.
Onasanya was imposed as the Labour candidate for Peterborough by the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC).
Sources have told the Mail that she was not even interviewed in person, but was chosen on the basis of her CV.
Fiona Onasanya arrives at the Old Bailey, London for sentencing after lying to avoid speeding points on January 29, 2019
And of the three people on the panel that chose her, key to her selection was the backing of Peter Willsman. A long-term friend and hard-Left ally of Mr Corbyn, last year he was caught up in a bitter row after being caught on tape describing some members of the Jewish community as ‘Trump fanatics’ who were ‘making up’ problems about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
‘Willsman knew her politics and pushed the others to select her,’ said a source. ‘He said it is what the Leader of the Opposition’s office wanted.’ In other words, she could be relied upon to be loyal to Mr Corbyn, a man she praised gushingly as a ‘visionary’.
‘It looks like they chose in haste and picked someone whose credentials seemed reasonable on paper,’ one party member said.
From the start, Onasanya was desperately out of her depth. After her shock victory in 2017 – she beat Tory incumbent Stewart Jackson by just 607 votes – constituents were quick to criticise her performance.
For starters, they couldn’t get hold of her. ‘I’ve contacted her twice since June and she doesn’t have the manners to answer,’ read a message left on her Facebook page. ‘Not even a thank you for your letter. Dreadful… all a big show beforehand and nothing after.’
Another wrote: ‘I’ve been trying to contact her for four weeks either by phone or email and nothing back. It’s a disgrace for our MP to ignore people that voted for her.’ One staff member recalled seeing 5,000 unanswered emails in her inbox.
There was further controversy when Onasanya promised to personally tackle the problem of fly-tipping in her constituency.
Festus Onasanya, the 33-year-old brother of Labour MP Fiona Onasanya. He pleaded guilty to the charge relating to his sister’s car and two other similar offences
In August 2017, she announced she would pay £800 for a bulky waste collection to be carried out each month out of her own pocket. Eight months later, the Tory county councillor in charge of refuse collections publicly challenged her as to why so few of the collections had taken place. Soon after, the project was quietly shelved.
Onasanya also racked up eye-watering expenses, spending £9,000 of taxpayers’ money staying in hotels in London in her first seven months in the job. It wasn’t until January 2018 that she rented an apartment in the city at a fraction of the cost. Her excuse for her disorganisation was that she was overwhelmed by the job of an MP, admitting she ‘didn’t have any idea what it would be like’.
Perhaps this was to be expected. After all, her entry to politics was accidental. In 2011, she was with a friend in a pub talking about the London riots when the secretary for the Cambridge Labour Party overheard her and asked her to join them.
In 2013, she was elected as a Labour county councillor, going on to become deputy leader of the Labour group on the council (less of an achievement than it sounds, given she was one of only a handful of Labour members).
When the snap election was called in 2017, her name was among a number submitted to the NEC for consideration.Clearly, they liked what they saw. As a Labour insider observed: ‘Being a fresh outsider helped her – she hadn’t alienated anyone with her views.’
They must have assumed that Onasanya – a church-going solicitor – would be a morally-upstanding individual. ‘I am motivated in all that I do by my abiding faith in God,’ she said in her maiden speech to Parliament.
Her faith has its roots in her childhood when she was badly injured in a collision with a speeding car. Rather than taking her to hospital, her mother took her home and prayed until she got better.
Onasanya’s mother Paulina was born in London but met her father, Frank, in Nigeria before the couple settled in the UK.
The MP went to state school, leaving with 11 GCSEs and four A levels, ‘mostly Bs’, after which she went to the University of Hertfordshire to study law, qualifying as a solicitor in 2015.
She chose commercial property law because it was the least ‘contentious’, saying other areas of law, such as criminal law, didn’t always have a ‘happy ending’. How true.
Within weeks of her election to Parliament, the seeds of her downfall were sown. On July 24, 2017, at 10.03pm, a speed camera on the B1167 at Thorney, Cambridgeshire, flashed into action, capturing the MP’s speeding car doing 41mph in a 30mph zone.
A week later, a notice of intended prosecution form was sent to Onasanya. Had she replied honestly, telling police she was the driver, she would likely have received three points on her licence and a small fine.
But, throughout the police investigation, Onasanya offered no credible explanation as to who was driving the car – other than to claim it wasn’t her. During dozens of questions at Bedfordshire Police headquarters, she remained completely silent.
In his sentencing comments, the judge said: ‘By the time you met a police investigator, you knew you were providing information you knew to be untrue. You deliberately committed the offence of which you are convicted.’
Onasanya and her brother were charged with perverting the course of justice. They had been due to stand trial together. But a week before the hearing, Festus pleaded guilty to the charge relating to his sister’s car and two other similar offences.
It meant Onasanya appeared in the dock on her own, allowing her to heap all the blame on her sibling. ‘You are grateful to Festus,’ said David Jeremy QC, prosecuting. ‘The truth comes a very distant second to your personal ambition, doesn’t it?’
Onasanya denied that, claiming Festus had ‘set her up’, that she was completely unaware of her brother’s criminal behaviour and was shocked when she learned what he had done.
Of course, if Onasanya had any decency, her conviction would have marked the end of her political career, and an end to any further burden on the public purse.
Instead, she made it clear that she believes she is the victim of a miscarriage of justice and has refused to stand down as an MP.
In an extraordinary WhatsApp diatribe sent to fellow MPs, she even compared herself to Jesus, claiming: ‘Christ was accused and convicted by the courts of his day and yet this was not his end but rather the beginning of the next chapter in his story.’
That was followed by a column in her local paper in which she vowed to continue as an MP.
Labour has expelled her from the party, which means Onasanya has been sitting as an independent MP. As such, she is entitled to continue drawing her £77,000-a-year salary.
As for her staff, a source told the Mail that those who work for her continue to be employed. In her first eight months as an MP they received almost £70,000 in wages.
This month, a video surfaced in the Daily Mirror of Onasanya pretending to snort ‘cocaine’.
The footage shows her facing the camera and saying: ‘I’ve just come out of a meeting and I feel inspired.’ She then uses a card – the size of a credit card – to perform a chopping motion. The MP can then be seen bending towards the table as she mimes snorting the imaginary substance. She gave no comment on the video when approached by reporters.
Given her three-month custodial sentence, Onasanya has plenty of time to consider her next move.
She is the first female MP to ever be jailed. She once said she aimed to become the first black, female Prime Minister. If she achieves that, it would be a comeback – to use the sort of biblical analogy of which she is so fond – that even Lazarus would be proud of.