The disgraced Labour MP for Peterborough appeared despondent and said nothing as she left court earlier this week, hiding behind sunglasses as journalists barraged her with questions. Fiona Onasanya was found guilty of perverting the course of justice by conspiring to avoid conviction of a speeding offence last year.
As a resident of Peterborough myself, I have been following this case closely - not only because Ms Onasanya is my MP, and not only because she is a Christian, but because we've actually met in the past.
The weary image of Ms Onasanya at the courthouse stands in stark contrast to the confident and charismatic woman on the cusp of her rise to political power who introduced herself to me at a 'Voices for Good' weekend away, organised by the Evangelical Alliance. Ms Onasanya had stood out to me. It wasn't just because she had a broad smile and energetic disposition. It was her audacity. She announced boldly to our group, that she had set her sights on becoming Prime Minister.
This seemed overly ambitious. At the time, Ms Onasanya was a solicitor and Labour councillor for Cambridge County Council. So, we smiled back at her and moved on to the next person. Yet, within 8 months, she narrowly beat Stewart Jackson to become Peterborough’s first Labour MP for 12 years. Her strong work ethic and unwavering support for Jeremy Corbyn meant that she was soon propelled to the party whip. Fiona Onasayna meant business. She was rising in the ranks of the opposition and was a committed Christian who was open about her faith.
Now she has been found guilty in a court of law not only for speeding, but also denying that it was her driving.
When a Christian in the public sphere falls there is always a collective sigh of disappointment from fellow believers. When one leading Christian fails or makes errors, it would seem that the finger is vicariously pointed at us all. The name of Christ is mocked as newspaper editors gleefully pair words such as ‘devout’ and ‘churchgoer’ with ‘lying’ and ‘schemed’. This shouldn’t happen, we think to ourselves.
Yet Ms Onasanya is maintaining her innocence. And it has been revealed (via leaked WhatsApp messages in the press) that she is even comparing herself to innocent biblical figures such as Daniel, Joseph and Jesus himself. This despite the fact that multiple pieces of evidence, along with witness statements, culminated in a clear guilty verdict.
The name of Christ is mocked as newspaper editors gleefully pair words such as ‘devout’ and ‘churchgoer’ with ‘lying’ and ‘schemed’.
Like many, I've felt angry that a Christian in politics should stoop so low. I've then felt bad for being judgmental. My teenage sons tell me off for speeding; I find it hard to keep to the limit when roads are quiet and it seems safe. I’ve managed to accrue 3 points on my licence and I’d like to think that I wouldn’t lie about anything if the law caught up with me. But if I worked in a high-pressured role and was struggling with a severe illness maybe I'd act differently? I don't know.
Fiona Onasanya’s hopes of becoming Prime Minister have been crushed; she will likely never rise to power in the Labour Party again, despite her pleas. She may seek and obtain forgiveness from God and the Church, but the electorate tends to be much harsher.
God is gracious and the restorer of wounded ones or hopeless cases. The Bible is replete with examples of honourable leaders, commended by God, who fall: King David, described as a "man after God’s heart", conspired to conceal his affair with Bathsheba and ordered the murder of one of his top men. Abraham, patriarch of the faith and known as a "friend of God", fathered a child with his housekeeper. And let’s not forget Moses – leader of a nation into the promised land, yet guilty of manslaughter after acting in anger.
One positive thing that Christians can do in this situation, is to fulfil the MP’s request for prayer for herself and her family. While I cringed at the way Ms Onasanya has compared herself to Jesus, it is always a commendable aim to pray for fellow Christians in crisis – even when you feel uneasy about the overall situation. I really hope that Ms Onasanya is telling the truth and this is a miscarriage of justice. But on balance, it does seems unlikely that she will be vindicated.
Annie Carter is a writer and educator from Peterborough and the author of The Book Beyond Time, a children’s epic fantasy novel.
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