James Wharton profile: A young man in a hurry

Friend of Sri Lanka hopes to catch the eye of Tory leaders

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The Independent Online

Whichever way you look at it, James Wharton will go far. One of Westminster’s fastest-rising MPs, he is also one of its more well-travelled.

A Conservative since his teens, he became chairman of his local party association at the age of 18 and entered the House of Commons when he was just 26.

On the face of it, he has a long political career in front of him. And yet, with a majority of just 332 votes in the normally solid Labour seat of Stockton South in the North-east, he is smart enough to know that he might not get the chance to represent his constituents for a second consecutive term.

This might explain why he appears in a hurry. By pushing himself into the spotlight, this confident media performer has raised his profile and increased his chances of returning to Westminster in a safe Tory seat at some point in the future.

Wharton’s distaste for Europe is matched by his affection for Sri Lanka, to which he has been a frequent visitor during his short time in Westminster.

The Independent revealed in November that Wharton had made four visits to Sri Lanka in the space of nine months, despite having no significant Sri Lankan community in his constituency or any notable ties to the country. Two of the backbencher’s trips were at the expense of the Sri Lankan government and he was presented with a ceremonial plate by Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who led the Army in the country’s bloody civil war.

Wharton, who has contributed to Parliamentary debates on Sri Lanka, has repeatedly attended Sri Lankan official events in London, twice meeting the President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

He denied being a cheerleader for its government. “I don’t think it’s disproportionate or unreasonable, no,” he said. Given the vulnerability of his Stockton South seat it is, perhaps, unsurprising that Wharton should be looking to develop an expertise in foreign affairs.

His election victory in 2010 was partly a result of the failure of his Labour opponent Dari Taylor to save jobs at the Redcar steelworks. But Wharton’s success in delivering the Tories a northern seat will have delighted senior members of the party.

He is a rare Tory MP in the north with a compulsion for visiting Sri Lanka. But, as his adoption of David Cameron’s EU Referendum Bill showed, the young MP is most anxious to catch the eye of party leaders in Westminster.