Shortly after James Wharton dramatically won the Tory party’s only seat in the North-East two years ago – and it was by a hairline majority of 332 votes – he gave an interview to his local paper in which he explained how he was sleeping on a friend’s floor following his move to Westminster.
“I don’t want one of my first acts as an MP to be claiming hotel bills,” the new MP for Stockton South said.
“I’m a local lad, this is my home and it’s a huge opportunity to represent a community you feel a part of.”
At 26 he was one of the youngest politicians to enter the Commons and he portrayed himself as someone who would do things differently from the old guard. One of his five pledges made in the same interview included “Be here all year round”.
Except over the past 12 months Mr Wharton, who joined the Conservatives when he was 18, hasn’t been in Stockton all year round – and he has certainly stayed in quite a few hotels. His favoured choice of destination is Sri Lanka, a country more than 5,000 miles from his constituency.
In Yarm, a picturesque and comparatively wealthier market town where Mr Wharton attended the local independent school, some locals expressed surprise that their MP’s apparent enthusiasm for things Sri Lankan.
One shop worker, who asked not to be named, said: “He comes in about once a month and, to be honest, I’m not very keen on him. This probably won’t help his popularity.”
Another added: “People need an MP who devotes his energy to the local community, not to a country that’s thousands of miles away. If there were lots of Sri Lankan people here you could understand it but I’m not sure if there are any.”
The north-east of England has unemployment at above nine percent. Mr Wharton’s constituency is lower at just above five percent with 3,071 people on jobseekers allowance – a rise of 400 since he was elected.