AS the exit poll came in at 10pm, I was eating a burger and drinking a pint of lager in my hotel room at the Premier Inn in Darlington. The poll meant almost certainly that I’d won, and suggested a size of Conservative victory across the country beyond my expectations.
I arrived at the count at the Dolphin Centre just after midnight with my partner and my brother, to be welcomed by my friends who have worked so tirelessly over the past year and in particular the past seven weeks.
I knew straightaway that we had the victory, and immediately the result was known, Ben Houchen asked me to join him in saying goodbye to the last of the Pacer trains later that morning. What better way to mark a new dawn for Darlington, the birthplace of the railways?
About 15 of us had a glass of prosecco back at our office in Larchfield Street, I grabbed a couple of hours sleep in the Premier Inn, and then made it to Bank Top. As I climbed Victoria Road, a cheery chap shouted at me: “I was going to vote Brexit but I voted for you after you spoke to me. Now what are you going to do about punctures?”
I instantly remembered meeting him while he was clad in Lycra and repairing a bike puncture on his driveway. I had jokingly advised him that under a majority Conservative government, punctures would be outlawed. He smiled and wished me well.
I then went into the covered market. The traders are the lifeblood of our town centre and I wanted thank those who had supported me.
After seeing many more wellwishers, I investigated a few properties – I need a home in the town – and made it back to Larchfield Street where the team had laid on a corned beef pie and prosecco party.
I was grateful to be sent home as the signs of only three hours sleep in 36 hours were starting to show.
No time for a luxuriating lie in. Boris was in town!
A quick decluttering of the car (during a campaign, a candidate’s car becomes a travelling waste bin, leaflet distribution centre, and wardrobe as well as a mode of transport. It was great to finally see the carpets again).
On my way in, I registered with three estate agencies. The budget and parameters I gave them opened up a great choice of properties – indeed, quite unlike the five suggestions made by this esteemed publication last week!
Sedgefield Cricket Club presented an amazing sight, with all the national TV channels present, press reporters, and my new colleagues from Bishop Auckland, Stockton South, North West Durham, Sedgefield and Redcar! As a northern Tory, election successes like this just never happen. We celebrate our chinks of blue in the sea of red that I have spent a lifetime working against. I remembered back to the sad morning in 1997, crawling home after an exhausting campaign to strains of “things can only get better”. Well, they have now, but it has taken 22 years…
Boris came. He paid his thanks. We celebrated. I joked with my new colleagues that if all five of us travelled to London together from Bank Top station it would be like a scene from Harry Potter as we boarded the Hogwart’s Express, and so a plan to wear matching blue scarves was hatched! (Credit to Dehenna for the wise purchase from Accessorize – sadly they didn’t have enough scarves for one each so they had to be cut down and shared out.)
Resplendent in our Tory Tees scarves, our departure from Darlington was covered as a national event, but we arrived at Portcullis House in the shadow of Big Ben just minutes before our 5.30pm deadline.
They were clearly expecting me: email account set up, pass organised, directory of new members printed, computers set up. It was superb to see how much effort had gone into making sure we could hit the ground running.
I looked forward to being shown to my riverside office with a fantastic view over the Thames. Instead, I was given a key for a temporary locker on the committee room corridor, and directed to the hot desking area. With building works underway, and many former MPs having to clear out offices, we won’t be allocated our own space until the middle of January.
We now feel like the famous five from the Tees Valley, as we were accompanied by the media on our walk to work today along the Embankment. It felt as if we were schoolchildren on our way to the first day with our parents taking pictures. As the Palace of Westminster came into view, it struck me that this is where I will be working on behalf of the people of Darlington for the next five years. It was a momentous feeling – the culmination of a lifelong ambition, the end of a long, long journey and the start of a new one.
The day was all about gaining information and compiling a long list of dos and don’ts. We had a superb training session in the chamber itself with role plays, and finished off with a photo session of the 109 new Conservative MPs and the Prime Minister.
This morning we were introduced to IPSA – the organisation which handles the costs of running our offices, travel and accommodation. The expenses scandal of a decade ago has led to far reaching changes for the better and we are left in no doubt of our obligation to the taxpayers who cover our costs.
I’m staying in the spare bedroom of a friend, the MP for Sleaford in Lincolnshire, Caroline Johnson – she’s a Boro girl.
Today’s business was to elect a Speaker. Sir Lindsey Hoyle was chosen without dissent, and there was a palpable sense of relief at having a fair and independent Speaker.
An early finish at 6pm meant I was free to leave and after a quick bite to eat, I returned to my bedroom, climbed into my pyjamas, and began clearing up my hundreds of messages.
Suddenly a notification popped up from the whips’ office, advising that my swearing in, which had been scheduled for the following evening, should be done now. I quickly put my suit back on and head back to the House.
I was sworn in at 9.15pm. A very emotional and humbling experience. Heart racing with the sense of significance and the emotion of the moment. This was followed by signing in, a visit to Hansard scribes to confirm how I wanted to be described in the official minutes, and then an official photograph for the Parliament website.
After more induction and training, I collected my post. There were many cards and letters, some from new colleagues introducing themselves, but most touching of all was one from my secondary school headmistress who’d sent a lovely note congratulating me.
I was introduced to the members’ tea room, which I know is going to be my favourite place in the House. Imagine a café with all your favourites: sticky buns, mugs of tea, Tunnocks teacakes, cooked breakfast, cheese and ham toasties..., all served at the prices you would expect in an independent café.
There are strict rules about where you sit with all the Conservatives down at one end, but you simply take a seat as a chair becomes available. Consequently, you might be eating a sandwich alongside Parliamentary veterans, cabinet ministers or your new backbench colleagues. This access that enables backbenchers to gain valuable time talking with ministers about their constituency issues.
The day was rounded off with a reception for Northern MPs by Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, behind a door bearing a “Northern Embassy” sign. The new Conservative Party, a true one nation party, is now heavily dominated by northern members and Jake will take our voice direct to the cabinet table.
State opening day. All the pomp, circumstance and procession that we are the world’s best at was on display. I was able to traipse through the watching crowds and walk through to the House of Lords to see the Queen give her speech – a truly memorable occasion.
My deadline from the Echo approaches as I prepare to head to the chamber for the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. I was sent here to get Brexit done, and that is what I will actually be doing. The people of Darlington can finally have their voice heard in this place.
How do I feel? Exhausted, tired, exhilarated, excited, honoured and privileged, but with a huge sense of responsibility and duty to the people of Darlington who sent me here.
After the vote, I am looking forward to getting home for a good night’s sleep and then going to Darlington for more house viewings and attending the Christmas Service at St Cuthbert’s.
As a small boy growing up in the beautiful seaside town of Saltburn, gazing up at the wonder of the town’s architecture which was part of the vision of the founding Pease family, I feel truly blessed to have the great honour of representing the real home of the Pease family, and following in their footsteps as the town’s representative. I look forward to serving Darlington to the very best of my ability.