I make no excuse for saying that this is one of the hardest weeks I’ve had since getting elected almost a year ago. By the time you read this I will be in Paderborn, Germany with Hartlepool resident Richard Lee as the Royal Military Police dig up a river bank in the search for his daughter Katrice, who disappeared almost 37 years ago aged 2. Richard and the family have suffered untold agony over the years, and it is my hope that the fresh impetus now being put into the search brings them closure on this particular line of enquiry. Clearly, it is my sincere hope they find nothing and that Katrice is still alive somewhere. Either way, it is right and proper that I am out there standing by the family at this difficult time.
I am as proud as punch to be the MP for Hartlepool. It seems that everywhere I go, everyone knows the place, like the guy who works in the Post Office in the House of Commons who has been a regular visitor for many years even though he was born, bred and lives in London. He loves travelling and loves the town. Our people are just amazing. From the Pools Fans donning fancy dress in their traditional end of season celebrations, to the likes of 72-year-old dare devil charity wing-walker Tom Wilson, there are so many local heroes and characters who make this town great. Of course, there are plenty of famous sons and daughters we can boast of, but it is the ordinary folk who make the town special. True Hartlepudlians are proud, community-minded people with real resilience, great humour and a passion about their history and heritage.
That is why, when I spoke to TV crews from Channels 4 and 5 recently, both of whom are currently filming separate programmes here, I was insistent that they recognised in their programmes – one about the effects of Universal Credit and the other an episode of ‘Rich House Poor House’ – that we should not be portrayed as the type of grim Northern enclave epitomised in the ‘Benefits Street’ series filmed in Stockton. I sincerely hope they listened, because Hartlepool deserves celebrating not denigrating. We have our issues but we also have our pride.
Talking of which I was really pleased to meet with Sam Kitching this week in the Commons. Sam is 18-years-old and from the Clavering area. He’s an apprentice with Rolls Royce in Washington and a shining example of how, given the opportunity, our young people can get on in the world of work and make a real difference. Many congratulations also to 17-year-old Ellen Gowland for winning the TFM ‘Big Audition’ Regional singing competition, a true star of the future. Given the opportunity, our young people can truly shine and it is my determination to help give them as bright a future as possible.
Our town has so much going for it and we deserve a damn sight more respect than folk give us. We are, as described by one visitor I came across, ‘a real hidden gem’, and rightly so. We cannot afford to let Tory cuts jeopardise that, and drag us back into obscurity. Today is polling day in the local elections and I urge each and every one of you who are registered to vote to exercise your democratic right to do so and help send a strong message to the Government, that persistent attacks on local services are not acceptable and are damaging our communities.