THE iconic seat of former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been in the hands of Labour as long as most of its constituents have been alive.

Since 1935, it has been a Labour stronghold, with the party achieving a 25,000 majority at the height of its popularity.

During the Blair years, it gained global recognition as the Prime Minister's powerhouse, and it even hosted a visit from US President George Bush. Despite the two men's subsequent controversial reputation, it has remained red, although now the majority of Mr Blair's successor, Phil Wilson, is down to 6,843 – and in 2017, even the safest of seats faces uncertainty.

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A mix of urban and rural towns and villages, the constituency spans north to south from Wheatley Hill to Middleton St George, and east to west from Middridge to Sedgefield, taking in Newton Aycliffe, Chilton, Ferryhill and the Trimdons.

In spite of the constant thread of Labour control, the once traditional mining community make-up has undergone drastic change in the last eight decades.

Taking centre stage in industry these days are two growing business hubs – Sedgefield's NETPark, a science park home to several high-tech companies, and Aycliffe Business Park comprising major employers such as Hitachi, Gestamp Tallent and Husqvarna. Business bigwigs will no doubt be looking to their next MP to fight for continued investment, support and security in the wake of Brexit to aid growth and create jobs.

With the expansion of industry comes the need for housing – a tricky topic for any incoming MP in striking the balance between finding homes for people who need them and addressing increasing concerns of residents in Sedgefield and Newton Aycliffe who feel the charm of their home towns could be ruined by developments. There are also fears new developments will increase an existing pressure on school places in the area and on GP surgeries.

Meanwhile there are concerns over the long-term future of Sedgefield Community Hospital, despite reassurances, and Darlington Memorial Hospital's A&E department.

The Northern Echo:

CANDIDATE: Phil Wilson, Labour Party

Addressing some of the key issues in his campaign is Mr Wilson, who was first elected in 2007. Born and bred in the Trimdons, he has lived in the constituency all his life and is regarded as having been instrumental in securing Mr Blair's selection as a candidate in 1983 .

The 57-year-old says he can offer the people of Sedgefield "continuity" and "experience". He has pledged to focus on "the assault on public services" including cuts to police in the county, the under threat A&E in Darlington and impending school budget cuts.

After voting to trigger Article 50, he has vowed to strive for the "best deal" over Brexit for the North-East "I think I've worked hard for the people of Sedgefield for the last almost ten years," he said. "I think I've got a proven track record of bringing jobs to the area, especially the Hitachi factory, and I want to continue doing that."

The Northern Echo:

CANDIDATE: Dehenna Davison, Conservative Party

Hoping to turn the constituency blue next month is 23-year-old Conservative candidate Dehenna Davison, of Hull, who is currently staying near Middleton St George, where she has been since April 27.

Born and raised in Sheffield, Miss Davison joined the Conservative Party aged about 15, attended a private school in the city on a full scholarship and studied British politics and legislative studies at the University of Hull.

In 2015, she stood in Hull North and since graduating has worked as retail assistant and duty manager for a games shop in the city.

The Tory hopeful suffered tragedy as a 13-year-old when her father was killed with one punch.

On the trail with campaign manager and fiance John Fareham, who is about 35 years her senior, Miss Davison said her campaign for Sedgefield would also focus on getting the best deal for Brexit, promoting education – be it vocational or academic – and mobile connectivity.

She said: "Labour have held the seat since 1935 and they've grown complacent. I'll be an MP that represents everybody in the constituency regardless of whether they voted for me or not."

The Northern Echo:


Fighting for the UK Independence Party is John Grant who was born, brought up and is a resident of Aycliffe Village. The 37-year-old is the serving branch chairman of Ukip Sedgefield, has been a member of the party for three years and stood unsuccessfully in the recent county and parish elections.

He was educated at Newcastle's Grainger Grammar School and Darlington College, spent a decade working for Black and Decker in Spennymoor and in recent years as a careers advisor at various recruitment agencies.

Mr Grant said his campaign would centre on keeping A&E services open while preventing any further use of private financial initiatives (PFI). He has pledged to push for investment in the business sector, will oppose building on green belt land without the prior consultation of residents and is calling for a station on the East Coast Main Line at Ferryhill.

"It's unfair for people to have to travel to Durham and Darlington just to catch a train," he said.

Mr Grant supports the right to recall an MP. He added: "We will bring a fresh push to politics in the Sedgefield seat. If I under perform they can kick me out. Constituents, you are my boss."

The Northern Echo:

CANDIDATE: Stephen Psallidas, Liberal Democrats

Fighting the corner for the Liberal Democrats is Stephen Psallidas who has stood three times before in South Shields and Newcastle. Mr Psallidas, who lives in Newcastle, was a councillor in the city for 14 years and works as an engineering project manager.

As a Remainer he is, along with his colleagues, calling for another referendum over Brexit while focusing on the need for jobs and regeneration in the area.

"I think it's been let down for many years being a Labour safe seat and I think the area needs a shake up politically," he said. "We think we're the only real opposition to Brexit and we're keen to promote jobs, apprenticeships, investment and training."

The Northern Echo:

CANDIDATE: Melissa Wilson, Green Party

Hoping to persuade constituents to go green is Melissa Wilson, 37. The married mother-of-four has spent all her adult life in Darlington with the last six years within the constituency. A founding member of 999 Call for the NHS & 999 Call for Education, she has been involved with the Green Party for three years and stood as a council candidate for the Heighington and Coniscliffe ward in 2015.

Her party has vowed to return academies and free schools back into local control and scrap SATs and Ofsted.

She said: "I'm standing in Sedgefield because this is my home and I'm passionate about issues that affect the area. With the news recently that two Newton Aycliffe schools could lose up to 19 teachers as part of Tory cuts, education will be a key focus for me."

And on health, she is championing the party's promise to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and stop further PFI contracts.

"Many constituents face challenges in terms of social care and we would provide free social care for the elderly and all those that need it," she added.

Northern Echo political commentator Chris Lloyd says...

SHOULD the Conservatives win Sedgefield in 2017, it would be the equivalent of 1997's "Portillo moment" when the Tory minister was ejected from his Enfield Southgate seat.

Michael Portillo's defeat exemplified the enormity of the Tory rout in 1997, and in 2017 if the Conservatives seized the former seat of Tony Blair, it would be a defining moment of election night.

And the Tories should not be discounted, as the seat contains rural villages like Hurworth and Sedgefield itself which feel like Conservative-minded places.

However, in reality, the task is terrific. Phil Wilson's majority of 6,843 is bigger than it looks in the statistics because Sedgefield is such a small seat – it has 20,000 fewer voters in it than Richmond over the Tees.

It is the 87th seat on the Conservatives' hitlist, which, if successful, would give Theresa May a majority bigger than Tony Blair's 166 in 1997.

It would require a swing of 8.84 per cent.

Mr Wilson, a local lad whose track record includes his involvement in enticing Hitachi to Aycliffe, is well dug in, but the colourful back story of the young Conservative challenger, Dehenna Davison, has already attracted national press attention.

In 2015...

Electorate: 62,860 
Turnout: 61.59%

Phil Wilson (Lab) 18,275
Scott Wood (Con) 11,432
John Leathley (UKIP) 6,426
Stephen Glenn (Lib Dem) 1,370
Greg Robinson (Green) 1,213

Labour majority: 6,843