JAMES WHARTON, the only Conservative MP in the Labour heartlands of the North-East, could barely contain his dejection when he lost his Stockton South seat in a shock result last Thursday night.

It was a symbol of the complacency the Tories had shown in the run-up to the election, called in the confident hope there would be a landslide majority.

The Conservatives took their eye off the ball in Stockton South. Instead they “rolled their tanks onto the lawns” of the rest of the North-East”, as Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign manager, former NUM man Ian Lavery put it.

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Buoyed by the surprise victory of Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley Mayoral race, and in the hope of seizing back Ukip votes in the high Leave constituencies of the region, Tory bighitters were sent one by one to potential target seats – Sedgefield, Stockton North, Bishop Auckland, and Darlington.

Boris was despatched to Shildon, for heaven’s sake. The North-East has always been largely left alone by the blues, a large red splurge on the electoral map. Not this time.

James Wharton was boosted by a 5,000 majority in 2015 and appointed Northern Powerhouse minister. But later that year the steelworks collapsed. He faced the wrath of many North-Easterners as he appeared to do and say very little, instead attending a business dinner in Durham and opening Yarm School’s new boathouse at the very height of the steel crisis.

Wharton insisted he was working behind the scenes rather than “showboating”. But many of his constituents had jobs reliant on the steelworks. Perhaps a little showboating was necessary. After receiving an onslaught of criticism he eventually abandoned social media, coming off Twitter and changing his Facebook name to “James Wh”, deleting all but those closest to him.

His constituents have not forgotten. And when Labour selected Dr Paul Williams, a GP from the area with an impressive CV, five weeks before the election, I suspected Wharton’s days were numbered. But no one else seemed to think so – not James, his party, or even the polls.

I think he got lost somewhere in the Westminster bubble, where he was well thought of, and assumed he was safe. He didn’t have any high-profile ministerial visits. His campaign involved a letter sent round from Boro chairman Steve Gibson – the man who just two years ago called him a “clown” over his lack of action on steel. He didn’t attend any hustings until just before the election, when a “Where’s Wharton” social media campaign compelled him to show his face.

Come Thursday night, he strolled into the count at Thornaby Pavilion relatively confidently. As the night went on, his smile dropped and a worried frown started to creep on to his face. By 1am, it was evident that Dr Williams was edging ahead. Eventually he won with a 900 majority.

Some Conservatives – including former chairman Lord Ashworth – have bemoaned Wharton’s loss, saying he was a good MP.

But being a good politician is a world away from being a good MP. It’s never nice to see someone lose their job, and Wharton is no exception. But judging by the reaction after the Labour win, there are a couple of thousand steelworkers, who know exactly how it feels, who have very little sympathy.