BEN HOUCHEN is re-elected, Hartlepool turns blue, Cleveland has a Tory Police & Crime Commissioner and every single by-election contested by the Conservatives in the Tees Valley is won. These are extraordinary times.

This was the region of Blair, Mandelson, Milburn and Mowlam, significant national figures in Labour, but what did they do in their patch? Every one of their seats form part of the Tees Valley and each now has a Conservative MP.

I say that not to gloat. There has been a lot of hard work put in by hundreds of volunteers to make this happen, but something has changed.

Is it Corbyn? Boris? The Ben factor? The Airport? Treasury Jobs? Teesworks? The Freeport? The Towns fund? Investment in our train station? The vaccine roll-out?

It is all of these, and more.

It’s the belief that better days lie ahead of us after decades of being overlooked. We are rightly proud of our past, of our trains and steel and bridges.

But people are aspirational for their future too. They want great education, good homes and great jobs and they want them here.

We are creating those opportunities, with Kickstart, Lifetime Skills, enabling anyone over 24 to access education. The biggest single example of this is the Treasury Jobs announcement. A tangible example of real levelling up.

The people of Darlington, Hartlepool and Teesside aspire for better futures, and it is Conservatives, proud of our country, proud of our flag and proud of our region, that people now look to.

Tees Valley has taken political centre stage – 2017, 2019, the Budget and now 2021. Is this just because Labour MPs work less hard than their Conservative equivalents on constituency case work, or is it that the swathe of new Tory MPs – 11 in the North-East now – are better communicators?

It was Ben’s election that paved the way for a team of Tories to work together and collectively lobby and push for what we want for our region. I was delighted that Chancellor Rishi Sunak chose to relocate the Treasury to Darlington, but Ben, Simon, Jacob, Matt and Paul all worked with me to push that case. We wanted it HERE, as in the Tees Valley. None of our constituencies are islands; thousands live in one, work in another, shop in another and have family spread through them all.

On Tuesday, I had the great privilege of accompanying my friend and new colleague Jill Mortimer into the Commons to take her oath. An historic moment as Hartlepool joins the Blue Wall and the Conservatives welcome another fantastic female MP to our ranks. I know that Jill will work with us to secure the best for Hartlepool, Tees Valley and the North-East.

Being elected as the MP for Darlington was one of the most incredible moments of my life, fulfilling a lifelong ambition, to represent a great northern town, but it what has followed in terms of the difference myself, Ben Houchen, Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and the rest of my Conservative Colleagues in Parliament and at Darlington council are doing to make a real difference to people’s lives that makes me really proud to do this job.

There is more to do. Much more, and we are just getting started.