I was born and brought up in Newcastle and was extremely proud when, in 2001, I was elected as your MP.
Now 47, I have been married to my wife Victoria, an architect, for 11 years and we have three children Joe, aged 10, Aneira, 7, and Octavia ('Tavi'), aged 3. My two daughters, indeed, were born shortly after the two general elections I have contested to date in Newcastle!
I was actually born in Freehold Street in the town, before moving to Clayton when I was seven, at a time when the local Council compulsorily purchased the terraced houses to put in bathrooms and inside toilets. These days, thankfully they are more enlightened and give people grants to improve homes, rather than throwing families out like then.
My mum was a nurse at the City General and my dad, who came from Ireland, a gas pipe-laying foreman. He was very fortunate to work for many years for a German businessman, Hubert Steiner, a Luftwaffe pilot, who was shot down and settled here after the Second World War, and built up North Staffs Pipelaying with its trademark yellow H.S. vans. He was such a decent employer that he helped my dad buy his first house, in Seabridge, when I was nine.
I went to school first at St Mary's catholic infants and juniors in the town, then Wolstanton Grammar School, which became Marshlands Comprehensive School in my fourth year. Then I studied to philosophy, politics and economics at St Edmund Hall college in Oxford - the first of my family ever to go to university.
After graduating, I worked in the City of London for six years as a corporate financier with for Barclays de Zoete Wedd, part of the Barclays banking group, advising businesses on expansion, mergers, takeovers and stock market flotations, before pursuing a career in journalism.
Initially with the respected international news agency Reuters, I then became Deputy Business Editor of the Independent on Sunday
and then spent four years as the City Editor at The Observer
before my election in 2001.
Throughout, I was also one of those troublesome investigative journalists, asking awkward questions and trying wherever possible to expose wrongdoing - something I have always tried to keep up while in my job as an MP, too.
Unlike many MPs and candidates, I was never involved in student politics. My life experience before, indeed, came from the private sector and I think there are too many privileged 'professional polticians' these days, going from university to working for politicians, then standing for election without getting much knowledge of the real world out there.
My granddad, though, an engineering fitter for the RAF and Rolls Royce at Crewe, had joined the Labour party after coming back from the First World War. It was he, too, who impressed on me the value of education, always asking after my homework and taking me to the library at Clayton as a lad. I'm proud, therefore, to be a governor these days at Wolstanton High, as my old school is now known.
It was general election day in 1987, when - at the age of 25 - I finally decided to 'do something' in politics rather than just moan....about Margaret Thatcher. From then, I became increasingly more involved, fought a 'practice run' in a safe Conservative seat in 1997 and was delighted when I was chosen in 2000 as Labour's new candidate in Newcastle, following the retirement of Llin Golding.
In Parliament, I have always tried to be an independent-minded MP for Newcastle, which - needless to say - does not always go down well with those party discipline managers, 'the whips'.
I have strongly supported the good things we have seen, which were not there before, such as investment in our local schools, the building of a brand new hospital in North Staffordshire, a strong emphasis on jobs and regeneration in former coalfield and traditional industrial areas like ours, and latterly a brand new college for Newcastle.
Where I have felt policies are wrong, though, I have said so - starting a rebellion against bringing a market into higher education with variable, university top up fees in 2003, when I co-ordinated backbench opposition. That resulted in fee levels being capped and better grants and bursaries for students.
My maiden speech in parliament was also about further education, about getting the Educational Maintenance Allowance for over 16s in Newcastle, which has since happened. Later this year, measures will also be brought in to give fairer pay and conditions to over a million vulnerable temporary and agency workers, following a deal struck in the wake of a Private Member's Bill I introduced into the House of Commons.
Recently, too, I have shown my independence in disagreeing with the government over the Ghurkas, and also voting for a fully public enquiry over Iraq, as is firmly wanted by the families of our soldiers and the military to brass alike.
In parliament, much of my work has been in committees behind the scenes. I initially served until 2005 on the Science and Technology Select Committee and I have since been a member of the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee.
My first priority has always been to do my best for my constituents, both in Newcastle and at Westminster. As your link between local people and Parliament, I have always been keen to make sure your views and concerns are heard at the highest level in Government.
Improving health care
Health is a clear priority. Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the NHS, a milestone that has seen record investment going into health services locally. Already more than £60 million has been spent on creating improved maternity and cancer services at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire and there is more on the way as we build a brand new hospital for the 21st century.
In 2007, I opened Audley’s new £3 million health centre (pictured). This has improved GP facilities with provision of a much wider range of services, such as chiropody and minor surgery, all under one roof. In 2009, we have seen the new walk-in NHS centre at Morston House in the town centre and a new multi-purpose health centre finshed, too, at Lower Milehouse.
It is important that the NHS continues to respond to people’s changing lifestyles and these new health centres mean that more people will be able to see their doctor at times that suit their needs.
Improvements can always be made, though, and I’m currently working hard to secure more investment in key areas of need identified by constituents.
These include action in line with the Government’s recommendations - to ensure that our local NHS Primary Care Trust funds fertility and at least one cycle of IVF treatment. In addition, I’m fighting for obesity surgery to be carried out locally.
In the past, I’ve successfully campaigned for the eyesight saving drug, Lucentis, to be provided free and ahead of the final go-ahead by the regulator, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). This followed a campaign, too, on behalf of breast cancer sufferers to ensure they had free access to the new drug Herceptin.
Jobs and the economy
Newcastle is a great place to live and work and I’m keen to play my part in ensuring our local economy goes from strength to strength. With its central location and excellent communication links, Newcastle is an ideal place for many companies who value the skills and flexibility of local people.
My aim is to encourage more investment into the area for the benefit of local people and, as patron of Urban Vision, North Staffordshire's architecture and design centre, I’m particularly keen to promote good planning and design in the built environment.
What we need locally is a mix of skills for the future - not just distribution and call centre jobs, often in badly designed 'sheds' which blot the landscape. We need councils and regeneration agencies to be ambitious for our area and I'll continue to fight strongly for that.
Improving local schools
I was the first member of my family to go to university, so I know from first hand experience about the importance of education. Our local schools are now benefiting from record levels of government investment and we’re seeing the impact of this in pupils’ improving exam results. These are a credit to the hard work of staff and students alike.
The development of a new £60 million Newcastle College is more proof of the commitment in education to ensure that young people are getting more opportunities to develop the skills they need for a modern working environment.
I’m delighted that Newcastle has also shared in the record sums invested by the Government in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour. Crime rates in Newcastle are below the average for the West Midlands and, apart from some exceptions, have declined in recent years.
Newcastle’s community police support officers are a good example of that extra investment, and we've returned police officers back to their 'beat' at the heart of local communities. Decent people should not see their lives blighted by nuisance and anti-social behaviour, nor should our children be led astray by a mindless minority. Working with key groups to identify underlying reasons and solutions for anti-social behaviour is helping make our local communities safer.