Profile: EU referendum bill champion James Wharton
Giant penis statues, a boules pitch and shaking hands with Sri Lanka: the early political career of the man thrust into the limelight by chance this morning is surprisingly colourful.
James Wharton, the Tory eurosceptic who will carry his party's hopes of an EU referendum in the Cameron-endorsed bill, was born in 1984. Think about that. The woman whose funeral he attended earlier this spring had already been in office for five years when he emerged from his mother's womb. His first political memory is her resignation. He was a mere 26 years old when he ousted Labour veteran Dari Taylor from her seat in Stockton. Even now, he is still in his 20s. Now Fate, obviously herself a eurosceptic, has randomly handed him the chance to bear the flag for his party. It is the latest episode in a bizarre early career.
Wharton may be young, but he was chairman of the Stockton Conservative party as early as 2002, when he was just 18 years old. Politics and the Officer Training Corps were his main pastimes as a student reading law at Durham University. He began training to be a solicitor, but politics was what really drove him.
His list of biographical achievements on his website's official biography are astonishingly tedious, although clearly demonstrate his assiduous work as a local MP. "James has campaigned and worked throughout Stockton South, from fighting for a new school in Ingleby Barwick, to playing a part in the campaign to save Parkview care home in Thornaby and to prevent the relocation of Ian Ramsey School in Stockton itself," it states. With a majority of just 332, he needs to make the absolute most of his incumbency to fend off the Labour resurgence most would expect in 2015.
A series of rather odd local news stories might have lessened his chances. His depiction as a 'James Bond-style evil genius" plotting the downfall of a local boules pitch prompted him to threaten legal action against the offending grandmother. The comments of a spokesman for Wharton suggested a serious sense of humour failure had occurred. "This lady has been campaigning in an unconventional and vexatious way and not always at appropriate times," the spokesman told the Darlington and Stockton Times. "This was at Yarm Fun Race and had the potential to spoil the day at a time when politics was not appropriate."
Then came his four trips to Sri Lanka, where he has shaken hands with the defence secretary and defended the administration now facing severe criticism around the world for the brutal and bloody way it prosecuted the country's recent civil war. Wharton has denied being the Sri Lankan government's cheerleader, but faces questions about whether his trips to Colombo have influenced his speeches calling for perspective on the issue in the Commons chamber.
Strangest of all is his decision to lobby a local quango, Jobs North East, encouraging them to come up with £30,000 of funding for a former party colleague's company. That company, Trobacart, earns a chunk of its money from selling statues of giant penises, the Sun on Sunday reported. Perform a simple google search – 'James Wharton giant penis' – for more details.
This is the man who fate has selected to take up the eurosceptic baton in the form of a private member's bill. His initial television interviews following the result of this morning's ballot showed him to be a bland, rather boring and anonymous backbencher. A quick look at his initial forays into life as an MP suggests something rather different.