I was so proud to finally launch my manifesto this week, to finally present my vision for a new Tees Valley and new politics that puts people before profit.
It has been a long time coming. I started my campaign two years ago and since then we have had a General Election and a global pandemic that locked down society and brought tragedy to so many families and that really underlined the inequalities in our society.
Ordinary people went above and beyond on the frontline to protect the vulnerable, to keep vital services going while the Tories dished out money to their mates and made a mess at every turn. Ordinary people looked after their friends and family and neighbours and kept the country going while the Tories looked after their donors and dished out tax-payers cash.
That made me more determined than ever that things must change. We can't go back to the failed status quo. We can't go back to inequality, poverty, unemployment and wasted lives. We need to take this opportunity to change things for the better for everyone. There is not a day goes by that I don't think about how to make the Tees Valley better for young people, our families and our communities. That's why I am in politics.
And I believe that change comes from the bottom. By investing in people, in workers, in small businesses, in creativity, in innovation. By investing in communities. By investing in tech and digital so we are ahead of the curve, By investing in smart transport that connects people and places. By investing in a Tees fit for the future and fit for all.
Here in the Tees Valley, we have everything we need to rebuild and thrive. We have the people and the skills. We have the energy and the drive. We have a long, proud history of building and leading the world in pioneering industries. We need to harness that, support it and empower our people to make a success of their lives.
That means backing people to get on. That means flexible funding for skills training in the clean green industries of the future, supporting small start-ups, reviving our high streets, backing the hospitality sector that gives so many of our young people the first step in their careers, promoting the tourism and culture sector that can champion our identity and bring people into the area. That means taking a chance on the Tees.
Building from the bottom and investing in people may not catch the eye in the way big project announcements do but behind the headlines there is another story. The vast majority of people here are employed in small firms, in retail, in hospitality, in offices, in hospitals, in the public sector. The Tees needs to work for them too. It needs to works for families and young people in education. For pensioners. We can't leave anyone behind.
I recognise I'm taking on the UK's biggest political challenge. The government have thrown a lot of money and political capital at backing the current mayor as he represents their ideology. But it is an ideology that has failed so many of our people and our communities.
But I'm not scared to take on that challenge. I'm unafraid, I have mountains of courage. I have pride and passion for our people. And it will never be about 'me', it will always be about 'we'. It will always be about our towns, our jobs, our people, our communities, our future.
That is my vision: A strong and proud Tees that works for everyone,