TWO old pals will be putting friendship to one side as they battle it out for a seat in Parliament at next year’s general election.
Labour MP Stephen Hepburn will be defending his seat of 17 years at May’s election against UK Independence Party challenger Steve Harrison.
Mr Harrison was previously an independent councillor for South Tyneside Council’s Fellgate and Hedworth ward in Jarrow before defecting to UKIP in 2013.
He lost the seat by 182 votes to Labour’s Geraldine Kilgour in May.
Despite that defeat, Mr Harrison thinks he still in with a chance of becoming South Tyneside’s first UKIP MP.
He said: “Public opinion is changing all the time.
“There’s been a couple of successes in Westminster recently, which is obviously very encouraging. I think UKIP represents the views of the average man on the street.
“We’re not afraid to say what people are thinking, and we want to address the issues which matter most to people.
“I’ve known Stephen for many years now, and I am sure we will still stay friends over this.
“I still expect him to buy me a pint on New Year’s Day.”
Mr Harrison says one of his main aims as MP would be to give the people of Hebburn a stronger voice.
He said: “I think the people of Hebburn often feel forgotten. They too are supposed to be represented by Mr Hepburn, but many have said they’ve never seen him outside of Jarrow.
“I know a lot of people are unhappy and feel like the town is being neglected, especially when everyone is always talking about the 365 regeneration plans of South Shields.
“I want to give them a chance to be represented.”
Mr Harrison’s other policies include seeking to halt open-door immigration and protecting the National Health Service.
He believes that the UK should adopt a points-based system, like Australia, on immigration.
He said: “I’m not saying that nobody is allowed to enter the UK, far from it, but we need to stop open-door immigration.
“Our hospitals and schools can’t cope, and our workers are being paid lower wages because companies know they can employ foreign staff who will work cheaply.”
Mr Harrison also wants the NHS to be kept free at point of arrival and for health workers’ wages to be reviewed.
He said: “We have our nurses fighting over a one per cent pay increase. Meanwhile, there are MPs being offered an 11 per cent rise.”
Despite their difference in politics, Mr Hepburn says he’s looking forward to having his majority of 12,908 challenged.
He said: “Steve and I have known each other for a long time.
“I’m sure we will remain friends, and I think I will enjoy the contest.”
MP in seat since 1997
STEPHEN Hepburn is a familiar face on South Tyneside’s political scene.
His first taste of Parliament came in 1979 after he became personal assistant to then Jarrow MP Don Dixon.
In 1985, Mr Hepburn was voted in as a Labour representative on South Tyneside Council.
He went on to be deputy leader of the council for seven years from 1990.
In 1997, he took on the role of MP for Jarrow after succeeding Mr Dixon, now Baron Dixon of Jarrow.
In Parliament, he served on both the administration and defence select committees for four years from 1997.
Mr Hepburn then joined the accommodation and works committee from 2003 until 2005.
Since then, he has served on the Northern Ireland select committee.
At the 2010 general election, he took 54 per cent of the votes cast, with Coun Jeff Milburn, a Conservative representative for the Cleadon and East Boldon ward, coming in second, with 21 per cent.