IN the biggest turnout of voters for 16 years, Darlington re-elected Labour’s Jenny Chapman to represent a seat seen as a key indicator of the national political landscape.

Exactly 44,896 votes were cast across the borough with Ms Chapman clinching 3,280 more votes than her nearest rival, Conservative candidate Peter Cuthbertson.

The Northern Echo:

Loading article content

Peter Cuthbertson at the count at Darlington's Dolphin Centre

The Tory central office had pinpointed Darlington as a seat that could be turned blue, however 22,681 votes were cast in favour of Labour to 19,401 votes for Mr Cuthbertson.

This morning’s Labour win is the latest in a 25-year string of victories for the party in Darlington.

Ms Chapman told a crowd gathered in the town’s Dolphin Centre: “I have to thank everybody who voted, many people who voted for the first time in this election today.

The Northern Echo:

“Everybody who took part through helping with the counting of votes, the returning officer, the police for keeping us safe and most of all I want to thank (my agent), Steve Harker and my wonderful candidate team.

“But most of all, what I need to say to the people of Darlington is that you have stepped up, you’ve turned out in bigger numbers than last time.

“You’ve shown the country that you believe in a future for Britain which is not the one that was on offer to you by the Tory Government.

“You want something different – you want opportunities, you want fair pay, you want an NHS that’s secure, you want properly resourced education and schools.

“That is what they want and that is why I’m here – that’s what I came into politics to be part of and I am so, so proud of my town tonight.”

Ms Chapman also used her victory speech to commit to the Darlington Save Our Services (SOS) movement. She said: “There is somebody here who isn’t a member of the Labour Party at all – she’s the chair of the Darlington (SOS) campaign for our hospital, Lesley Brown. She’s already said to me when are we having our next protest, what are we going to do, when are getting back on the campaign trail to focus on what really matters here – Darlington hospital.”

Political commentator Chris Lloyd on Jenny Chapman's shock hold

“I HAD no speech for this outcome,” said Jenny Chapman at a few minutes before 1am this morning in Darlington’s Dolphin Centre.  A big beam of disbelief filled her face as she stood on the podium. “What a shock.”

History will look at this as a predictable victory: just another in a string of Labour victories since 1992. But it didn’t feel like this at any time in the campaign - only about 20 minutes before the result was announced did Labour’s body language begin to suggest that they were going to pull off a victory.

“I think we’ve won it,” said one Labour councillor. “How the hell have we done that?”  There was actually a swear word in there such was the enormity of the astonishment.

And not just a Labour victory, but an increase in the majority, as the Ukip vote faded to nothing and broke largely to Labour.

Peter Cuthbertson, the Tory candidate in this 35th most marginal seat, began his speech by saying: “I am also surprised by tonight.” His palms were wide open in bewilderment.

Theresa May was so hopeful of winning this seat, and increasing her majority to approaching 100, that she visited it on the first day of her campaign, when the polls said she was 20 points ahead. She was throwing down a marker, deliberately parking her tanks on the lawns of Labour’s heartland.

But rather than securing an increase in her majority to provide strong and stable government, the Darlington result indicates that when she awakes this morning, she will be in a weaker, more wobbly position than ever.  And, for all Ms Chapman’s attempts to distance herself from her leader Jeremy Corbyn - one Labour person texted me on the eve of the poll about how “it’s all Corbyn, Corbyn, Corbyn on the doorstep, he’s loathed” - he appears to have enthused some voters.  It was the shy Corbynistas wot won it.