THE Tees Valley bucked the national trend yesterday and turned the Tories into winners. Labour’s grasp on power was prised away in all five councils, with a stunning result in Darlington, where the Conservatives are to lead the council for the first time since 1991.

Middlesbrough was even more embarrassing for Labour, where it lost control of the council for the first time since 1974 and saw an independent, Andy Preston, chosen as mayor.

All of which created the biggest local winner of the day, even though he didn’t stand: the Conservative mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen. His unlikely success in buying back Teesside airport enthused the regional party during the campaign, and now his cabinet, which is made up of the five council leaders, has a very different political complexion.

Previously, all five leaders had been Labour, and although they all politely tried to work together in public really, behind the scenes, they were desperately hoping to defeat one another. Now, with Darlington’s Heather Scott and Mr Preston in the cabinet, it will have a very different feel in the run-up to the mayoral election next May.

Despite the national battering for the Tories, in Darlington they capitalised on a feeling that it was time for a local change. The popularity of the Labour-run council had been diminishing over the years, partly as a result of difficult decisions forced upon it by austerity. Last year, the leader, Cllr Bill Dixon stood down, along with the retiring chief executive Ada Burns, apparently to give time for a new leadership to present itself to the electorate as a new broom.

However, it didn’t convince the electorate that it had the vision or personality to renew the town, its high street and its library or to protect it from further tree-threatening development.

The Conservatives, with 22 of the 50 seats, don’t have overall control, even if they can entice the three independents on board – will the town go back to the late 1980s days of a hung council, when full meetings lasted until dawn?

Local campaigners report that Brexit was an issue on the doorstep, particularly as the town’s MP, Jenny Chapman, is Labour’s shadow Brexit minister. Labour’s most consistent Brexit policy has been for a general election – will that look so attractive now with her 3,388 majority thrown against the energised Tory contender, Peter Gibson?

But all along the Tees Valley, Labour had trouble. Stockton and Hartlepool both slipped back into no overall control, whereas in both Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland, independents – including former Boro goalkeeper Jim Platt – ended the day with numerical advantage.

Mr Preston secured a thumping victory, 58 per cent to 23 per cent, with a campaign that offered residents free orchards and fruit – reminiscent of Mr Houchen’s gimmicky, but memorable, pledge to protect the parmo.

Tellingly, Mr Preston also made the performance of Cleveland Police, run by a Labour hierarchy, a big issue, and those with long memories will remember that Middlesbrough adopted the mayoral model in 2001, and then elected Ray Mallon, due to concerns about the closeness of Labour to the beleaguered force. How sad that the force’s standards should still be an electoral issue 18 years later.

And it wasn’t just the Tees Valley where Labour had trouble. It did win the North of Tyne mayoral election, but on Tyneside and Wearside it haemorrhaged seats to a disparate mix of Ukippers, Greens, independents and resurgent LibDems. Only in Darlington did the Tories really benefit from the Labour meltdown – although ironically, just south of the Tees in Richmondshire, the Tories allowed the council they had held since 2015 to slip back into no overall control with the prospect of a “rainbow coalition” of Independents, LibDems and a Green somehow seizing the reins.

In leave-voting Sunderland, the Labour leader blamed the party’s failure to enthusiastically embrace Brexit, but then how do you explain an extraordinary result in Shildon and the Dene Valley, where a by-election was held following the death of Labour stalwart Frank Nicholson. With a Ukipper in the field, the LibDems absolutely swept to victory, by 1,257 votes (42 per cent) to Labour’s 682 (23 per cent). Does this mean that the people of Shildon protested against Brexit not happening by voting in droves for a party that does not want Brexit to happen at all?

THIS illustrates the danger of trying to pick a national picture from the broad canvas of local results. The Shildon result may be more about the unpopularity of Labour’s plans for a new county council headquarters than it is about leaving the EU.

So perhaps, therefore, the Tees Valley didn’t buck the national trend, which has been to pummel both Labour and Tory alike for the Brexit mess. Labour, as the dominant party here, obviously got pummelled the most so that it ended in the historically low position of not having full control of a single council in the sub-region – is that a position it can recover from or, in trying to leave the European Union, are we becoming more European with a plethora of smaller parties taking over?