LABOUR councillors have defended a move to vote against a Conservative member becoming a council’s leader.

Darlington Borough Council’s Labour group was accused of behaving “disgracefully” by the authority’s new leader, Conservative councillor Heather Scott, after 19 Labour councillors refused to support her in taking the authority’s helm last Thursday.

Cllr Scott claimed as the Conservatives had won 22 seats, Labour 20, Liberal Democrats three, Independent three, and Greens two in an election earlier this month, and a deal had been agreed between the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Independents, Labour had broken protocol by opposing her as leader.

After the first meeting of the new council, Cllr Scott said she was dismayed about the prospects of working with Labour members for the benefit of the town’s residents.

The Northern Echo:

She said: “They obviously can’t accept that they have lost and I think it is absolutely disgraceful. It’s never been done before. We have never moved an amendment against them on a point of principle.”

Leader of the Independent group Councillor Kevin Nicholson said he also felt Labour had gone against custom with the vote, which “went against what the town asked us to do in working together more”.

Councillor Stephen Harker, leader of the Labour group on the authority, said while the selection of the town’s mayor had traditionally been “very much protocol driven”, the choice of authority leader was “entirely a separate issue”.

He said: “We certainly didn’t move an amendment, as has been suggested. We asked for a named vote to record the way each councillor voted. The reason I did that was because it is a rare occasion for Darlington to have no party in overall control, which produces some uncertainty.”

Cllr Harker said the Conservative group’s leaders had not indicated ahead of the council meeting how they intended to gain sufficient support in the council chamber to form a majority.

He said: “I felt a named vote was the only way of informing the public. It gives an indication of how that administration will be run. It wasn’t done to offend anyone, it was just to record how councillors voted.

“Heather didn’t speak to me beforehand about her intentions about how she wanted to run the administration.”

The former leader of the council said Labour had agreed with opposition members on many courses of action while it had held power and he hoped to continue the constructive relationship with the Tories.

He said while the Labour group would seek to hold the Conservative administration to account, he added “we are not going to oppose things for the sake of it”.