A BUSINESSMAN born and raised in Darlington has been selected as the town’s Parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats.

Simon Thorley, 37, says a radical, long-term plan to rejuvenate the town centre – prioritising better public transport, the creation of well-paid jobs, and improved cycling infrastructure – will be at the heart of his campaign to become Darlington’s next MP.

The election is due to be called before the end of 2024, and he will be taking on the sitting Conservative MP, Peter Gibson, and Labour’s candidate, Lola McEvoy.

Mr Thorley, who is also standing for the Lib Dems in Park West in May’s council elections, was born at Greenbank Maternity Hospital, and went to Abbey Junior School, Hummersknott Academy and Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College before studying politics at Edinburgh University.

While at university, he spent a year in Hong Kong studying Chinese politics and, after graduating, he moved to Taiwan to study Mandarin.

The Northern Echo: Simon Thornley, the Lib Dem candidate for Darlington

Simon Thorley, the LibDems candidate for Darlington

He returned to Britain in 2011 and lived in London until 2020 when he moved back to Darlington, where he lives with his wife, Nicole, and children, Clara, five, and Jack, three.

Mr Thorley, who also speaks French, is managing director of InTuition Languages, which specialises in language training.

“Having lived away and come back, it’s clear that Darlington has some very positive things going for it – excellent transport links, a relatively well-educated population, established industries, and a diverse economy,” he said.

“It is also incredibly warm and welcoming to incomers, as my Canadian wife has experienced. She says we should have moved here years ago!

“However, we are missing opportunities in the way we bring about town centre improvements. Innovation and creativity are sadly lacking.”

He wants to prioritise the development of a more “joined-up” cycling infrastructure on all main routes into the town, saying: “Darlington is too large to walk everywhere, but small enough to cycle everywhere.”

Mr Thorley is also calling for a standard 20mph speed limit with exceptions for major roads, as well as an Oyster Card-style system for local bus services.

The Liberal Democrats aim to create a “Town Centre Neighbourhood” by converting empty retail units into offices and housing.

Mr Thorley accused Tees Valley’s Conservative mayor, Ben Houchen, of failing to ensure the public is getting a fair deal from public ownership of Teesside Airport, and said that he had questions to answer about “how 90 per cent of land at the Teesworks site was given away to companies with which he has close political contact”.

But he faces an uphill battle if he is to be elected. Darlington has had either a Conservative or Labour MP for more than 110 years, with the last Liberal MP being an extraordinary character called Timothy Ignatius Trebitsch-Lincoln, who remains the only British MP to also hold a position in the German government. At the December 2019 election, the LibDems won 4.8 per cent of the vote in Darlington.

The Northern Echo: Darlington MP Peter Gibson Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT.


The Northern Echo:


Mr Thorley branded the Government’s Levelling Up campaign as “pork barrel politics”, adding: “They’ve cut councils’ funding by 20 per cent, then made them beg for money from funds that are controlled centrally. It stinks and needs to be replaced, with the money returned to the councils. We need less bureaucracy, not more.”

Nationally, the Liberal Democrats will campaign to rejoin the single market as a route back to the EU, arguing that Brexit has been “a self-inflicted disaster”.

“Rejoining the Single Market will provide a huge boost to the British economy, enabling us to put vital additional funding into the NHS, police, transport and other core public services,” he said.

The party is also planning to establish a Skills Fund that people can dip into throughout their lives for educational purposes.

The Northern Echo: Simon Thornley, the Lib Dem candidate for Darlington

Simon Thorley has been selected as the LibDems' candidate for Darlington