Labour councillor Steve Harker is the new Darlington Borough Council leader after his party agreed on a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats. 

Cllr Harker was elected as Council Leader on Thursday evening after receiving the backing of Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues despite the Conservatives and Greens voting against the move. The final vote was 27 for and 23 against. 

Labour’s route to the leadership was secured after it agreed on a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats, in a move which both parties say will “mean stability for Darlington and the effective running of the council”. In a joint statement, both Labour and Lib Dems said they will work together to ensure the Council strengthens the local economy and communities. 

The Darlington Conservative Party was ousted from power after its performance in 2023 local elections, where it won 15 seats, was not enough to continue the power-sharing deal it had formed with the Lib Dem’s and Independents. 

Read more: Labour and Liberal Democrats agree Darlington Council coalition deal​

The Green Party, which holds seven seats following the local elections, spoke out against the coalition, arguing it isn’t in the best interests of the public and called for more open and transparent decision-making. The party says Labour told members it was not needed.

“For the next four years Darlington Council policies will be dictated by eight people whom most voters didn’t want,” said the party’s leader cllr Matthew Snedker. 

“Labour received only 35.1 percent of the votes cast at this month’s elections but they will be in power despite nearly twice as many people voting against them as for them.”

Cllr Snedker believes people in Darlington have moved on from two-party politics, given his party’s success earlier this month. “The people are calling for more cooperation between parties and are suspicious of any one group holding all the power,” he said.

The Northern Echo: Darlington Conservatives Leader cllr Jonathan DulstonDarlington Conservatives Leader cllr Jonathan Dulston (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

For the Conservatives, members say they have been betrayed by the Liberal Democrats, who supported them in 2019 before backing Labour in 2023. 

Party leader, cllr Jonathan Dulston said: “I’m really disappointed. Never in a million years did I think the Lib Dems would prop up the Labour party in a coalition. But make no mistake about it, now Labour have control the Liberal Democrats are null and void, they don’t need them. 

"The Conservatives have left a really positive legacy on Darlington, we’ve changed the way we do politics and engaged with the public to make sure its fit for the future.

"We’ve still got 2,000 more votes than the Labour Party, so we’ve still got strong support. We will continue to make sure that all of the decisions made are scrutinised and we put real pressure on the Labour Party to deliver."

Read more: LIVE - Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition deal as new Darlington Council leader to be elected

One of the Green's key manifesto pledges was to restructure how the council is operated, from the current leader and council model to a committee system, which it said would create better diversity for key decision-making. The pledge was also echoed by the Liberal Democrats but the party has been criticised for its volte-face. 

“We talked to Labour about our preference for a more open, democratic process, replacing the cabinet system, as we favour committees containing people from all parties,” said cllr Snedker. “However, Labour wanted to stick with the cabinet system with all the power centralised and decision-making in the hands of just eight controlling councillors.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Lib Dems have agreed to continue with the controlling cabinet system, despite it being their party policy to improve democracy and transparency in local government.”

The Northern Echo: The Green Party's cllr Matthew SnedkerThe Green Party's cllr Matthew Snedker (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

The recent election results shows there’s been a shift in political support throughout Darlington, cllr Dulston said. “It’s very clear, over the last two elections in Darlington, that people don’t want one party to rule the council,” he added. “We need to have a new style of politics which is centred around collaboration and working together to make sure the policies which mean the most to people are delivered.”

Further details on how the cabinet will be formed are expected in the coming days, but Lib Dem leader cllr Anne-Marie Curry has been promised a role.