Post by peterski on Aug 15, 2020 17:46:31 GMT
Darlington , in the historic county of Durham , is a very socially mixed constituency tightly drawn around the eponymous town of approximately 100,000 residents . The nearby villages of Hurworth, Neasham, Middleton St George and Sadberge are in the Darlington Borough but in the neighbouring constituency of Sedgefield.
As befitting a town with a fairly average population it has been a tight marginal for much of its history . Intially upon creation in 1868 it was won by the Liberal party before falling to a succession of members of the Quaker industrialist Pease family between 1895 and the by-election victory by Labour in 1926. From 1931 to 1945 it reverted to the Tories . Predictably it fell to Labour in the 1945 landslide but was won back in 1951 and held until the defeat of the Tory government in 1964. Labour became entrenched under the stewardship of the popular Ted Fletcher but never secured large majorities and after his death and subsequent by-election his successor Ossie O'Brien only lasted 11 weeks before being swept away in the 1983 Thatcher landslide by the slick and polished Michael Fallon . Fallon's tenure was relatively high profile but many northern towns swung hard against the Conservatives in 1992 and he was expelled by the Sunderland shipyard campaigner Alan Milburn ( Fallon was later to emerge as MP for the safe Tory redoubt of Sevenoaks).
Milburn became a visible presence in the Blair government serving most notably as Health Secretary and Chief Secretary to the Treasury , and after the blowout victory of 1997 which saw a majority of 16,000 his position was never seriously threatened but upon his retirement in 2010 Darlington once again took its place as a key marginal as Jenny Chapman snuck in by a comparatively slim 3,000 votes. Similar margins of victory ensued in 2015 and , against expectations, in 2017 but the Tory tide rose too high even for the widely liked and respected Chapman in 2019 , seeing the election of North Yorkshire Solicitor Peter Gibson .
The bedrock of Gibson's support is in the leafy south west of town , where the wards of Mowden, Hummersknott and Park West vote Tory even in bad years for the party , although in recent times the more central College ward has betrayed its youthful trendiness by electing Green councillors. Labour rules in the mean terraces of central and north Darlington which have a smallish but growing BAME community. Labour would also usually rely on the support of outer ring social housing estates like Skerne Park , Firth Moor, Red Hall, Branksome Park and other smaller estates scattered around the north and east of Darlington but in 2019 it seems likely these areas saw heavy swings to the Conservatives . Similarly swinging the Tories' way will have been mixed neighbourhoods like Harrowgate Hill, Cockerton and Haughton Le-Skerne.
Economically speaking Darlington has been struggling with de-industrialisation for longer than most places even in the North-East, as most of the Railway Locomotive and Wagon works for which it became famous ( indeed the Stockton and Darlington railway is considered to be the first public line operated by Locomotive transport in the world) closed in the 1960's . Subsequent decades were no kinder . as under the economic devastation of the Thatcher years even large employers like Paton and Baldwin yarn spinners shut their doors. Heavy engineering works suffered consistent closures , Darlington Forge company, BSA foundries, Summerson's Foundry , Skerne Wire Mills, Rise Carr Rolling Mills amongst many others all vanishing until the present day we find a mere handful of manufacturing companies still operating . Pre-eminent among these are a major Diesel Engine plant owned by American multi-national Cummins Inc. , the Cleveland Bridge company (famous for the Tyne Bridge and Sydney Harbour Bridge no less) a shrunken HQ of the Whessoe Engineering group and a glorious survivor of the Railway age, Henry Williamson and Co. who produce castings for the rail industry from their historic base in the old industrial community of Albert Hill.
As a market town and retail centre Darlington has also seen far better days . The once massive markets are a shadow of their former self , as is the Binn's department store , forever threatened with closure but currently limping on under the control of Sports Direct's Mike Ashley. The void has , to an extent. being filled by administrative and customer service centres for the Students Loan Company and EE mobile telecommunications and thriving warehousing depots for Argos, Aldi and most recently Amazon but well paid and high status occupations are in very short supply , which does keep house prices exceedingly low outside the leafy West End . ( terraces in respectable condition can be bought for 60, 000 ,; reasonable 3 bedroom semi's in mixed neighbourhoods for 120,000)
In summary it seems likely that Darlington will remain a key marginal in the near future and being very mixed in character but reasonably stable in population means any major demographic trends are doubtful at least for the next 10-20 years.