Tory-run Darlington’s £20,000 rebranding has Labour in a blue funk

More bricks in a former Labour “red wall” seat are to turn blue, as Tory-run Darlington Borough Council prepares to introduce a £20,000 rebranding exercise that would see the the town hall signage, crest and even the local bins change to match Conservative colours.

Maya Wolfe-Robinson www.theguardian.com

Labelled as “sheer political opportunism” by a local Labour councillor, the funding for the redesign comes from £23m awarded to Darlington, in the Tees Valley, from the government’s “towns fund”, according to the council’s deputy leader who is behind the plans.

But councillor Jonathan Dulston insists that the new logo is “not blue – it’s actually teal … It’s a colour that has been widely used by the council for a number of years now”, he told the Guardian. He maintains that the choice for the redesign, which sees the red, green and yellow elements of the crest change to a single colour for all council related business, has nothing to do with Conservative branding.

“Absolutely nothing. That would be inappropriate, and we know that. Ultimately the council – although we are in control – has to be independent from any party politics, so we wouldn’t want to go down that road in any way, shape or form,” he said.

But Dulston did admit that the aim was to distance the current council from previous administrations. Labour lost control of Darlington Borough council after decades in power in May 2019, months before the town voted in a Tory MP for the first time since 1992.

The Darlington council old logo as it currently looks.

The Darlington council old logo as it currently looks. Photograph: Darlington council

The council is undergoing “a transformation project” in an effort to “reconnect” with residents “because we know that the relationship under previous administrations has been damaged”, he said.

The £1bn scheme intended to boost struggling towns, announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in this year’s budget, has been criticised for appearing to show bias towards areas with Conservative MPs. When the pot was announced, Labour accused the government of attempting to “shore up” Tory votes with “cosmetic” projects in hand-picked constituencies after a Guardian analysis showed that 39 of the 45 recipients of towns fund handouts have Conservative MPs.

The rebranding exercise voted through will “provide a visible and symbolic signal to residents” that the council is undergoing change and is part of its “progressive transformative agenda”, according to council documents.

Dulston said the reinvention had been supported by local MP Peter Gibson who – following last month’s local elections – wrote an article in the Northern Echo headlined “The world is turning blue, and we’re only just getting started”.

Darlington council’s proposed facelift.

Study in blue: Darlington council’s proposed facelift. Photograph: Darlington council

Labour councillor Nick Wallis said many Darlington residents had expressed unhappiness with the proposals, particularly, he said “as we’re a local authority under the cosh, in terms of austerity and council tax has just been put up by 5%”.

He said the way the decision had being taken, without consultation or planning and “the sheer political opportunism” was becoming a hallmark of the local Tory administration, emboldened by newfound popularity for Conservatives across the Tees Valley, symbolised by the landslide re-election of mayor Ben Houchen.

“What’s different is the way in which they’re getting about cementing their power, and that is all about image,” Wallis said.

“They’re going about their business in a very clever and very cynical way. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I don’t think in the long term, the people of this town will be fooled by it.”

“This doesn’t paint, dare I say it, Darlington Council in a good light,” added Wallis. “We don’t want to be in the headlines for these reasons. It’s a misuse of the town’s fund money and I’m sure it won’t be the last occasion.”