Labour is now ‘unrecognisable’ compared to the party which saw devastating losses in 2019, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

Speaking ahead of local elections on Thursday the Labour Leader was keen to stress his party has changed as he hopes to make gains across the Tees Valley.

His party faced crushing results four years ago when councils in the area fell out of majority Labour control or into Tory hands in what became a precursor to that year’s General Election thrashing.

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“We have changed as a party,” Sir Keir told the Echo, “We are unrecognisable from the Labour Party of 2019.

“We have to earn every vote and that’s why I have been in the North East as much as I have making our positive case.

“I do hope that we can make gains. Last time we had these particular elections in places like Darlington was May 2019 when Theresa May was in her dying days with the second worst Tory result in their history so the Tories ought to be making gains, but I hope that we can.”

Polling released on Friday (April 28) suggested Labour is leaning towards a majority on Darlington Council, clawing it back from Conservative power.

Sir Keir added: “I have seen for myself the ambition in Darlington. Local people have ambition, they want change, and they’re very clear about what they want. They need a government that’s alongside them and shares their ambition. I’m a strong believer that those with skin in the game, those that live in those communities, know what’s best for them.

“We would make sure decision making, power and resources are devolved out of parliament and to local communities.”

“There’s increasing evidence that the Government’s levelling up agenda isn’t much more than a slogan. It’s true that they have moved some jobs to different parts of the country and any money that goes to different areas I’m very much in favour of, but you need a strategic plan that’s going to ensure living standards and wages go up in places like the Tees Valley and that requires a strategy for economic growth that we haven’t had for the last 13 years.

The Labour Leader was keen to reiterate that Labour would impose a windfall tax on oil and gas companies to help fund a council tax freeze after BP recorded profits on Tuesday of close to $5bn (£4bn) in the first three months of the year.

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The PM hopeful continued: “It’s absolutely clear to me that this set of local elections is about the cost of living.

“I’d invite people to ask themselves ‘After thirteen years do I feel better off?’ and most people will say no, and nor does the health service and nor do they feel safer than they did thirteen years ago.”

Votes on Thursday will provide a vital sign as to whether Labour has recovered from its 2019 trouncing, and whether the Conservatives have been hit by a turbulent year of scandal and the short-lived-yet-disastrous Liz Truss premiership.