LABOUR leader Keir Starmer says the party is on the brink of a “historic first” by taking council control from the Conservatives.

Campaigning in Worthing ahead of the local elections on Thursday, Sir Keir said the party has put forward a “positive case” for change and he is hopeful that Labour will win control in the town for the first time.

He said: “It’s incredible that we are even talking about Worthing possibly becoming a Labour council, which would be a historic first.

“I think that tells you how far the Labour Party has come in the last two years and shows you the positivity of the Labour team here in Worthing and the positivity of the ideas.

“Worthing needs change and what people want here is a council that meets their local ambition, and that’s what a Labour council would do.”

The Argus: The Labour leader stopped for selfies with passers-by along the promenade: credit - PAThe Labour leader stopped for selfies with passers-by along the promenade: credit - PA

The Labour leader, accompanied by the party’s group leader in Worthing Beccy Cooper, was frequently stopped by passersby while walking along the promenade, with some asking for selfies or stopping to shake his hand.

In an interview with The Argus, Sir Keir dismissed claims by the Conservative leader of Worthing Borough Council Kevin Jenkins that Labour’s campaign had focused on national issues and that the party had no answer for how they would run the council.

He said: “If the Tories put as much energy into dealing with the very real problems people face in terms of the cost of living as they do in slinging mud, we’d actually make some progress for millions of people across the country.

“We have a very good local manifesto - the local Tories might like to read it before they comment any further.”

He also criticised comments made by Lynda Hyde, Conservative candidate for the Rottingdean Coastal by-election, who described the Partygate scandal as “left-wing propaganda rubbish” and said the Labour leader was “grasping at straws” over the scandal because the party had “no policies of his own”.

He said: “I’m finding it hard to take seriously that line of attack. We started the campaign on the issue of the cost of living, and we’re ending the campaign on the cost of living.

“We’ve got something to say on the cost of living, and they’ve got absolutely nothing to say about it.”

The Argus: Keir Starmer with Cllr Beccy Cooper at Worthing PierKeir Starmer with Cllr Beccy Cooper at Worthing Pier

Sir Keir also said that recent figures of the number of people using food banks in neighbouring Brighton and Hove were a “snapshot of the human impact of the government’s abject failure” on the cost of living crisis.

He said: “So many people are facing bills going up and, at this moment, the government has chosen to whack them for more tax.

“People are crying out for a government that is in touch with their problems and they are seeing a government that is out of touch and out of ideas.”

Labour and the Conservatives are battling for control of the council in Worthing, with both parties going into the election with 17 councillors each, short of the 19 needed for a majority.

Labour has seen a surge in support in the town in recent years, with its first councillor in Worthing for more than 40 years elected in 2017.

The party deprived the Conservatives of overall control of the council for the first time in almost two decades in December last year after winning a by-election, prompted by the resignation of a Conservative councillor accused of links to a far-right organisation by anti-fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate.

When asked if Labour would win control of Worthing Borough Council on Thursday, Sir Keir said: “I hope so, and I am really proud of the campaign we’ve run here.

“We’ve got good ideas for Worthing and we’re putting a positive case with positive candidates to try and bring about change, and we need to earn every vote on Thursday to try and turn councils like Worthing, so we can make a real difference to the lives of thousands of people.”

Sir Keir said that, 25 years since Tony Blair ousted a Conservative government in a landslide victory, Labour is ready to government again.

He said: “We’ve gone through huge change in the last two years and we’ve moved from being an opposition to being the alternative, and what we’re fighting for in Worthing is evidence of the change we have brought about.”

Voters will also be going to the polls in Adur, Crawley and Hastings on Thursday, as well as in Rottingdean for a by-election for Brighton and Hove City Council.