Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to “bulldoze” through barriers to UK success as he accused Rishi Sunak of being on a “highway to British decline”.
The Labour leader, who has faced dissent from his frontbench and grassroots party members over his stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict, on Friday sought to turn attention back the Tories and his plans to grow the economy.
Addressing businesses at the North East Chamber of Commerce in Darlington, Sir Keir called for a “big build” in the King’s Speech on November 7.
He said: “Next week is the King’s Speech and we can already see that it will only bring more of the same.
“A manifesto for the 14th year of Tory failure and the starting gun fired on the next general election.
“A choice between a Conservative Party with no plan for the future, hurtling down the only high speed project it has ever managed to build: the highway to British decline.
“Or the Labour alternative: a party that understands the potential that lies in regions like this, that has a plan to grow every corner of this country, will work with you to get the North East building again, get our future back with a decade of national renewal.”
Sir Keir said a Labour King’s Speech would “rip up the red tape in our planning system” to speed up delivery of infrastructure, reform the further education system with specialist technical colleges, and bring forward an industrial strategy backed by a national wealth fund.
“If you take only one thing away from here today, let it be this: Wherever we find barriers to British success, we will bulldoze through them,” he said.
“Rishi Sunak is too weak to stand up to the blockers on his back benches.”
Giving examples that he said demonstrated “inertia” under the Tories, he said the Thames Tunnel in east London has a planning application “30 times longer than the complete works of Shakespeare – 60,000 pages”.
Sir Keir mostly faced questions on party divisions over the Israel-Gaza war during a Q&A after his speech.
He insisted his party is “completely united” on the plans to revive economic growth.
“On the question of growing the economy, of taking our country forward, a decade of national renewal, there is complete unity in the Labour Party,” he said.
“On the question of Gaza, there is also unity. Whether people are asking for a ceasefire or a humanitarian pause it comes from the same place, which is people – and this is not unique to Labour Party – across the country, people desperately want to see an alleviation of a situation.”
Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands said: “Sir Keir Starmer is making empty promises that mean even less than usual as he can’t even enforce his leadership on his own party. If his own team can openly defy him, how could he possibly persuade MPs to vote for the difficult long-term decisions that the country needs?
“It’s clear he hasn’t changed his party, he is not leading his party and Labour are still a party of protest. They’re more comfortable taking the easy way out on the picket lines than they are standing up for what’s right.”