Starmer promises to revive levelling up, praising Boris Johnson for the policy

Credit: PA

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have promised to revive the government's levelling up plans, praising former Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the idea.

In a joint article for The Times, the Labour leader and deputy leader wrote that under the former PM, the Conservatives were "starting to understand" the need for levelling up, and that Mr Johnson "talked a good game".

Blaming current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for failing to deliver the policy, they said the plans were "killed at birth" by Mr Sunak as chancellor.

Speaking at the launch of Labour’s local election campaign in Dudley in the West Midlands, Sir Keir however said Mr Johnson "didn't do the hard yards" on levelling up.

Sir Keir also praised Margaret Thatcher in an article for the Telegraph, saying she sparked "meaningful change" in Britain and "set loose our natural entrepreneurialism".

A number of Labour frontbenchers have also publicly praised Ms Thatcher in recent weeks.

Asked during a question and answer session with journalists whether he was a "Tory in disguise", Sir Keir said Ms Thatcher "did very destructive things across the country including in the Black Country... but I do think it's important to distinguish between leaders who have a driving sense of purpose... from those that drift."

"What is the driving philosophy of Rishi Sunak apart from survival?" he asked.

Sir Keir said the Tories "preyed on people's hopes with levelling up".

"It was right here that the former prime minister... gave his big levelling up speech, a project he said would turn the tide on regional equality in this country", he said.

"People say to me, the worst thing you can do in politics is to prey on people's fear, yet in some ways preying on their hopes is just as bad"

Sir Keir said: “Britain’s got an economy that hoards potential, and a politics that hoards power.

“And it’s no coincidence, no accident that this leaves us with more regional inequality than anywhere else in Europe."

Ms Rayner compared the Tories’ levelling-up pledge to a “burnt-out shell”.

The party’s deputy leader said: “We can all see now what a burnt-out shell that slogan has become, like a car that’s been nicked and then left behind a row of garages, only for the Tories to leg it out the passenger door the minute they get past the 2019 election.”

Angela Rayner is under pressure over claims she broke electoral law when she sold her ex-council house, as police are reassessing their decision not to investigate the allegations.

Ms Rayner has faced questions about whether she paid the right amount of tax on the sale of her former home due to confusion over whether it was her principal residency.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said it was reassessing its decision not to investigate allegations she gave false information on official documents, after pressure from Conservative Party deputy chairman James Daly.

When asked about the claims during the speech, Sir Keir said "Angela has my full support and my full confidence today and every day".

He also said: “She has not broken any rules, she has in fact taken legal and tax advice which has satisfied her, and us, and me about the position.”

Asked if Ms Rayner would be publishing her legal advice, Sir Keir said she was willing to share information with the relevant authorities, adding: “But should she publish legal tax advice? No she shouldn’t.

“Where does this end? Are you going to be calling for Tory ministers to publish their legal and tax advice going back over the last 15 years? That is where this ends.”

Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove said "I'm sure Angela Rayner has done nothing wrong", but urged her to release her legal tax advice.

During his speech on Thursday Sir Keir also joked: "We have a prime minister who is the political equivalent of that friend from back home who says he will get the first round in if you pay for the taxi and yet when you get to the bar he is nowhere to be seen.”

Sir Keir said the PM wants “one last drawn out summer tour with his beloved helicopter”, challenging the Prime Minister to call a general election.

Launching the party's May 2 local election campaign, the Labour leader said: “I was hoping we would be launching a different election campaign here today, but the Prime Minister bottled it.

“He wants one last drawn-out summer tour with his beloved helicopter. So we need to send him another message, show his party once again that their time is up, the dithering must stop, the date must be set.

“Britain wants change and it is time for change with Labour.”

Mr Gove said Keir Starmer "couldn't be more wrong" on levelling up.

"Labour are late to this game", he said

"We're the party that's been leading on levelling up for years now, and the areas of the country in the Midlands and the North that Labour neglected for decades have had an infusion of cash and a power surge thanks to the Conservative government".

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