Keir Starmer has criticised the “grotesque chaos” of recent weeks and said the government “no longer has a mandate from the British people”.
The Labour leader said there were no historical precedents for the ongoing economic turmoil and that the prime minister, Liz Truss, would not be able to “fix the mess she has created”.
Speaking at Labour’s Yorkshire and the Humber regional conference in Barnsley, Starmer said: “Britain has faced financial crises before but the prime ministers and chancellors who wrestled with them all acted fast.
“When their policies ran against the rocks of reality, they took decisive action. But this lot, they didn’t just tank the British economy, they also clung on as they made the pound sink.
“Clung on as they took our pensions to the brink of collapse. Clung on as they pushed the mortgages and bills of the British public through the roof.
“All the pain our country faces now is down to them.”
Echoing a speech delivered by the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock at the party’s conference in 1985, Starmer lamented the “grotesque chaos of a Tory prime minister handing out redundancy notices to her own chancellor”.
He added that Britain was “crying out for clear leadership” and that “Labour must provide it”.
“I would love to stand here and say Labour will fix everything,” he said. “But the damage they’ve done to our finances and public services means things are going to be really tough.
“You can’t build a fairer, greener Britain without first restoring economic stability.”
The recent tumult has seen Labour take a strong lead over the Conservatives in numerous polls. A survey published by YouGov on Thursday found that 51% of people said they would vote Labour in a general election, while only 23% said Conservative, a gap of 28 points.
Another poll found found that 59% of voters thought Truss should resign as prime minister, while only 19% thought she should remain in her role.
Speaking to the Guardian on Friday, Starmer said the country needed a general election regardless of whether Truss remained in office.
Other opposition figures have also criticised the government’s handling of the economy. After Kwarteng’s sacking, the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, formerly an economist at the Bank of England, said the crisis was “made in Downing St and paid for by working people”.
“We don’t just need a new chancellor; we need a Labour government,” she wrote.
On Saturday, the Scottish National party called on the Scottish Conservatives to “grow a backbone” and tell Truss to resign. Mhairi Black, the party’s spokesperson for Scotland, said the prime minister’s tenure was over and that she was “running on borrowed time”.
“The prime minister has driven the UK to the brink of a recession, and left the housing market on the verge of crashing – all within weeks of taking office,” she said. “Sacking the clueless chancellor will not cut it.”
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, echoed calls for a general election.
“Boris Johnson failed our country and now Liz Truss has broken our economy,” he said. “It’s time the British people were given their say on this shower of a Conservative party.”