Labour has doubled down after an attack ad claiming that Rishi Sunak does not think child sex abusers should go to prison drew criticism from MPs across the political spectrum.
The opposition party was accused of a “vile and desperate” campaign strategy by Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson and “cheapened and debased” politics by SNP MP John Nicolson after posting the advert on Twitter.
In a tweet pitching itself as “the party of law and order”, Labour shared a photo of the Prime Minister alongside the words: “Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.”
Labour backbencher and former shadow chancellor John McDonnell urged the party to climb down, saying: “This is not the sort of politics a Labour Party, confident of its own values and preparing to govern, should be engaged in.
“I say to the people who have taken the decision to publish this ad, please withdraw it. We, the Labour Party, are better than this.”
A Tory source said: “Labour HQ have highlighted Sir Keir’s appalling record at keeping children safe.
“During Sir Keir’s controversial tenure as director of public prosecutions, less than 30% of child pornographers saw the inside of a prison cell.
“It’s no wonder only 12% of his staff thought he was any good and criminals want a Labour government.”
But Labour stood firm following the backlash, with a spokesperson responding later on Thursday saying: “The Conservatives have left dangerous convicted criminals free to roam the streets. Labour is the party of law and order, and we will implement tougher sentences for dangerous criminals.”
Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood described the ad as “appalling” and claimed it threatened to undermine the democratic process, adding: “We should be better than this. I’ve called it out on my own side for stooping low and do so again now.”
Mr Nicolson said: “This is absolutely nauseating. Politics cheapened and debased. The Labour Party wants to win, of course, but like this?”
Conservative MP Robert Largan said: “I’m not going to quote tweet it. But that Labour Party post about the Prime Minister is in the gutter. Really shameful stuff.”
Mr Anderson shared a tweet describing the message as “gutter politics,” adding: “This is vile and desperate.”
Both main parties have put crime-fighting plans at the heart of their campaigns to snap up votes on May 4.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeated his promise to halve levels of violence against women and girls as he met with charities supporting victims in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, earlier on Thursday.
Meanwhile Mr Sunak has announced a crackdown on grooming gangs to protect young women and girls from sexual abuse, with measures including a new police taskforce of specialist officers and the collection of ethnicity data.