MPs and commentators from across the political spectrum have criticised a Labour attack ad claiming that Rishi Sunak does not think child sex abusers should go to prison.
The opposition party was accused of “cheapened and debased” politics and “stooping low” after posting the advert on Twitter on Thursday.
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 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.”
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.”
SNP MP John Nicolson said: “This is absolutely nauseating. Politics cheapened and debased. The Labour Party wants to win, of course, but like this?”
Tory 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.”
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.”
It comes amid heightened efforts by Labour and the Tories to pitch themselves as the party of law and order in the run-up to local elections.
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.