Sir Keir Starmer has defied critics of Labour’s attack advert accusing Rishi Sunak of not wanting child sex abusers to go to jail by saying he stands by “every word”.
The Labour leader said he makes “absolutely zero apologies” for the campaign that has provoked anger within his own party regardless of how “squeamish” it makes people.
Amid frontbench unease, senior figures including former home secretary Lord David Blunkett called for the ad to be withdrawn, arguing that Labour is better than the “gutter” politics.
But, writing in the Daily Mail, Sir Keir stood by the ad and said he refuses “to just stand by or avoid calling this what it is”.
He criticised a “path of decline” that he said the economy, NHS and criminal justice system have been placed on in the last decade under the Conservatives.
It is not just rapists that are not being taken to court, he argued, but burglaries and thefts are not being prosecuted, nor are the fly-tippers turning neighbourhoods into “junk yards”.
“Rishi Sunak and successive Tory governments have let criminals get away with it because they don’t get it,” he wrote.
“I make absolutely zero apologies for being blunt about this. I stand by every word Labour has said on the subject, no matter how squeamish it might make some feel.
“When 4,500 child abusers avoid prison, people don’t want more excuses from politicians: they want answers.”
Sir Keir argued he has made Labour the “party of law and order once again”, recommitting to boosting police, dealing with the courts backlog and halving violence against women and girls.
“But it will also have zero tolerance for those who tolerate crime. It’s time to get serious. Time for the excuses to end. Time for change,” he wrote.
The campaign will continue, with further scheduled attacks to include one suggesting Mr Sunak thinks it is right that the public is paying for the “Conservatives crashing the economy” through higher housing costs.
The original Twitter post highlighted analysis of official data and says that under the Tories “4,500 adults convicted of sexually assaulting children under-16 served no prison time”.
Alongside a photo of the Prime Minister, an image reads: “Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.”
Judges and magistrates, rather than the prime minister of the day, are responsible for handing out sentences.
The figures Labour highlighted cover the period since 2010, five years before Mr Sunak entered Parliament. He did not become Prime Minister until October last year.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell joined Lord Blunkett in arguing Labour is “better than this” and calling for the campaign to be axed.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary in charge of Labour’s crime policy, was not informed or consulted about the campaign, according to The Observer.
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell declined to endorse it during an interview.