Labor was accused of “gutter politics” on Friday as they refused to retract an ad claiming Rishi Sunak opposed the jailing of adults convicted of child sex crimes.

The job advertisement posted on Twitter on Thursday indicated that 4,500 people convicted of sexually assaulting someone under 16 in England and Wales since 2010 had not spent time in prison.

Along with a photo of the prime minister and his signature, the ad asked: “Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison? Rishi Sunak does not.”

Labor has tried to make criminal justice a major issue ahead of local elections in England on May 4, claiming the party would take a tougher stance on key issues than the Conservatives.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer believes he can score political points against the Tories since he was director of public prosecution, overseeing landmark cases against criminals, from 2008 to 2013.

But a wide range of politicians strongly criticized the Sunak-focused Labor Party announcement.

The Labor Party announcement © Labor Party/Twitter

John McDonnell, the left-wing Labor MP, saying on Twitter, the ad was not the kind of politics his party should be involved in and called for his withdrawal. “We, the Labor Party, are better than this,” he added.

Lee Anderson, the Conservative vice-president who is often accused of inflammatory rhetoric, called the Labor ad “canal politics”. “I hate this whole dog whistle policy and so do a lot of Labor MPs,” he added.

The Lib Dems said Labor’s ad was not one they would use.

Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the House of Commons defense committee, called the ad “appalling” and called on Labor to remove it.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a fellow Conservative and former party vice-chair, partly blamed the tone set by the Tories for the announcement.

Warsi linked it to comments by the Minister of the Interior, Suella Braverman, in which she said that the preparation of young women for sexual exploitation was perpetrated. “predominantly” by British Pakistani men.

“Embarrassing comments from Braverman over the weekend [have] it sparked a terrifying fight in the gutter,” Warsi said.

“When are we going to talk about the victims? Where is the protection for the half million sexually exploited children in our country every year?

Asked if they would retract the announcement, Labor said the Conservatives had “left dangerous convicted criminals free to roam the streets.”

“Labor is the party of law and order, and we will implement harsher sentences for dangerous criminals,” he added.

Asked if she thought Sunak disapproved of sending pedophiles to jail, shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell refused to endorse the ad.

But he added: “I agree with what this tweet and this campaign are trying to highlight.”

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