Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has refused to apologize for an ad that implies Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been lenient on sentencing sex offenders. Despite senior members of his party distancing themselves from the ad, Starmer maintains his position. In an article for the Daily Mail, he dismissed claims that the ad is indulging in “gutter politics”.

The ad, first published just before Easter, has reignited a controversy. Labour has suggested that Sunak personally is content for some sex offenders not to be sent to prison.

“I make absolutely zero apologies for being blunt on this, no matter how squeamish it might make some feel,” Starmer wrote in the Daily Mail, a publication that usually supports the Conservatives. However, Labour stand by the figures on the number of child sex abusers who are caught by the police but not sent to jail go back to 2010, five years before Sunak became an MP. Starmer sat on the body that drew up sentencing guidelines for some of that time, as head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Sentencing Council’s primary responsibility is to ensure consistency in sentencing across the UK’s courts. The minimum and maximum sentences are set by Parliament.

Labour is attempting to hold Sunak responsible for 13 years of Conservative-led government. Crime is a major issue for many voters, particularly those the party needs to win back. Labour hopes to neutralize accusations that it is soft on crime. Former Home Secretary Lord Blunkett has called the ad’s approach offensive, while former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell stated that a serious debate on crime should not be sidetracked by personal smears and Daily Mail-style distortions. Labour wants the government’s entire 13-year record to be scrutinized. The Conservatives are willing to attack Sir Keir Starmer, claiming the Crown Prosecution Service failed to prosecute some of the worst offenders in Britain.

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