Labour’s attack advert accusing Rishi Sunak of not wanting to see child sex abusers jailed was not racist, Sir Keir Starmer has suggested.
The Opposition leader defended his party’s ad, which depicted the Prime Minister’s face alongside a slogan suggesting Mr Sunak did not want to see adults convicted of sexually assaulting children imprisoned.
Sir Keir was asked whether the ad targeted the first British Asian Prime Minister in light of racist tropes about grooming gangs.
He told the Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme on Sky News: “No. The vast majority of child sex offences are not by people of Asian origin.”
He also suggested he personally stood by the ad because of the Tories’ “unforgivable” approach to criminal justice.
Sir Keir said: “This idea that somehow you can ship in a new Prime Minister – we’ve had five of them now in the last 13 years – that somehow doesn’t bear responsibility.
“They have broken our criminal justice system. It is unforgivable what they have done.”
The Labour leader urged Mr Sunak to follow his example from when he ran the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in taking responsibility for both success and failure.
Sir Keir said he had accepted credit when the CPS secured big prosecutions, including a case in which seven planes had been targeted in the Atlantic in a terrorist plot, and also “carried the can” when it did not.
“We prosecuted that successfully, got awards for that and I took the credit for that on behalf of the organisation. Where we got it wrong, I carried the can,” he said.
“But what that meant to me – carrying the can – was identifying what the problem was and what we needed to fix it.
“I looked at the problem, analysed what had gone wrong, rolled up my sleeves and fixed it.”
Arsenal fan Sir Keir also said his party winning the next general election is more likely than his football team becoming Premier League champions.
Lamenting his team’s current prospects, he added: “There’s a lesson in there for politics – we’ve got to fight all the way into the next election.
“We’ve got to fight like we’re five points behind and we’ve got to make our positive case to the electorate.”
The Government, meanwhile, claimed the public will not believe Labour’s “nonsense” attack ads on the Prime Minister.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper told Sky: “I think if people judge the Prime Minister by his actions, they will see that the substance of that ad was nonsense.”
The Prime Minister recently launched a taskforce to tackle child abuse across the UK, including proposals for a new duty on those in public service to report suspected abuse.
On Labour’s ad, Mr Harper added: “I think it is a very disappointing approach from (Sir Keir), but I don’t actually think the public will buy it.”
The continuing row over the ad comes ahead of the local elections on Thursday which are widely seen as a litmus test of the public mood ahead of an expected general election next year.
In an interview with the Observer ahead of the polls, Sir Keir pledged ambitious changes to public services if he comes to power.
He promised to be bolder than former prime minister Sir Tony Blair in his approach to public service reform if Labour wins the next election, as well as going “further than the Tories in the private sector”.
Alongside drawing parallels to the New Labour era, Sir Keir has announced a series of measures to ramp up housebuilding and introduce a target of 70% homeownership across the UK.