Labour’s lazy attack ads shows we need honest solutions to tackle crime, writes Liz Saville Roberts MP

There was a time, a long time ago, when Labour politicians wanted to do something with the trappings of ministerial office. With power came a purpose and an aspiration greater than removing the other party from the seats of government. After all, what difference does it make if you swap green benches only to sit on our hands, or at worst carry out your predecessors’ instructions.

These past few days have been revealing about what we could expect from a Starmer government, and it’s not pretty.

Labour’s lazy advert in which they spout empty rhetoric and populist posturing on the serious issue of sexual crimes risks turning politics into a bloodsport. It was also revealing on two counts, with no winners.

Firstly, it demonstrated, in the most naked way possible, that in its style and substance little separates the Tory lite party from the Tories themselves. Secondly, there is no serious plan to tackle crime. Even under Tony Blair, Labour recognised the need not only to be ‘tough on crime’ but also to be ‘tough on the causes of crime’. Keir Starmer has ditched the second part of the slogan altogether – and presents a fantasy that has already been proved futile.

The Tories have driven the criminal justice system into the ground through 13 years of relentless cuts and yet Labour’s response, reflecting its shallow well of ideas, is to resort to the drip drip of dog whistle politics.

It's ironic that Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, now appears to accept none of the blame for the current state of the justice system, despite sitting on the Sentencing Council when key decisions were made.

Labour’s position on justice is nothing short of incoherent. They want to lock more people up for longer despite not wanting to build more prisons. They ignore the fact that Wales has one of the highest imprisonment rates in Western Europe already, yet crime remains high.

They lament that people are more likely to get addicted to drugs while inside prison than outside, but then also want to lock more people up for low level drugs use like cannabis and support sentencing people up for using laughing gas.

Their simplistic solution for preventing crime is to put more police on the streets without crucial investment in diversion schemes and social services. It's a classic case of focusing on the symptoms, not the underlying causes. Labour clearly has no real plan for the justice system, and their priorities seem to be more about rhetoric than real change.

Plaid Cymru, on the other hand, understands that the Criminal Justice system is not an island. It is deeply connected to other public services such as education, children’s services, and healthcare. We recognise that the system is complicated, and that punishment for punishment’s sake is not the answer.

Plaid Cymru is pushing for meaningful change through the devolution of justice to the Senedd. By integrating the justice system with other devolved public services, we can bring about change that improves the lives of everyone in Wales.

Drug misuse can be treated as a health problem. Low-level offenders can be rehabilitated in communities. Serious offenders can be placed in secure units where they can access treatment for the underlying causes of their behaviour.

Partial devolution, as advocated by the Welsh branch of the Labour Party, in contrast to their bosses in London, does not go far enough. It would simply exacerbate the ‘jagged edge’ of the justice system in Wales, and create an even more complex and byzantine system.

It is untenable for Labour in Wales to continue to support the status quo, which sees cities in England, like Manchester, have greater devolved powers over the criminal justice system than the entirety of Wales.

Integrating and streamlining the justice system in Wales is crucial, not just for the sake of it, but to reduce crime and poverty, to end racism and sexism, and to break the cycles of physical and mental health problems that plague our communities.

Labour needs to stop sinking deeper into the gutter and focus on serious change. It's time for a fresh approach, one that recognises the complexity of the system and integrates it with other public services for the good of everyone. 

Plaid Cymru’s vision for justice in Wales offers such an approach. No false promises of quick fixes, but honest solutions for the complex problems faced in our society.

The next Westminster Election will be a true test of political integrity.

Where Sunak leads, Starmer follows – in doing so exposing himself as the flip-flopping would-be PM who offers little and believes in nothing.

The choice will be between the parties of smears and the party of ideas – Labour and the Tories with their tired Westminster ways or Plaid Cymru with a hopeful vision of a fairer future for Wales.

It's time for Labour to catch up.