Labour hits back on crime: Blair points to increasing offences in the Tory shires in answer to Major's attack on inner-city socialism

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CRIME IS rising faster in the shires and suburbs than in the inner cities, Tony Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said last night.

Challenging the Prime Minister's claim on Wednesday that

inner-city crime was rooted in socialism, Mr Blair pinpointed prosperous rural Gloucestershire as one of the country's crime-wave blackspots.

Gloucestershire was solidly represented by Tory MPs until the Liberal Democrats gained Cheltenham last year. Labour obtained its first controlling toehold in the county two years ago, when it won a majority on the Forest of Dean district council.

Mr Blair said at Labour's local government conference in Bournemouth that his party could hardly be blamed for national crime having more than doubled since the Tories took office in 1979 - with a 50 per cent increase over the past three years.

'It shows extraordinary ignorance to suggest that crime is confined to the inner city,' he said. 'It isn't. If anything it is in the suburbs and shires that crime has risen fastest.'

Mr Blair then delivered three league tables - for increases in burglary, motor thefts and thefts from motor vehicles since the Tories took office in 1979. Gloucestershire scored the second highest increase in burglaries, up 444 per cent; it was fifth in the motor theft table, up 225 per cent; and top of the league in thefts from motor vehicles, with a 633 per cent

increase.

'Criminal behaviour may come in its most violent form in the inner city. But actually it disfigures most towns and villages every Friday or Saturday night,' he said.

'There are no excuses for crime and it is some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society that suffer its worst effects. This is common sense. But so, equally, is the proposition that where a community suffers poor education, bad housing, lack of employment or training opportunities, and broken families living in sub-standard conditions, it is more likely to produce criminals than communities where hope and opportunity exist for all.'

That point of analysis appeared to divide John Major and Kenneth Clarke, his Home Secretary, this week - with Mr Clarke sharing Mr Blair's view of the need to create employment and training opportunity to help to combat crime.

Mr Blair said last night that he wanted a democratic bargain in which opportunities were provided in exchange for responsibilities demanded. 'We should be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime,' he said.

'A new start can only be based on community co-operation between local people, police and government. New employment and training opportunities go hand in hand with better community policing where local people - the majority of whom are law- abiding and suffer crime rather than commit it - are taken into the confidence of the police.'

But he warned that Mr Clarke's plans to create fewer and larger regional police authorities would be a serious mistake. 'Apparently the Home Secretary wants to replace the elected members of the police authority with local businesssmen,' Mr Blair said.

'By all means let local businesses and others be involved in policing and policing priorities. But removing a local say through local representatives would be a foolish and regressive step. On the contrary, we should be trying to bring policing back closer to local communities - not making it more remote.'

In his speech to the conference tomorrow, John Smith, the Labour leader, will pursue a similar devolutionary theme, placing a new-found Labour priority on the individual at the expense of corporatist power-brokers.

Pointing a new direction for his leadership, Mr Smith is also expected finally to silence any further talk of traditional nationalisation.

Mr Smith has concluded that the party has to seek drastic change in its policies - and then sell them with a determination and confidence that has been signally lacking since the 1970s.

As part of that process Ann Taylor, the education spokeswoman, and Robin Cook, trade and industry spokesman, are planning nationwide consultation exercises designed to tap the views and demands of the public and the professionals affected.

Mr Blair gave the following statistics.

Biggest burglary increases since 1979: Leicester, 452%; Gloucestershire, 444%; Norfolk, 382%; Warwickshire, 359%; Avon and Somerset, 314%; Lincolnshire, 312%; Staffordshire, 302%; Bedfordshire, 290%; Suffolk, 290%; Devon and Cornwall, 274%.

The six police forces with increases of more than 200% in motor theft since 1979: Cleveland, 259%; Durham, 258%; Staffordshire, 243%; Warwickshire, 229%; Gloucestershire, 225%; Norfolk, 210%.

The seven forces with thefts from motor vehicles more than 400% up since 1979: Gloucestershire, 633%; Devon and Cornwall, 500%; Avon and Somerset, 469%; Thames Valley, 460%; Warwickshire, 456%; Leicestershire, 453%; Sussex, 420%.

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