Howard returns to law and order agenda

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Michael Howard was accused by Labour of "panic" last night after disclosing that he is to move back on to traditional Tory territory, including law and order, immigration and asylum, in an attempt to claw back support in the opinion polls.

Michael Howard was accused by Labour of "panic" last night after disclosing that he is to move back on to traditional Tory territory, including law and order, immigration and asylum, in an attempt to claw back support in the opinion polls.

As a poll for The Times showed the party failing to make progress against Tony Blair, the Tory leader admitted the public were not yet "convinced" that the Conservatives were the government in waiting.

"We have made a lot of progress but I entirely accept that we are not yet there," he said at a lunch with political journalists yesterday. "The challenge that faces us is to convince them [the public] that we are the credible alternative."

Commenting on the Populus poll for The Times, indicating that he was trailing behind Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as the favourite choice to become the next prime minister, he said: "These things go up and down, we have to accept that." But he said voters felt deeply disappointed in Tony Blair, who they no longer trusted, and this had affected politicians of all parties.

Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, said Mr Howard had "reinvigorated'' the Conservative Party and had "given us an unprecedented experiment in working together". He said polls came and went, but he believed Labour and the Conservatives were "neck and neck".

However Mr Howard has told advisers they need to lift their position by around 10 points to win the next election, with possibly only nine months in which to do it, if they are to overcome Labour's huge majority in the Commons.

The failure of Iain Duncan Smith to lift the Tories in the polls led to his removal, but a senior Conservative figure said there was no mood in the party to change the leader again. "Michael is rock solid until after the general election," said the source. "Our trouble is we cannot find something distinctive from Labour to lift the party. We need a Viagra effect."

Mr Howard said the public felt let down by Labour's policies on law and order and he is planning to reoccupy the ground he occupied as Home Secretary. "I am perfectly happy to talk about my record as Home Secretary when crime fell by nearly a fifth," he said. "I think law and order is of particular importance. I think that people are deeply concerned about the level of crime in the country and people are having to change their behaviour in all sorts of undesirable ways because of the fear of crime. People are afraid to go out on the streets at night."

Mr Howard said that the courts often did not back police over measures to crack down on criminals, such as granting anti-social behaviour orders.

He said he believed that on health and education the two parties were level and the Conservatives had neutralised Labour claims that the Conservatives would cut health and education spending.

Labour compared Mr Howard's strategy to William Hague's lurch to the right before losing the 2001 general election. A leading source close to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said: "Michael Howard is in a panic because despite all the noise he is failing to make the breakthrough he needs. The fundamental problem is that his policies are a shambles. He talks about putting more police on the beat but Oliver Letwin wants to cut £600m from the Home Office budget. It doesn't add up."

Comments