Labour wins high ground

Moral debate: Poll shows voters back Blair by margin of 2:1 to tackle violence
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Indy Politics
Tony Blair is winning the battle for the moral high ground, according to an opinion poll which asked which party was mostly likely to put into effect the manifesto of the murdered headteacher's wife Frances Lawrence

By a margin of more than 2 to 1, voters chose Labour over the Conservatives as the party most likely to tackle violence and promote good citizenship as proposed by Mrs Lawrence.

Last week John Major warned the Labour leader against "cloaking himself in righteousness", but the Mori poll published in today's Times finds that Labour is preferred to the Tories by 45 to 20 per cent, with 8 per cent naming the Liberal Democrats. For the first time in five years, unemployment was knocked off the top of the list of important issues.

The findings came after Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, yesterday agreed to meet opposition parties for talks on how to ban combat knives. The Prime Minister told the Commons that following the Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesmen's joint letter to the Home Secretary earlier this week, there would be a meeting in the "near future" between Michael Howard, Jack Straw and Alex Carlile,

But Mr Major also emphasised his view that Mr Straw had accepted it was not an easy matter to come up with a workable definition of a combat knife.

In a letter to Mr Straw and Mr Carlile, the Home Secretary said the approach taken by them - with a broad ban, backed by exemptions for legitimate knives like those used by gardeners - had "important deficiencies". But he added: "I am certainly prepared to discuss this approach with you. The key tests are these. Will it have the effect of getting rid of the kind of knife to which we all object, while allowing legitimate knives to continue to be sold? And will it be possible to enforce the law effectively, without criminalising innocent people?"

The Labour MP Audrey Wise, who came fifth in the ballot for private member's Bills, said last night that she would be promoting a Bill on combat knives. It is possible that if the parties reach agree Mrs Wise's Bill could be used as a fast-track vehicle for banning action.

t A 26-year-old man has become the first person jailed for carrying knives under legislation introduced in the summer. Dean Payne, of Notting Hill, west London, was given a two-week sentence by Marylebone magistrates after admitting carrying three knives.