The Labour Party in Blackpool: Tories 'seek scapegoat for rising crime rates'

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The Government was trying to scapegoat the police for rising crime rates in the same way that it had tried to blame the Germans for the sterling crisis, Tony Blair said yesterday, writes Anthony Bevins.

Mr Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, will address the Blackpool party conference on law and order this morning.

But he told the Independent yesterday that the Tory strategy was to shift the responsibility for the problems of law and order from the politicians to the police. 'The police, in some senses, are for them the sort of law-and-order equivalent of the Bundesbank,' he said.

He pointed out that if ministers did believe that structural reform was a cure-all, it was curious that it had taken them 13 years to reach that conclusion - during which time they had done nothing.

Mr Blair said that while he would support reasonable changes in police structures, it would be 'absurd and irresponsible' for the Government to suggest that was all that was required. 'They have got to look also at better strategies for policing,' he said.

He believes, for example, that the police should liaise more closely with local communities on their strategic policies and priorities; some forces were too remote and out-of-touch with the communities they were supposed to serve.

But Mr Blair, the party's former employment spokesman, also believes that the problems of law and order cannot be separated from unemployment. He said: 'Unemployment is not an excuse for crime, but it strikes me as a matter of common sense, never mind social science, that if you have large areas with high levels of unemployment, the young people without much hope or opportunity, that is the soil in which crime will take root.'