Voters see Labour as the party of law and order: 'Independent' poll shows 64 per cent of public no longer trust Tories to make right decisions on crime

Click to follow
THE CONSERVATIVES are now significantly less trusted on crime than the Labour Party, according to an NOP poll for the Independent.

Only 28 per cent of the public trust the Tories 'to make the right decisions about crime,' while 64 per cent do not. In the case of Labour, 44 per cent trust the party and 39 per cent are distrustful.

The figures came as the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, claimed at a Westminster news conference yesterday that Labour was 'at sixes and sevens over law and order'. He added that the Government's Criminal Justice Bill had presented Labour with 'an opportunity they have fumbled, a test they have failed'.

The poll figures partly reflect general and widespread discontent with the Government, illustrated by Labour's 22-point lead over the Tories. The poll puts Labour at 48 per cent, the Tories at 26, Liberal Democrats at 21, and others at 5 per cent. This is a 2 per cent drop for Labour since

3 April, but the Tories have stayed the same at 26.

Answers in the poll also show that John Smith is the most popular choice as Prime Minister, with 26 per cent of electors saying he would be best in the job. But it also suggests that Michael Heseltine would be the voters' preference as Tory leader. Chosen by 16 per cent, Mr Heseltine is ahead of John Major as a preferred Prime Minister.

However, Mr Major, who scores 11 per cent, is well ahead of Kenneth Clarke (5 per cent) and Michael Portillo (3 per cent). Mr Portillo last night unmistakably sought to raise his profile as a future leadership candidate with a defence of the 'quiet majority'.

The poll suggests Labour has had especial success in turning law and order - traditionally a Tory issue - to its own advantage. That is despite the poll being taken a day after the Home Office announced a drop of 1 per cent in the crime figures - the first since 1988. The fall in the last quarter of 1993 was 9 per cent down on the same period in 1992 - the biggest quarterly drop since 1975.

The relatively positive figures for Labour on crime contrast with those on the economy and taxation where people distrust both the main parties.

The figures will certainly not deflect Mr Howard from his determination to see through the main principles of the Bill despite probable opposition to some key elements when it has its second reading in the Lords next week. It has already been approved by the Commons. Mr Howard is expected to seek a reversal in the Commons if the Lords vote down elements such as changes to the right to silence or secure units for 'hard core' juvenile offenders.

The Home Secretary said yesterday that Labour's attempt to hide the 'bitter hostility' of many Labour MPs to the Bill 'collapsed' when 43 MPs voted against it at its third reading in the Commons. He said Labour's official abstention had been to hide 'their miserable ambivalence on crime'.

Mr Howard added: 'It just goes to show that the Conservative Party is and always will be the only party which can be trusted to take effective action on law and order.'

However, Alan Michael, one of Labour's home affairs team, said Mr Howard was making a 'pathetic and threadbare' attempt to 'talk up' the Bill.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Which party do you trust to make the right decisions about: (%) ----------------------------------------------------------------- CRIME TAXATION THE ECONOMY Conservatives YES 28 18 22 NO 64 76 69 DON'T KNOW 8 6 9 Labour YES 44 34 37 NO 39 51 47 DON'T KNOW 17 15 16 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

Poll details; Portillo speech, page 4

Leading article, page 12