Letter: Unfair to Straw the 'deceiver'

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Sir: Polly Toynbee ("Howard's dismal legacy - Straw's great opportunity", 20 March) really is very unfair to Jack Straw: for the second time she has sought to convey the impression in her column that he is trying to become Home Secretary by deceit.

After the election, she says he will "speak in very different tones" about the waste and ineffectiveness of the Howard/Straw policy of backing massive expenditure on longer prison sentences. What basis does she have to suggest that Mr Straw was insincere in supporting large parts of Michael Howard's Crime Bill, and that his actions would he the opposite of his words?

If Polly Toynbee herself means what she says about the need for a more practical and prevention-based crime policy, she should back the Liberal Democrats, who have consistently opposed mandatory sentences. Indeed, it was entirely at the Liberal Democrats' insistence that Michael Howard was forced to accept the crucial amendment to the Bill last week. Labour were prepared to let the Bill go through without it.

ALAN BEITH, MP

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman

House of Commons

London SW1

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