MICHAEL Howard, the Home Secretary, yesterday became the first Cabinet minister to expand in public on John Major's 'back to basics' theme with a declaration that 'public order and safety even come before the defence of the realm'.
Putting himself at the vanguard of efforts to establish the slogan - reinforced in a weekend message from the Downing Street policy unit - as a guiding principle for the rest of the Parliament, Mr Howard said the 'criminal justice system must work for victims and not for criminals'.
Mr Howard declared at Basingstoke that 'protecting its citizens is the first duty of government', and added: 'After all, without public order there is no realm to defend.'
Mr Howard's speech, in which he insisted that the idea of 'back to basics' was not an 'exercise in nostalgia', came as Alun Michael, Labour's spokesman for home affairs, acknowledged the importance of individual responsibility in reducing crime but accused Mr Howard of 'cheap jibes and ill-judged soundbites'.
Mr Howard promised a toughening of the standards for community sentences 'to ensure they are tough and constitute real punishment'. And he said that the law and order measures planned in the forthcoming criminal justice Bill were in line with the Government's 'overriding priority' is to protect the public.
Mr Howard said schools and parents had to 'set up firm procedures to detect' truancy, and that schools should provide a 'strong framework of discipline and a strong moral ethos for children'.
Mr Michael said last night in Manchester: 'Michael Howard fails to understand that emphasis on the individual alone is making matters worse. Even Kenneth Baker has admitted that the Conservatives were wrong to create a 'Me society'. This was an admission that the Thatcherite experiment lurched into the extremes of selfishness whereas we desperately need to teach the attitude that we are responsible one to another.'
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