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Monday, 26 February, 2001, 14:17 GMT
Straw's unfinished business
Home Secretary Jack Straw
Straw's early pledge is unlikely to be met
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

If voters heard it once during the last election campaign, they heard it a thousand times - "Labour will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime".

So, for many, it is a surprise that, four years in, Home Secretary Jack Straw has just produced a 10 year plan apparently aimed at fulfilling that pledge.

It is being described as one of the greatest reforms of the criminal justice system in decades.

And the importance the government attaches to it has been underlined by Tony Blair becoming, according to the Home Office, the first serving prime minister to visit a prison.

Big issue

This all points to the fact that ministers expect law and order to be one of the biggest campaign issues at the next election.

But critics also claim it shows that the prime minister is worried that he has failed to live up to all those early promises.

Home Secretary Jack Straw and Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair and Straw visted prison
The home secretary himself has admitted to being disappointed that at least one of his promises - to tackle youth crime - has proved more difficult to meet than expected.

Wider problem

This was one of the "famous five" pledges included on the party's pre-election calling card.

It said a Labour government would "fast-track punishment for persistent young offenders by halving the time from arrest to sentence".

This pledge has not yet been fulfilled and, if the election comes in May or before, it will not be.

Whenever Mr Straw is quizzed about it he admits to being disappointed but also suggests that the original promise was for a full government term of five years not four.

Violent crime

But he knows that will not wash - after all it is the government itself which will probably decide to go to the country before the end of a full term - and many are surprised he still uses it.

And, in any case, the problem for the government goes wider than that single unfulfilled pledge.

While overall crime has fallen slightly under this government, violent crime - the area which most concerns people - has risen and helped to contribute to a widening fear of crime

At the same time, police numbers have only just started to rise after years of decline.

Another chance

Ministers insist that they are addressing deep-seated, long term problems that will take time to put right.

And Downing Street highlights the fact that this government will be the first for many years to go into an election with overall crime lower than when it came into office.

Both the prime minister and Mr Straw like to drive home the point that crime doubled under the last Tory administration.

Ministers also point to the fact, as they now do with virtually every area of public spending, that money is being pumped into the problem and things will gradually get better.

This is an echo of the message that has already been expressed by Tony Blair and which will form the backbone of the next election campaign - "please give us another chance".

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See also:

26 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Tough sentences for hardcore criminals
10 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Public losing confidence in police
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