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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 19:04 GMT
Tories signal law and order shift
Oliver Letwin
Tougher sentences are still on the Tory agenda
A more "neighbourly society" has been called for by shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin in what is being seen as a shift in Conservative law and order policy.

In a keynote speech he said that some people needed help acquiring "virtuous habits" in order to escape the "conveyor belt" of criminality.

Mr Letwin insists that by accepting that society can play a part in shaping criminal behaviour, he is not abandoning the traditional Tory emphasis on punishment.

Each one of us has a choice, but for some, the help needed to acquire virtuous habits is less present

Oliver Letwin
The shadow home secretary also talked about developing a new "cycle of responsibility", when he addressed the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies on Tuesday evening.

At its simplest that will mean making neighbourhoods safe for children to play in, by removing abandoned cars and rubbish, repairing playgrounds and pushing out drug dealers.

Police officers on patrol in London
Letwin says "hugely active" community policing is still needed
It was more than a decade ago that then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously declared "there is no such thing as society", but the Conservatives stress Mr Letwin's comments are not a sign they are softening up on crime.

The shadow home secretary repeated calls for both tougher sentences for persistent offenders and a strong police presence to deter crime.

'More than rhetoric'

The party rejects too any suggestion that the speech is an attempt to mirror Tony Blair's pre-1997 general election pledge to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".

Ahead of the speech, Mr Letwin said that stance did not go far enough.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Just as we should not just be looking for the cause of poverty but for wealth, so we have to look not for the causes of crime but it's opposite."

Ann Widdecombe
Widdecombe: Change of emphasis not policy
Mr Letwin said all individuals had clear choices but some need help making the right decisions to avoid the "conveyor belt" leading to a life of crime.

"At each stage the individual has the option of stepping off the conveyor belt but it cannot be expected that this choice will be made unless society finds ways of providing a hand to help the individual take those exits."

U-turn denied

Young people need the chance to participate in what he describes as the "neighbourly society", which includes the need for action to be taken against drug barons and organised criminals.

Mr Letwin's predecessor as shadow home secretary, Ann Widdecombe, who is now on the Tory backbenches, denied what he was saying amounted to a policy U-turn.

"What he is doing, quite rightly, is putting emphasis on what has always been a policy and giving it a new look - and good luck to him," she told BBC News.

But former shadow environment secretary Archie Norman, a figure on the Tory left, said the speech did mark a shift in attitude.

'Breeding ground of criminality'

"It is saying that in order to solve this problem we have to focus not just on the punishment and the prison service and sentencing but also on the true ills of our society," said Mr Norman.

That meant focusing on "things that act on the breeding ground of criminality", he told BBC Radio 4's World At One.

Mr Letwin's speech came days after it emerged he was the victim of a confidence trick at his south London home.

While one man kept him talking at the front door he allowed another to use his toilet, who shortly afterwards ran through the open door holding Mr Letwin's wallet.

He shouted at them to give his credit cards back and they did, although his electronic organiser, mobile phone and some of his wife's jewellery were also stolen.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin
"We need to create a society in which people are brought up right"
John Denham, Home Office minister
"It is difficult to see how you can build strong communities whilst cutting public expenditure"
See also:

04 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Letwin falls prey to 'loo trick' thieves
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
'Trust for Tories long way off'
08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Senior Tories 'smoked dope'
04 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Letwin argues Tory third way
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