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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Assinder's Question Time verdict
Party leaders Charles Kennedy, Iain Duncan Smith and Tony Blair
Blair offered pledge on street crime
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By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

They are words Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith will carefully file away in the hope of being able to beat Tony Blair over the head with them in five months.

During an otherwise routine question time, the prime minister suddenly declared he would have got the problem of London's street crime under control "by the end of September."

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith demanded health pledge
His response - which ranks alongside his famous surprise promise during the last parliament to outlaw fox hunting - appeared to take everybody by surprise.

Particularly as, at the same time, he was refusing point blank to pledge that his massive investment in the NHS would result in European levels of health care by the time of the next election.

Best policy

There's nothing unusual about a prime minister carefully avoiding any hostages to fortune.

Indeed that is usually the best policy by far.

So that only made Tony Blair's unambiguous pledge on street crime - which is soaring to record levels in the capital - even more extraordinary.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Pledge came as a surprise
It may well be that there is some initiative up the prime minister's sleeve to stop the rot.

Finally getting to grips with the problem of teenage thugs relieving people of their mobile phones, with menaces, leaps to mind.

Effectively tackling that epidemic would have a major impact on street crime over night.

See you in September

But even if there is some huge and so far unforeseen initiative about to be unleashed on London's petty criminals, most seasoned politicians would still rather pierce their eyeballs than commit themselves to a timetable.

Things can always go wrong - remember previous Labour pledges on things like hospital waiting lists?

Still, there we have it: "We are confident that by the end of September, we will have brought this problem under control."

As Iain Duncan Smith might say - see you in September Tony.

See also:

17 Apr 02 | England
Muggings soar in London
20 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Crime forum pledges tough action
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