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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Hanging call overshadows Letwin
By Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter in Blackpool

The Tories have worked hard in the last two years to recast their party as the compassionate Conservatives.

And so you could almost hear the hearts sinking as the conference hall filled with wild applause and cheers for Tim Metcalfe's contribution to the home affairs debate.

Oliver Letwin says policing needs to become more local
Letwin more head boy than head honcho

Cuddly Conservatism it wasn't. In short, Mr Metcalfe demanded the return of hanging and the birch, castration for paedophiles and three cheers for Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who shot and killed a burglar.

And while he was at it, he said, why not lock up any liberal do-gooder who stood in the way?

Of course, had Mr Metcalfe been home secretary and capital punishment had been on the statute book, Mr Martin could well have been hung. But that was just a piffling detail.

He got the cheers for Mr Martin and wild applause for everything else. Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin clapped along at the end of the speech. Presumably he didn't want to feel left out.

Head boy

It had all started so well. Mr Letwin had won widespread publicity before his speech for his plan for locally elected US-style sheriffs.

The swarthy young crime-fighter has vowed from his office in Wild Westminster to run pesky outlaws out of town.

Bring back birching for young tearaways that terrorise council estates and vandalise graveyards, castrate paedophiles and bring back hanging
Tim Metcalfe

Under his neighbourly society, cattle rustlers would be rounded up and rehabilitated and there'd be no anti-social behaviour at the rodeo.

So he'd swaggered into Blackpool, leaving his trusty steed tied up outside Pizza Hut, clicking his spurs as Tory women grasped the pearls around their necks in admiration.

He did nothing of the sort of course. Indeed Oliver Letwin is a rather nervous looking chap really: more head boy than head honcho.

He watched from his seat as Tory representatives made their contributions to the debate.

Summary justice

Stewart Jackson wanted enough police in the town of Peterborough to "serve and protect".

Nick Paget-Brown said it was "time to make a difference". Diana Coad, proudly describing her bold jacket as "hunting red", said those Labour was most keen to lock up were those with a conservative disposition.

Major Chris Etherington bemoaned the lack of village bobbies able to dispense "summary justice" to misbehaving youths.

But Mr Metcalfe stole the show. The IT consultant from Weetwood, Leeds, who hopes to become an MP at the next election, won his three cheers for Mr Martin.

He called for the return of solitary confinement in prisons, and the removal of TVs and snooker tables from jails.

Stop being Liberal

Then he really got into his stride: "Bring back birching for young tearaways that terrorise council estates and vandalise graveyards, castrate paedophiles and bring back hanging.

"The only people imprisoned these days are decent ordinary hard working people who feel trapped in their own homes, many of whom live with bars on their windows.

"An Englishman's home is no longer his castle, it's his prison."

He was "sick and tired of hearing about the rights of the thug," he said.

"We are supposed to be the party of law and order," he said. "Let's prove that to the ordinary man and woman in the street. Let's take some risks and stop trying to be the Liberal party. If we do that, we will win the next election."

Oh how they loved it.

As for Mr Letwin, his speech went down reasonably well as he sought to disarm his audience more with irony than anything else.

There was applause for his call for a referendum on the EU constitution and for his pledge to put more police on the streets.

And at the end a one minute standing ovation. But never did he get the kind of cheer reserved for the guy who said they should bring back hanging.

Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative leader
"Tony Blair doesn't give a damn what's going on, on our streets"

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