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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 January 2008, 19:47 GMT
Cameron warns crime 'celebrated'
David Cameron at the opening of Amir Khan's gym
Mr Cameron called for zero tolerance of gun and knife crime
Britain is "creeping" towards a state where violence is socially acceptable, Conservative leader David Cameron has warned in a speech.

He said aggression was being "feted" - as illustrated by the use of mobile phones to film people being beaten up.

He called for a "relentless focus" on low level disorder and a crackdown on knife and gun crime.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith accused him of "alarmist rhetoric" and said crime was down by a third since 1997.

Mr Cameron was speaking on a visit to Salford, Greater Manchester, and accused the government of "staggering complacency" following a year in which 27 teenagers were murdered in London alone.

'Atomised society'

He said society needed to be "resocialised" in order to "reclaim our streets" and public areas from gangs.

He said he was not advocating "an army of vigilantes and have-a-go heroes" but said elements of community life had to be rebuilt.

Aggression is feted. Verbal abuse celebrated. Contempt for others rewarded
David Cameron

"Our society is creeping slowly, with quiet resignation and muted resistance, to a state of cultural and social acceptance of violence in our country," he said.

"We're collapsing into an atomised society, stripped of the local bonds of association which help tie us together."

Low level disorder, from which greater problems grow, should not be tolerated, he said, while calling for tougher powers for magistrates, more prison places and an end to police performance targets.

Deactivated guns

He blamed a "growing culture of disrespect" adding: "Aggression is feted. Verbal abuse celebrated. Contempt for others rewarded. The most potent symbol of that is people beating each other up and filming it on their mobile phone."

Mr Cameron asked: "How much more blood has to be spilt on our streets before we choose hope over fear, order over chaos, and community over division?"

Earlier the home secretary was in Liverpool, where 11-year-old Rhys Jones was shot dead last year, to announce plans to ban deactivated guns.

According to the Home Office, there were 58 firearms-related homicides in 2006-07 compared with 49 in the previous year - an increase of 18%. But overall firearms offences fell 13% in 2006-07 to 9,608 incidents.

Ms Smith said Mr Cameron's "counsel of despair" would not help anyone.

"David Cameron's alarmist rhetoric cannot disguise the fact that crime is down by a third since 1997. While he wrings his hands, we are getting on with the job," she said.

Mr Cameron's speech followed a visit to a new gym set up by the boxer Amir Khan in Bolton and a meeting with volunteers at the Salford Lads Club - which is associated with the Tory leader's musical hero Morrissey.

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