Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 17:25 UK

Labour bid to switch Euro focus

Jack Straw
Jack Straw is urging voters to focus on policy issues

Jack Straw has attempted to breathe new life into Labour's European election campaign, which risks being dominated by anger over MPs' expenses.

The justice secretary said he "fully understood" the public's anger.

But he believed voters were also "still interested in the issues which divided the political parties".

And he accused the Conservatives - who have urged voters to use next Thursday's poll to call for a general election - of avoiding debate.

Mr Straw admitted the expenses issue would make life "difficult" for Labour at the ballot box and that "rising public anger" was "drowning out the debate between the parties".

But he claimed it would affect all three main parties equally and he refused to speculate on the likely result of next week's poll.

'Real choices'

He also hit back at suggestions Gordon Brown would be ejected as Labour leader if the party came fourth behind the UK Independence Party.

"He is not going to be ousted for a start," said Mr Straw.

Some opinion polls have suggested the Eurosceptic party is within striking distance of Labour, which has dropped close to 20% of the vote.

Mr Straw said it would take some time repair the damage to public confidence inflicted by the expenses scandal.

But he said there was "anecdotal" and polling evidence to suggest that voters were still interested in the "real choices" they faced on bread-and-butter issues such as law and order.

In an attempt to switch public attention back on to policy issues and re-open traditional battle lines with the Conservatives, he accused Tory leader David Cameron of being "soft" on crime.

"The Conservatives used to have a consistent line on law and order - they were in favour of it. Now they are less certain," he told reporters at a briefing at Labour's campaign headquarters in London.

DNA evidence

He accused Mr Cameron's party of deliberately "obfuscating their plans" at the European elections, adding: "They want to obscure the consequences of their headline policy, which is a cut in public spending."

Among other things, he claimed the Tories would cut £160m from the crime-fighting budget this year.

He also strongly backed police retention of DNA evidence, which he said had helped convict rapists and other serious criminals but he claimed was opposed by the Tories.

He claimed the government's policy was "entirely consistent" with a European court ruling on the destruction of innocent people's DNA.

"I have not had a single constituent complain about DNA," he added.

The Conservatives spokesman confirmed they had called on the government to cut spending from this year onwards.

But apart from some headline cuts, such as ID cards and the NHS national computer, they have not gone into specifics "not least because we don't know what the public finances will look like in 2010".

"It is clear to everyone that we face a debt crisis that threatens to leave our children and grandchildren burdened for years to come.

"We must start to deal with that debt crisis immediately - we cannot wait, as Labour propose, until after the election."

On DNA evidence the Conservatives said: "People in Britain should be innocent until proven guilty.

"Rather than being obsessed with storing data on people who have never committed a crime, the government should have focused on obtaining details of those already guilty of offences."

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MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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