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Monday, 17 July, 2000, 03:26 GMT 04:26 UK
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Touchstone issues

There are a clutch of issues - seemingly disparate - that are in fact linked. We need a strategy that is almost discrete, focused on them.

They are roughly combining "on your side" issues with toughness and standing up for Britain.

They range from: the family - where, partly due to MCA (Married Couple Allowance) and gay issues, we are perceived as weak; asylum and crime, where we are perceived as soft; and asserting the nation's interests where, because of the unpopularity of Europe, a constant barrage of small stories beginning to add up on defence and even issues like Zimbabwe, we are seen as insufficiently assertive.

All this, of course, is perception. It is bizarre that any government I lead should be seen as anti-family. We are, in fact, taking very tough measures on asylum and crime.

Kosovo should have laid to rest any doubts about our strength in defence. But all of these things add up to a sense that the government - and this even applies to me - are somehow out of touch with gut British instincts.

The Martin case - and the lack of any response from us that appeared to empathise with public concern and then channel it into the correct course - has only heightened this problem.

We need a thoroughly worked-out strategy stretching over several months to regain the initiative in this area.

Each of these issues should be analysed and the correct policy response drawn up. Then each should be dealt with, but with a message which ties it all together.

This is precisely the sort of thing AC (Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's press secretary) and CF (Lord Charles Falconer, Cabinet Office Minister) should do if a new system is put in place which frees up their time.

My thoughts are:

(i) Possibly on the Martin case, asking a senior judge to look at changing the sentencing law, ie to allow lesser sentences than life. We also need a far tougher rebuttal or alternatively action, re the allegations that jurors were intimidated.

(ii) On asylum, we need to be highlighting removals and decisions plus if the April figures show a reduction, then a downward trend. Also if the benefits bill really starts to fall, that should be highlighted also. Plus some of the genuine asylum claims being given some publicity.

(iii) On crime, we need to highlight the tough measures: compulsory tests for drugs before bail; the PIU (Performance Innovation Unit) report on the confiscation of assets; the extra number of burglars jailed under the "three strikes and you're out".

Above all, we must deal now with street crime, especially in London.

When the figures are published for the six months to April, they will show a small - 4% - rise in crime. But this will almost certainly be due to the rise in levels of street crime - mobile phones, bags being snatched. This will be worst in London.

The Met Police are putting in place measures to deal with it; but, as ever, we are lacking a tough public message along with the strategy. We should think now of an initiative, eg locking up street muggers. Something tough, with immediate bite which sends a message through the system.

Maybe, the driving licence penalty for young offenders. But this should be done soon and I, personally, should be associated with it.

(iv) On defence, we need to make the CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) work for defence. Big cuts and you can forget any hope of winning back ground on "standing up for Britain".

(v) On the family, we need two or three eye-catching initiatives that are entirely conventional in terms of their attitude to the family. Despite the rubbish about gay couples, the adoption issue worked well. We need more. I should be personally associated with as much of this as possible.

TB, 29 April 2000.

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