LONDON // Gordon Brown will today kick-start his party's general election campaign with a promise to crack down hard on Britain's "yob culture". The prime minister's pledge to implement wide-ranging action by the police and in the courts will effectively mark the start of the Labour Party's election push, even though nobody is quite sure when voting will take place. With most money going on a polling date in the first week in May, Mr Brown will promise action on hooligans because there was "no place and no excuse" for them in "my Britain".
This pledge will be followed up by a ministerial summit tomorrow to sort out specific measures to tackle the antisocial behaviour - often by drunken, teenage gangs - that continues to blight the lives of thousands of householders, particularly in low-income areas. Meanwhile, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, told a spring conference of party activists yesterday that it was their "patriotic duty" to defeat Mr Brown because the country was in "a complete and utter mess".
Mr Cameron needs something to rally his troops: an opinion poll in The Sunday Times indicated that the Conservatives' lead over Labour had been whittled down to two points: 37 per cent to 35 per cent. Only a few weeks ago, the Tories retained the double-digit lead that they had held throughout 2009. However, their apparent dithering over economic policy, uncertainties in the public mind over their social policies, and ill-conceived attacks on Mr Brown's personality have all added up to Labour's spectacular improvement in the polls.
Additionally, Mr Brown appears to have rediscovered his populist touch and his promise today to curb unruly behaviour on the streets will be seen as the latest example of this. Downing Street sources said yesterday that the prime minister is looking at proposals that include a streamlined process for issuing antisocial behaviour orders, which can bar youngsters from specific geographical areas of towns.
There will be tougher penalties imposed if these orders are breached and a new standard will be introduced aimed at getting the police to play a more proactive role in stopping the hooligans. Mr Brown is also understood to want Alan Johnson, the home secretary, to introduce a system to provide redress for victims if they do not get support from the police or local authority. It could mean that individuals or families who are repeat victims of antisocial behaviour would be entitled to legal support to enable them to take action through the courts.
According to one of his aides, Mr Brown will emphasise that, although overall crime levels have come down by one-third since Labour came to power in 1997, "statistics are irrelevant" for people living in fear of abuse or assault. "We were the first to recognise the damage that antisocial behaviour was doing to the soul of our communities. We were the first to address it. We were first to legislate to tackle it. And we will be the first to crack it," he is expected to say.
"Because I know that while we've made real progress, people are still worried about antisocial behaviour. And if they are worried, I'm worried. "So that means stepping up our fight against those who terrorise our neighbourhoods; intimidate decent people on our streets; and seek to make us fearful in our own homes. Let me tell you there is no place and no excuse for those who perpetrate antisocial behaviour in my Britain."
Mr Cameron was having to concede yesterday that, all of a sudden, the Conservatives had a "real fight on their hands". In a speech to his party's conference in Brighton, Mr Cameron said: "It is an election, we have a patriotic duty to win because this country is in a complete and utter mess, and we have to sort it out." Writing in the News of the World yesterday, Mr Cameron said his offer to voters would be based on values of responsibility and aspiration, and restated his belief that Labour had left Britain a "broken society".
He added: "We'll reform welfare to help more people into work and change the law so that if you're convicted of carrying a knife, you can expect to go to jail." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org