'TOUGH on crime, tough on the causes of crime." We all remember that. And our hollow laughter rings out.

The Tories are right to highlight the decline in police manpower, now down by about 3,000 since the General Election, against that "tough on crime" promise. For while respect for the law should never rest on the police operating as a kind of army of occupation, permanently visible on every street, a clear priority in tackling worsening crime is to boost, rather than reduce, police numbers. On TV last week, a senior officer said powers to deal with street disorder were already adequate, but his force lacked the manpower to apply them in busy city centres.

Unveiled in the Queen's speech, the latest "tough on crime" measures - curfews, instant fines, powers to shut down bars - glaringly omit any significant increase in manpower.

Also ignored is the scope for cutting crime simply by increasing penalties. Take drink driving. And take especially the shocking case, which reached court last week, of a Huddersfield drink driver who mowed down three women, including two from the North-East, on the pavement. Sentenced to eight years in jail for causing death by dangerous driving, he will probably be free in four. And yet he had two previous convictions for drink driving and another for driving while disqualified.

If this record by a driver three times over the limit, who had picked up a prostitute and was trying to out-run a police car, does not merit the ten-year maximum sentence, it is hard to imagine what would. But in any case, the ten-year maximum no longer reflects the public revulsion at drink driving, and the outrage when this brings the death of innocent people.

Few would disagree that ten years in prison would not be a day too long for drink-drivers, or dangerous drivers, who kill. Perhaps more important, driving bans - ten years in last week's case - need to be much more severe. Every ban should be coupled with a need to re-take the driving test. But offenders with a record like that of the Huddersfield driver have surely forfeited the right ever to drive again.

There are other crimes, such as cruelty to animals, where present punishments lag far behind what modern sensibilities require. The crime-reducing potential of heavier penalties in line with public feeling is considerable. And it doesn't depend for success on getting more bobbies back on the beat.

HARD on the heels of the revelation, noted here, that poor quality Italian track is a main contributor to our crumbling railways, comes fear for the future of steelmaking on Teesside. Almost 800 jobs have gone recently, and more look set to follow. Yet the old charge of inefficiency - 12 men to produce a ton of steel compared with three abroad - has long been laid to rest. Teesside steelmen could run out all the rails Britain needs at a competitive price. And they wouldn't know how to make a bad one. What a tragedy that Britain's manufacturing industry continues to shrink - under the indifferent gaze of New Labour, its erstwhile champion.

HAMBLETON District Council intends to deliver sandbags to 15 flood-prone villages. Very commendable. Hopefully, the bags will come complete with locks and chains. For in Great Ayton, a Hambleton village near my home, thieves one night nicked all the sandbags protecting High Street front doors facing the river Leven.

RIGHT on cue with my plea last week to leave berried holly to the birds, blackbirds swooped on the well-laden tree in my garden. I've also discovered that garden birds, particularly robins, wrens and hedge sparrows, love Alpen. There's your Christmas present for your birds.

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