Delegates to the governing Conservative Party conference demanded a tougher official line on crime and inner-city violence today, and sharply criticized their opposition to the left for what they charged was the undermining of the police through promotion of social anarchy for political ends.
In response, Home Secretary Douglas Hurd outlined proposed increased resources for the police, and new legal measures, including longer sentences for carrying firearms and the establishment of a new "disorderly conduct" law that would "aim to catch the hooligan before he can disturb the peace."
Civil libertarians outside the party denounced the proposal, one calling it a "recipe for disaster" that would exacerbate tension between police and inner-city youths by allowing street arrests without specific cause.
Debates today on law and order and race relations provoked sparks of political passion that largely had been lacking at the annual party conference. They reflected a high level of indignation in the wake of major riots during the past month, including one last weekend in north London in which a policeman was killed.
[Police said Thursday that they had arrested four teen-agers in connection with the killing of the policeman, Officer Keith Blakelock, United Press International reported.]
But in an indication of Britain's increasing political and social polarization, speakers here rejected the contention by the opposition Labor Party at its own conference last week that the riots are in response to unemployment, poor living conditions and racial harassment by police in largely black inner-city areas.
Instead, the Conservatives solidly backed the police, with calls for stricter law enforcement methods and revival of capital punishment.
Although Hurd did not address the issue of capital punishment, he agreed that "it is not poverty that leads people to burn down post offices, to loot television sets and video recorders and to make vicious attacks on the public," such as has happened here recently. "The roots of these acts," Hurd said, "lie in greed and in the excitement of violence."
Hurd received lengthy applause when he criticized some local Labor politicians who he said "so far from supporting the police, use every opportunity, every rumor, every demagogue's trick to attack the police and make their task more difficult."