By Peter Griffiths
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron will seek to draw a line under a torrid period for his Conservative Party on Monday, promising a "tough but intelligent" approach to crime that supporters hope will steady the government after a series of blunders.
In his first major speech on crime since his coalition took power in 2010, Cameron will call for long sentences for the worst criminals and rehabilitation and education for others to cut reoffending, according to advance extracts. Agencies helping to rehabilitate offenders should be paid by results, he will say.
The Conservatives have fallen further behind the opposition Labour Party, a poll suggested on Sunday, and critics say they are increasingly seen as both incompetent and out of touch with ordinary voters.
A ComRes poll in the Sunday Mirror newspaper put the Conservatives down two points from last month on 33 percent, behind Labour, up three on 41 percent. A second survey in the Mail on Sunday put support for the Conservatives at 30 percent, with Labour 13 points ahead on 43.
The next British general election is due in May 2015.
Norman Tebbit, one of the most senior Conservatives during the government of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, said in a newspaper article that the government "seems unable to manage its affairs competently". This was more damaging than a perception that its senior members are part of a rich and uncaring elite, he said.
One of Cameron's senior ministers resigned on Friday after he was accused of calling police "plebs", a condescending insult for working people.
Critics said Cameron was wrong to back Andrew Mitchell - the minister who apologized for swearing at police - for four weeks before accepting his resignation.
A botched attempt to find a private company to run one of Britain's busiest railway lines and a Cameron statement on energy bills that sowed confusion have added to the government's problems. Those missteps followed widespread criticism of the decision to cut the top 50 percent rate of income tax in the budget in March.
NO BLANK CHEQUE
Cameron will say that cutting crime will have to be achieved without a huge dose of state funding.
"The politics of the blank cheque are well and truly over," he will say. "The only way to achieve our ambitions is reform."
Crime fell last year, despite a backdrop of public spending cuts, squeezed household incomes and a weak economy.
However, police fear cuts will make it hard to continue that trend. Memories of rioting in English cities last year are fresh and the opposition Labour Party says the cuts go too far.
Labour justice spokesman Sadiq Khan said thousands of police officers are being taken off the streets and security cameras are being switched off.
"This is empty rhetoric from a weak Prime Minister who is pandering to the backbenchers that forced out Andrew Mitchell," he said.
(Editing by Jason Webb)