Sajid Javid has began a week of interventions from Conservative leadership candidates as they jostle for position with a speech claiming he could easily have ended up living a life of crime.
With Theresa May away for an Easter break, the home secretary was the first of the leadership hopefuls to start positioning himself as tough on crime, speaking of his background growing up on what he claimed was Britain???s ???most dangerous street???.
He described knife crime as a national emergency and launched an enthusiastic defence of stop and search, a police tactic discouraged by May because of the divisive effect on communities.
Speaking to an audience of youth workers and senior police officers in east London on Monday, Javid set out his views on his home affairs brief, saying the ???mindset of government needs to shift??? to tackle violence among young people. It needed to use data more effectively to improve understanding of the routes into violence and crime.
Some of Javid???s critics have suggested the home secretary lacks ???a front story??? that sets out a distinctive political agenda ??? a reference to his compelling backstory as the Rochdale-born son of Pakistani immigrants, who rose to become home secretary.
Javid said his own start in life ???could have been very different??? had he not had the good influence of his parents and teachers.
???I grew up on what one tabloid dubbed Britain???s most dangerous street,??? he said. ???It???s not so difficult to see how, instead of being in cabinet, I could have turned out to have a life of crime myself. Pupils at my school were shoplifting and asked me if I wanted to help.
???There were drug addicts who stood near my school gates and told me if I joined in I could make some easy money. But I was lucky, I had loving and supportive parents who, despite my own circumstances, gave me the security that I needed.???
He said news reports about young people feeling they needed to carry weapons made him worry about his own four children ??? three of whom are teenagers.
???I may be the home secretary but I???m not ashamed to confess I have stayed up late at night waiting to hear the key turning in the door and only then going to bed knowing that they have come home safe and sound,??? he said.
???When I watch the news and I see the faces of all those lost to knife crime ??? I cannot help but see the faces of my own children. I find it hard to detach the personal from the policy.???
He said: ???If I don???t feel safe or don???t think the streets are safe enough for my own children, then something has gone terribly wrong???. Polling data released last week suggests that public concern about crime is at its highest since the riots of 2011.
Javid???s first public salvo in the Conservative leadership race comes after he slipped behind more organised rivals, such as Jeremy Hunt, the favourite among MPs, and Brexiters Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab.
Hunt yesterday refused to be drawn on his leadership ambitions but said May would find things ???highly, extremely, very, very challenging??? if she was not able to get her deal through before the European elections.
Boris Johnson, the leading pro-Brexit candidate, used his regular Telegraph column to say politicians needed to look beyond leaving the EU to social issues and public services. ???Soon, if we can get Brexit over the line, we will finally be able to begin the positive narrative about Brexit Britain ??? the world leader in so many fields, set to overtake Germany, by 2050, as the largest and most prosperous economy in Europe. That is the opportunity. We cannot afford to fail,??? he wrote.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, a Tory moderate who is winning support among MPs, is due to give a speech on Wednesday about technology in health and social care, while Raab, a former Brexit secretary, obliquely compared the contest to Games of Thrones, suggesting he hoped to overtake the frontrunners. ???I???m not alone in backing Arya,??? he tweeted. ???It???s never the favourite.???
May has said she will step down as prime minister if her Brexit deal passes but she may try to cling to power until the UK leaves the EU. Many of the softer Brexit candidates would prefer her to get the first phase of EU talks out of the way first so they can move on to negotiating the future relationship.
Johnson is the favourite for the leadership because of his popularity with Conservative members who pick the winner out from a list of two chosen by MPs. He would, however, be a controversial choice among many of his parliamentary colleagues.
Meanwhile, Nick Boles, who resigned the Conservative whip over Brexit earlier this month, accused May of a ???moral error??? by having tacked to the right to be ???more Brexity than Brexiters, more Brexiter than thou???.
In an interview with House magazine, he suggested he thought it might have been better if the Conservatives had not beaten Ed Miliband in 2015 and claimed that leadership contender Michael Gove, a key and pro-leave campaigner, had advised against holding the 2016 referendum.
???You can reasonably ask a very painful question: wouldn???t it have been better for Britain if we hadn???t won the 2015 election and hadn???t had a referendum? I rather hate thinking about that, because I don???t know the answer,??? he said. ???Partly, she was much influenced by her advisors. But, in a funny way, it was almost because she???d taken over this party which had this enormous responsibility and she hadn???t herself been one of the people who???d campaigned for Brexit.???