Wed, Jul 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UK youth need more love, says conservative leader


Britain's Conservative Party leader on Monday tried to soften his party's tough law-and-order image, arguing that teenage miscreants need understanding as well as punishment.

Opposition leader David Cameron, who is striving to expand his support beyond the party's aging, small-town base, told an audience of youth workers that young people need a "lot more love" if they are to steer clear of crime.

Cameron said that "hoodies" -- teenagers in hooded sweat shirts who have become an emblem of social disorder in Britain -- were "a response to a problem, not a problem in itself."

"When you see a child walking down a street, hoodie up, head down, moody, swaggering, dominating the pavement -- think what has brought that child to that moment," Cameron said.

While society must punish those who breach the boundaries of acceptable behavior, he said, "inside those boundaries, we've got to show a lot more love."

Government ministers ridiculed the stance, which was immediately dubbed "hug a hoodie" by the press.

"We want to make our streets and communities safer for all, young and old alike," said Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker. "Cameron's empty idea seems to be `Let's hug a hoodie, whatever they've done.'"

But Penny Nicholls, director of strategy for the Children's Society charity, said that Cameron's remarks recognized that "current draconian measures to curb youth crime are not offering lasting solutions, only creating further problems."

Prime Minister Tony Blair -- who once vowed to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" -- has made the fight against so-called anti-social behavior a cornerstone of his domestic policy. His government has introduced "anti-social behavior orders" -- widely known as ASBOs -- that make it easier for local authorities to ban petty nuisances such as graffiti and excessive noise.

In doing so, Blair has moved into the tough anti-crime territory traditionally claimed by the Tories.

Cameron acknowledged that ASBOs and other forms of punishment had their place, but said they were only "short-term solutions."

"My aim is a society where we need these things less and less -- because the long-term answer to anti-social behavior is a pro-social society where we really get to grips with the long-term causes of crime," he said.

Cameron accused the government of taking a band-aid approach to crime.

"It's no good putting a sticking plaster on it. You've got to get to the bottom of the illness," he said.

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