Labour’s ‘hug-a-hoodie’ mugging of Cameron

by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2006

For once, David Cameron has been out-spun.

His speech to Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Justice was a pretty blatant attempt to triangulate an approach to law and order, supposed to show the new touchy-feely side of today’s modern Tories.

Just as Tony Blair’s sound-bite, “tough on crime, touch on the causes of crime”, was designed to prove Labour would be no pushover in power, so Mr Cameron is seeking to distance himself from the Tory Party’s innate belief in secular original sin, and demonstrate his Party recognises criminals are made bad, not born bad.

The BBC reports Mr Cameron as saying:

Let’s try and understand what’s gone wrong in these children’s lives and we’ll find it’s about family breakdown, it’s about drugs, it’s about alcohol abuse, often it’s young people who are brought up in care when they should be in loving homes.

Let’s now deal with those problems. That doesn’t mean at the same we can’t be tough when a crime is committed.

It would be easy to snipe at these words; to assume that they are a mere positioning ploy targeting small-l liberals; to observe that they are long on observation, short on solutions; and to note that these things have been said a thousand times before.

But I’m going to suspend my cynicism – because these are not things that have been a heard a thousand times before from the Tories. Whatever the motivation, it is undoubtedly a Good Thing that the Tories have advanced beyond the “Prison Works” mantra, to recognise that prevention is better than cure.

Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, he was mugged by Labour’s spin machine, who swiftly branded the Tory U-turn a ‘hug-a-hoodie’ plan, a phrase which will linger long after the Tory leader’s speech has vaporised.

I shan’t expend too much sympathy on Mr Cameron. He has already enjoyed far too comfortable a ride from a media desperate to see a return to the gladiatorial conflict of old-style, easy-to-report two-party politics.

What amazes me – though it shouldn’t by now, I guess – is Labour’s desperation never to be out-right-winged. Home Office minister Tom McNulty promptly lambasted Mr Cameron, claiming his ‘hug-a-hoodie’ message showed the Tory Party no longer took punishment of crimes seriously, implying only Labour can be trusted to crack down hard on offenders.

It would be nice to think that Mr McNulty, when he looks back on what he said, will pause to ask himself why he joined the Labour Party in the first place. And that he might then choose to regret his words.