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Editorials

Reading the Riot Act

A month after the looting riots that spread across England in August, David Cameron was asked to explain his approach to fixing what he had described as a sick and broken Britain. He summed it up in two words - 'tough love'.

This has echoes of the advice our late patron, Lord Sheppard, used to give to editors of this magazine. Coincidentally a nuisance to the government the last time it was led by a Conservative prime minister, he regularly reminded us to 'Criticise what you love and love what you criticise'. For him it seemed to mean an equal resistance to  the twin dangers of complacency and cynicism. For David Cameron it seems to require adding a layer of discipline to the  licence afforded by love.

As a member of his own young and riotous gang in the Bullingdon Club, the prime minister might be minded to be sympathetic towards the mistakes of one's youth. Equally, having entered the Tory party by virtue of the recommendation of his friends at Buckingham Palace, he might also be said to be a beneficiary of what others in his party call the 'something for nothing society'. Perhaps this explains his much-mocked 'hug a hoodie' campaign.

Back in 2006 he surprised traditionalists by arguing that 'We - the people in suits - often see hoodies as aggressive, the uniform of a rebel army of young gangsters. But hoodies are more defensive than offensive. They're a way to stay invisible in the street. In a dangerous environment the best thing to do is keep your head down, blend in.' Further, he went on to say 'I think people want their politicians to ask the question: "What is it that brought that young person to commit that crime at that time? What's the background to it, what are the long-term causes of crime?" If you're ill, it's no good putting a sticking plaster on it. You've got to get to the bottom of the illness. Let's try and understand what's gone wrong.'

Five years on, his reaction to the August looting was that it was 'criminality, pure and simple.' To the looters he said, 'You will feel the full force of the law, and if you are old enough to commit these crimes you are old enough to face the punishments'. The prime minister seems to have moved decidedly to the tough. The question for the hoodies is, who will love them now?