Have I entered a topsy-turvy world?

You used to know where you were with the Tories on law and order policies. I have been covering politics long enough to remember Conservative conferences getting very excited - not that many years ago actually - over calls for the restoration of capital and corporal punishment.

You used to know where you were with the Tories on law and order policies. I have been covering politics long enough to remember Conservative conferences getting very excited - not that many years ago actually - over calls for the restoration of capital and corporal punishment.

And the party's previous leader, Michael Howard, seemed to represent a continuation in spirit, though not in the letter, of such attitudes.

The first paragraph of the law and order section of the last Tory general election manifesto, written mainly by David Cameron, says that crime "should not be excused, but condemned and punished".

But 14 months later, the same Mr Cameron is telling us to be more understanding, and less condemning and fearful, of hoodie-wearing youngsters who contribute to a sense of unease and menace on the streets.


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The speech in which he delivered that appeal also dwelt on "the importance of relationships", "emotional development" and "love". Inside the boundaries set for "a safe and civilised society", he argued, "we have to show a lot more love".

Perhaps I ought to emphasise that I am not making this up. Mr Cameron really did say these things. I underline this because I sense some of you - and especially so, perhaps, if you are a traditional Tory - may be fearing you have passed into a parallel but topsy-turvy universe.

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Perhaps I have. But as far as I can make out, I really am living in a Britain in which we have a hard-as-nails Labour home secretary, who wants to give just about everyone a piece of his mind if not a head-butt or 'Glasgow kiss', and a Tory leader who is giving the impression he has slipped back to the 1960s and may have accidentally smoked something exotic.

Love is the answer, man. Maybe Mr Cameron will next propose renaming the Home Office the Ministry of Love. But perhaps not.

"So when you see a child walking down the road, hoodie up, head down, moody, swaggering, dominating the pavement - think what has brought that child to that moment," said Mr Cameron. By clear implication, don't think: 'This youth looks sinister. I wonder whether he's got a knife. Am I about to get mugged?'

Does Mr Cameron's advice apply if it's not just one "child" but a group of hoodie-wearers? What if it's dark? What if things do turn nasty? Do you then think to yourself: 'What has brought them to this moment?'

It is perhaps too easy to bury Mr Cameron's altruism in dark cynicism. There is some sense and natural justice in what he says. No doubt, some of the hoodie-wearers have adopted this 'uniform' just to blend in or be part of the crowd.

Furthermore, some and perhaps many of those who wear hoodies with sinister intent will have had wretched, loveless childhoods. But not all of them. Many people who've had a bad start in life manage to stay within the law and not go out on to the street attacking or robbing people.

Incidentally, how far does Mr Cameron go in thinking: 'What led him to this moment?' Does this attitude apply only to young hoodie-wearers? If so, why? What about not-so-young burglars or muggers without hoodies? What about paedophiles? What about murderers? What brought them to that terrible moment? In many cases there will have been a grim background of neglect and violence.

There are such things as moral absolutes - things that are right, and other things that are wrong, whether you have been educated at Eton, like Mr Cameron, or in a failing 'bog' comprehensive. To start condoning and 'understanding' aggressive, anti-social behaviour because of a supposition that the perpetrator has had a deprived upbringing is at the very least patronising, and potentially dangerous.

There was a time when only a fraction of Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians (and certainly not all of them) would talk touchy-feely twaddle. Now the leader of the Conservative Party is at it, and is presumably expecting many of his party's senior figures and activists to follow suit, or at the very least keep quiet. Are they going to?

At both the national and local level many old-guard Tories must be utterly aghast or bemused. But if people like Lord Tebbit loudly protest, Mr Cameron will be pleased. Similarly, vitriolic comment from the Daily Mail is welcomed. Condemnation from the old Tory right is displayed like a badge to show to younger, metropolitan floating voters that the Conservatives really have changed.

Does this smack of chucking out the baby with the bathwater? You turn and hug a hoodie-wearer if you want to, Mr Cameron. It's not for me.

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