Magazine article The Spectator

I Wrote 'Hug a Hoodie' and I'm Proud of It

Magazine article The Spectator

I Wrote 'Hug a Hoodie' and I'm Proud of It

Article excerpt

It happened to be the day that Boris Johnson took office as Mayor of London with a mandate to tackle youth crime. My wife and I were coming out of a house in Camden where we had been viewing a flat to rent.

Standing on the steps with us, the owner of the flat suddenly saw the retreating rear of his moped, two boys aboard and half a dozen of their friends pelting along behind.

Like the pair of prats we were, the owner and I tackled youth crime. When we caught up with the pedestrians, we received between us a black eye (owner) and cut lip (me), and no moped.

My main memory of this incident is rather horrid: the spit-filled mouth of the little ratfaced boy who punched me. Short, white, in a grey hooded tracksuit, he shouted at me with all the rage of Cain: the most astonishing indignation.

'Man hands on misery to man', said Larkin, 'it deepens like a coastal shelf'. The metaphor is too gradual. In this generation there seems to have been a vertiginous drop, a sudden deepening out of sight. There is a cohort of youths in London (their existence was starkly revealed in the investigation into the murder of Damilola Taylor) who are both effectively unparented, and unknown to the authorities: kids not on child benefit lists or school rolls or the records of the social services. They are few, of course, but they stand as representatives of a generation of scowling young Londoners.

The day of Boris's election was also the day I stopped work as David Cameron's speechwriter to go full-time at the charity my wife and I founded two years ago to work with prisoners and ex-offenders. My main claim to distinction in my old job was drafting the speech in which David said something capable of the construction (though not the words, not the words themselves) that the public should all get out there and hug hoodies.

This speech has gone down in Tory lore as a terrible blunder, but I am still rather proud of it. The nub of it was, that while we should certainly punish people who cross the line into criminality, on this side of the line we need 'to show a lot more love'.

Love is a neglected crime-fighting device.

But the need for it is powerfully proved in Felicity de Zulueta's important book From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness. She argues that violence and hatred are not motive forces of their own: they are the terrible expression of wrecked relationships, of thwarted love.

Men and women seem to have a yearning for agency, for the ability to affect things.

As de Zulueta puts it, the sense of helplessness is 'a state tantamount to annihilation'; we will do anything to avoid it. Hence selfharm, and what youth workers call 'self-sabotage' -- the apparently wilful screwing-up of opportunities, the no-show, the walkingaway at the moment before achievement.

People who feel incapable, feel the need to prove it: failure, at least, is something they can author.

This need to own the pain you feel, to make it yours, helps explain the deep guilt felt by victims of abuse or trauma. Taking responsibility for what you went through at least means you did something, rather than merely received the experience passively. The psychoanalyst Ronald Fairbairn called it 'the moral defence': it is, in a sense, understandable and rather admirable.

Except that a common consequence of the moral defence would appear to be violence towards others. Living with unjustified guilt is deeply painful. …

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