Leading article: Mr Cameron looks beneath the hood

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The Independent Online

Another Sunday and another eye-catching advance notice from Camp Cameron. Yesterday we were offered some thoughts from a speech the Conservative Party leader gives today on social justice. He will reportedly speak about hood-wearing, and say that this should be seen not as a problem in itself, but a response to a problem; that the hoodie is "more often defensive than offensive".

Mr Cameron is not the first public figure to argue against the popular animosity towards hoodies. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamo, wore a hooded top earlier this year when he addressed a conference on youth work. His point was that people should be judged not by what they choose to wear, but by who they are underneath. And he was right, as is Mr Cameron. It is wrong to judge young people, or anyone, by their garb. Drainpipe trousers, reversed baseball caps and now hoodies have all been seen as threatening in their time.

If, as it seems, Mr Cameron intends to delve a little deeper into the social arguments to call for greater understanding of why some young people behave as they do, he is right to do this, too. Rather than condemning the hoodie, as a wealthy Conservative might be expected to do, Mr Cameron intends to take issue with "adult society's response" which, he says, shows "how far we are from finding the long-term answers to put things right".

There is more than an echo here of New Labour's election pledge to tackle "crime and the causes of crime". More than a hint, too, that when the time is right, Mr Cameron's New Conservatives intend to take on New Labour on its home turf of social issues. This is potentially fertile political terrain. The current panic about young offenders and antisocial behaviour, as evinced in the proliferation of Asbos, betrays the Government's sense of vulnerability on these issues. Mr Blair promised much when he came to office; the public perception is only of how far he has fallen short.

In Opposition, Mr Cameron has the luxury of time and space to probe cause and effect in a way that the Government of the day cannot. And it is to his credit that he is prepared to look beyond the obvious. The bigger question is how he will respond if the answers challenge what are regarded as conventional Conservative precepts - if, for instance, his researches find that much more public money needs to be spent on tackling youth issues, or that expensive alternative solutions are more effective than custody.

Until Mr Cameron has specific policies in place, it will be hard to discern whether he is a really new-thinking Tory, or just a rather traditional Tory donning a hood while he tweaks New Labour's beard.