Hug A Hoody

Hug it or hate it, hoody remains a potent and divisive symbol 

In 2007, David Cameron, then the opposition leader, was visiting one of the most deprived estates in Manchester when a teenager ran up behind him and made a hand gesture to shoot him to impress his friends (more on that story). The photo of 17-year old Ryan Florence in a hoodie was reprinted on many frontpages — all the more ironic because only a year before, Cameron had made his famous speeches arguing that hoodies were “more defensive than offensive”.  “Hug A Hoody” — to use Labour’s then dismissive view — was a defining moment of his journey towards a softer liberalism.

But in the last few days, we have come very far from those heady days; we need to reexamine hoodies and their status in the ganglands. When the history of the last few days is debated, written, and analysed, understanding gangland culture will be more important than prejudicial fingering the usual suspects of unemployment, disenfranchisement, poverty, materialism, and racial tensions.

Of over a thousand people arrested, many were in their early teens and the youngest was 11. They stood for nothing; like Florence, they view hooliganism as a rite of passage, a youthful act of rebellion, a snub towards authorities. Sooner or later, most of them grow out of this phase. A handful, however, fails to reform. They becomes hardened gangmembers and anarchists who in turn recruit another generation of impressionable teens as their foot soldiers. Through promises of drugs, social acceptance and protection, they manipulate others, and this weekend, they have shown their power once again by outmanoeuvring police with their urban guerrilla tactics. Their symbol? Hoodies.

Yesterday, in a speech that echoed the sentiments towards kilts after the Jacobin Rebellion, the former Deputy PM John Prescott entertained a hoodie ban. Defensive, offensive or not, hoodies are oppressive. In Hood Rat, a haunting expose of London’s gang culture by Gavin Knight wrote, “Not everyone in a hoody is a gang member, some are just teenagers wearing hoodies, but the line is deliberately kept blurred”. In many inner-cities, teenagers feel they have to wear one for their own survival. They are terrified, trapped, intimidated by older gang members. Hoodies have such cultural power that they become their own unique kind of weapon.

 And for this reason alone, this house believes that they should be banned.