David Cameron's claim that "hoodies" need more love has received a mixed reaction from Conservative MPs.
The Tory leader called for greater understanding of young people who wear hooded tops, known as hoodies, in a speech seen as an attempt to ditch his party's tough image.
He was backed by Birmingham MP Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield), who said: "You don't deal with anti-social behaviour by branding a whole cross-section o f the community as criminals."
And Mr Cameron was also supported by Worcestershire MP Julie Kirkbride (Con Bromsgrove).
She said: "I admit I was surprised at first too. But he's not just doing the kneejerk response people expect from politicians, and I admire him."
But some Tory backbenchers took a different view. Staffordshire MP Bill Cash (Con Stone) said: "Hoodlums, thugs and people who disrupt society deserve severe punishment."
In his speech Mr Cameron argued that young people in "hoodies" were trying to avoid being victims of violence.
He said: "The hoodie is a response to a problem, not a problem in itself.
"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."
The comments are a far cry from the approach taken by John Major, the former Conservative Prime Minister, who called on society to "condemn a little more and understand a little less" in 1993.
Ms Kirkbride said: "It's true that elderly people can be very scared of these youths. But young people are scared too. We need to solve these problems to benefit everyone."
The speech took place at the Centre for Social Justice in London, which was founded by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith.
Labour has put tackling anti-social behaviour at the top of its agenda and won the Hodge Hill by-election in Birmingham in 2004 on the back of promises to "smash teen
thugs". But the Government's approach has come in for widespread criticism.
Paul Scott-Lee, the West Midlands Police Chief Constable, has warned that the force receives 999 calls from members of the public to complain young people are simply walking down the street.
And Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, organised voluntary work for youths wearing hoodies when he was Bishop of Birmingham.
In a speech earlier this year, which he delivered wearing a hoodie given to him by Birmingham youths, he insisted: "Ninety-nine per cent of those who wear hoodies are lawabiding citizens."
But Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said: "We want to make our streets and communities safer for all, young and old alike. Cameron's empty idea seems to be let's hug a hoodie, whatever they've done."
In a second speech yesterday, Mr Cameron said chief constables must be given greater freedom to fight crime and address areas where police performance is lacking.
"The public doesn't want the police to give them learned lectures in sociology or criminology aimed at explaining why high levels of crime are inevitable or intractable or otherwise impossible to deal with," he said.
"They don't want agonised apologies and promises to get it right next time. They want the police to be crime fighters, not form writers. They want the police to be a force as well as a service."