The Tory right's one good idea: bringing back national service | Stephen Moss

Don’t knock it – national service without the military association and for both sexes could be a lifeline for many young people

Rightwingers in the Tory party this week launched an “alternative Queen’s speech”. Or rather relaunched it – many of the 42 proposed bills were suggested in July 2010 when the Tory right already feared their party was sinking into a coalition mush. So here they are, again arguing for the death penalty (especially for the BBC), for leaving the EU, making same-sex marriages dependent on a referendum, abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change, banning the burqa in public places, and replacing the August bank holiday with Margaret Thatcher Day. What a jolly occasion that would be.

Some might be inclined to dismiss the proponents of this manifesto (most of whom seem to be called Bone) as loopy, but in fact they are performing a public service. British politics is far too technocratic and centrist, with each of the three established parties parroting the others. The frame of ideas is hopelessly rigid and restricted. That’s why Ukip has been enjoying largely undeserved success. Anything to shake up the sclerotic establishment.

Parties and factions within parties that put their cards on the table are to be welcomed. British politics, if we ignore the nationalists, is a natural spectrum of five groupings – left, centre-left, centre, right, centre-right – forced to squeeze into three (or perhaps two-and-a-half) because of the first-past-the-post system. Each of the big parties is a dialogue between two rival factions, which is quite healthy in its way as long as each faction fights its corner. Creative tension can be good for government. Bad government tends to occur when one faction is overwhelmed: see the Thatcher and Blair governments passim.

What’s more, the Bone-heads on the Tory right have actually come up with a good idea – the return of national service. National service, by which between 1948 and 1963 young men were conscripted into the British armed forces, tends now to be seen as a policy that only the most blimpish would support. But that’s because it is synonymous with conscription. Remove the automatic association with the armed forces, apply it to both sexes, call it citizenship training or community service, and it could be a useful and enlightened bridge between school and whatever comes next.

University is wasted on the immature, and it would be far better if people intending to go into further education spent a year or two (lengths of citizenship training could vary) working in their local hospital, the police force or some other public service. By the age of 20 or 21, they will be more mature and in a better position to tackle university life. They could also gain financial credits during their service, which would offset the ruinous fees now being charged by our higher education factories.

Disadvantaged young people who might otherwise be anticipating a life of worklessness will be even better served by citizenship training, which could be …read more  

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