National service supporters: get fell in, you ‘orrible lot | Victoria Coren Mitchell

People who want to force kids into the army are the ones who really need to smarten their ideas up

Did you know that there’s a private members’ bill to bring back national service?

Most people only heard about it last week, after a news story that The Alan Titchmarsh Show had booked the president of the Cambridge Union to debate national service in their “Daily Ding Dong” feature, then cancelled her because she wasn’t a man.

How daft. If they hoped for emotive personal testimony on a specifically male self-image, they should not have approached the Cambridge Union. Debating societies are not about what you (heaven forbid) “feel”, but how well you argue.

Still, you can’t expect too much commitment to the niceties of serious debate from a feature called “Daily Ding Dong”.

It’s television. We have to respect the creative industries’ right to “cast” performances, outside the normal workplace rules of non-discrimination. In practice, of course, this seems to mean endless inventive reasons why a woman, or an older woman, or more than one woman, would be inappropriate for almost everything – but a generational change is surely inevitable and, in the meantime, putting up with these “creative decisions” is less bad than the alternative.

What’s more interesting is why The Alan Titchmarsh Show wanted to discuss national service at all.

This bill will never get through. An era when brave young servicemen and women are being daily killed and injured during the relentless fallout of a ghastly illegal war is no time to sell voters on something that even vaguely smacks of forcing their kids to join the army.

Even those who don’t have children and despise everyone else’s must recognise that we don’t need untrained cannon fodder any more. The future of the British military lies in highly trained computer programmers, probably no more than 12 of them. (No disrespect to the military; you could say the same about pretty much everything else.)

Besides, private members’ bills never get through. This particular old chestnut, which I remember debating when I was at school, would cost millions to subsidise and I believe that our last national bank statement read: “Minus a trillion.”

So, why do daytime television and its viewers think there is anything to discuss? Sadly, I think there is a wave of popular appeal in compelling anyone to do anything.

That certainly appears to be the view of policymakers. They keep coming up with ideas rooted in compulsion and coercion: the Tories demanding manual labour in return for dole money, for example, or the idea mooted at the Labour conference to remove child benefit from those who refuse the MMR jab.

They wouldn’t be doing this if focus groups didn’t tell them it might fly. In times of poverty and struggle, people harden towards others. Nobody wants to be compelled to do anything themselves, but there is some comfort in the thought of others being.

Those who are thrilled by the stern finger and enforced obedience might be disappointed to know that the national service bill, …read more    

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