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The case for reintroducing national service

Dissolving social barriers. Lorado/Getty

In recent weeks, says Gavin Rice in The Critic, Commons leader Penny Mordaunt has backed a recommendation to introduce a “Great British National Service”, while Tory MP Danny Kruger has suggested a compulsory one-year period of service on local councils. Earlier this year, the political philosopher Adrian Pabst voiced his support for a “national civic service”. They may be on to something. Some 57% of Britons are supportive, most believing it should have some combination of military and civil elements. There are plenty of successful international examples to follow, from France’s Service National Universel to full-on military service in Switzerland and Israel.

Understandably, in Britain there are plenty of dissenters. They argue that what younger folk here lack is material: housing is laughably expensive, incomes are stagnant, and young workers shoulder a higher share of the tax burden than wealthy homeowners. Consumer culture has also created social silos in which any sense of collective identity is eroded by the cult of individualism. It’s no surprise, given all this, that younger people are far less likely to feel “patriotic” than their older peers. National service may not solve this overnight. But it can certainly help dissolve social barriers by throwing together people from all corners of society. With reasonable compensation, young people could enter higher education or work with meaningful savings. And if older people can be persuaded to foot the bill, it may even make our aimless youth feel warmer towards the society they belong to. “It’s worth a shot.”