Macron is beginning to implement his election pledge of returning to national service with the aim of improving social cohesion and reviving patriotism. The thought of shipping the same policy across the channel hasn’t gone amiss. In this article, I hope to address why national service may be a suture we can use to bring our divided communities back together.
It has been 61 years since national service in the UK ended, and to many, it could seem like a perplexing concept to bring back such a programme. One must only look at our current NHS or at our already cash-strapped military to imagine the discomfort surrounding the idea of allocating more money to such a seemingly unnecessary scheme. In France, in a bid to keep costs low, Macron’s pledge for a grand return of national service has only been partly implemented. Nevertheless, the cost will still be around £1.4 billion per year, for what will possibly be only an aimless 3 month experience for many teenagers. Even Le Pen, a notable flag-bearer for patriotism and someone likely to support such a concept hasn’t been convinced, calling it ‘pointless’.
The biggest threat to the UK, according to the media, is from Russia. After all, we hear about the menace of the ‘big bad bear’ on a weekly basis. In reality, the threat seems intangible. The endless scare stories about Russia have certainly worried some. The media panic every time a Russian ship passes through the channel (a logical passage for Russian ships to reach the Mediterranean I might add), has groomed the public into believing in an impending threat from Russia. Realistically, with no other imminent threat and our protection under NATO, why waste more money on defence themed dress up party?
Having read this far, you may be wondering why, with such evident reasons for not having national service, I am hoping for it to be implemented. Well here why I believe national service deserves to be revived:
I feel that our society is very much broken. Our Conservative governments have been successful in reducing crime, with a 35% reduction between 2010 and 2016, yet the figures could still be lower. The spate of stabbings in London that rocked the country, were after all being committed by teenagers who were being recruited by gangs and underground groups. Perhaps these teens would not turn to violence if they were given the opportunity to contribute to society and appreciate our nation’s values. Moreover, I believe that our country is not cohesive enough. In parts of the country you don’t have to travel far to enter a ‘linguistic ghetto’, where there hasn’t been effective integration of foreign communities into society. It is scary to think that there are certain areas in Britain where whole neighbourhoods can’t even speak English, let alone integrate into the community. As reported by the Telegraph, nearly 8% of Leicester’s population are non-English speakers, with similar figures in other English cities.
As such I believe that national service would be a viable solution to this societal crisis. Having been fortunate to have been involved in CCF (Combined Cadet Force: a youth military scheme) at school, I can appreciate the lessons that can be learnt through a programme of national service. The CCF served to build bridges between otherwise distinct groups in school. Similarly, I feel that national service would help bring isolated cultural groups together from equally separated cliques. The CCF also enhances core values of leadership, respect, pride and commitment.
To this end, having a nationwide program may help provide individuals a better start in life by developing a robust skillset which can be applied to future employment. In respect to crime, many criminal careers begin in the early teens, perhaps as a consequence of dysfunctional families or a belief in a lack of alternatives. Thus, in these situations, national service would come into play by targeting the age group commonly affected by criminal activity and providing a way out. Through service with like-minded individuals, family-like bonds can be formed as well as new perspectives on life. Of course, another clear benefit would be having an armed forces bolstered by those who, through experience of national service, have chosen to make it their career. Perhaps the most significant benefit of national service would be the instilment of a healthy patriotism, based upon an appreciation of the values that make our country so special.
The idea of national service appears to be generally popular in the UK according to a recent YouGov poll. Several notable figures also openly advocate for its re-establishment, including the likes of Prince Harry and Michael Caine. Prince Harry has explained how the military changed both his life and that of the people he has commanded. The Prince is an inspiration and role-model to many and perhaps that’s owed partly to his military experience.
In the midst of repeated protests at home over some of his latest rail reform efforts, Macron will certainly hope his ‘Universal National service’ maintains its current level of popular support and is successfully implemented. Regardless, I believe we need to acknowledge that they are taking a step in the right direction in solving some of their largest domestic problems that we must equally aim to resolve.
Written by Nathan Parekh-Hill
The ideas represented in this article are not reflective of the values held by UCL Conservatives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely representative of the author.