Thursday, 10 August 2017

Bring back national service

bring back national service
If you’re British, you would have to speak to your grandfather to have any chance of learning anything about National Service. The last healthy young men received their call-up papers in 1960. National Service was introduced in many countries after the wars as a legacy of conscription. It was a simple solution to keeping the borders safe and protecting the democracy of the nation. The bonus was that it also instilled discipline and obedience into many who, as impressionable young men, had been through the military process. Another bonus is that many who served together developed the bonds and camaraderie only possible with people who have had a difficult and defining experience together. Some European nations still have a mandatory period of national service although its number has reduced significantly. Greece, for example, still has 9 months, reduced from 2 years over the last fifteen years. However, the only threats to Greece’s democracy has come from within, civil wars and a coup d’etat. The biggest threat to most western nations’ democracy comes from ignorance and complacency, again from within. Now, it strikes me that National Service should be reintroduced but this time not military but governmental.

Twitshot
In my previous article ARE YOU QUALIFIED FOR DEMOCRACY I discussed the idea that the nation gets the government it deserves. However, we cannot hope to get any better without informed decision and democratic engagement. This cannot happen unless the government invests in the people. Many would, quite rightly, argue that this would not serve the agenda of the political classes and that the persistent dumbing-down to a point where people vote more fervently for x-factor than the nation’s government is part of the plan. I think that in order for any country to be truly democratic, the people need to have some idea about the choices they are making and the effects that they have. Just having the right to put your cross on a ballot does not constitute democracy. To that end, I think that the secondary school curriculum should include a government and politics course and all 18-22 year-olds (I feel the 15-17 year old age group of the ‘National Citizen Service’ scheme would is too young and could have the opposite effect if mandatory) should do a period of no less than 6 months in the service of the country taking roles in local and national government as well as political parties. I am not talking about community service, I do not suggest that the nation’s young be put to work in parks and maintenance departments (something that has been suggested before with great support), what I suggest is putting them into the places (in something like an intern role) where budgets are balanced, decisions made, policies pondered. This would give everyone an insight into how the country is run and motivate the young to take more interest in why it doesn't run as well as it could do.

Party politics
Now, who wouldn’t want to spend 6 months hanging out with Jacob Rees-Mogg, taking notes for Boris Johnson, mucking in with Jeremy Corbyn or working with any up-and-coming candidate or back-bencher. Maybe not, but working with political parties in fund raising, campaigning and administration would help conscripts to understand how the system works, its machinations and manoeuvres. They may choose which party they wish to work with. I think the parties would vie to be chosen as it would be an opportunity to convert young voters, also if any party tried to avoid taking conscripts, they would be seen in a very bad light by the electorate. It may be a good idea to get a balance of working with different ends of the political spectrum in order to obtain a more balanced impression but this may prove complicated. That said, the overall effect across the nation should provide this balance. Of course, working with the parties may strengthen the affiliations of some who had a tendency to their beliefs to begin with, while seeing behind the curtain may cause others to change their opinions. I also believe that having a steady stream of civilians going through the offices would cause them to change their ways. In a way it would be like Big Brother in reverse, the people would be watching, and no doubt tweeting, about the things they saw. This would keep them on their toes, maybe even keep them in touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
Some may become so disillusioned by the state of party politics that they begin to set up their own. Lets face it, some of the parties are so focused on their own survival and internal bickering that they really do deserve to be allowed to be put out of our misery. If it cannot be fixed or is so resistant to change, they should be just allowed to die.

National government
Whitehall may not be able to accommodate many conscripts but spending time in the house of commons and its backrooms would definitely show the young how the country is run. Of course, it would be a pain in the arse for many MPs and civil servants but they have chosen to serve the country and serve they should. Having daily contact with real people may help to keep them grounded to the issues they have sworn and campaigned and been elected to do. Putting TV cameras in parliament was supposed to reign in the carnival of government and it did to a certain extent, I’m sure having voters in their midst would keep them on track. Of course, let’s not be naive, politics and government is not as simple as having a good idea, a compelling argument and a just cause. There are thousands of those and only limited resources. Conscripts will learn negotiation and compromise, skills that would benefit them in all careers and benefit many industries, just imagine having a huge pool of experienced, talented political negotiators to call on during issues within the EU, maybe Brexit would never have been necessary.

Local government
From local MP through town councillors to the people on the front line, seeing how their town is run would give the conscripts an insight into the difficulties of the community. It is easy to throw stones at the council for not patching roads, fixing fences or maintaining schools that the pupils work so hard to destroy but compromises need to be made, even with best of intentions of the best of public servants. Solutions may be offered that have not yet been explored. And, maybe, just maybe more young would learn that working together for what they would like (a better place to live) is better than destructive protest. I’m sure that a more proactive input from the young could solve many of the problems communities face everyday.

Difficulties
Now, of course there will be some huge problems to overcome. First and foremost is the little fact that the UK has over four million people between the ages of 18 and 22, most countries would have similar proportions of the population to deal with. Places would need to be found to occupy the conscripts. We could not have them running around in the House of commons tagging the walls of Westminster but each conscript would serve maybe six months so once the initiative got rolling it would be around four-hundred thousand for each session, eight-hundred thousand per twelve months, considerably less than the number of unemployed. Another issue would be getting appropriate people into the right departments, not everyone is suited to academic administration while others lack the practicality to assist in other departments. I am not talking IQ or schooling but some kind of assessment would be necessary, that said I think most would be surprised at how capable many kids who the school system has written off could be. Now the BIG one, cost. This would be a new financial burden on the national economy and no doubt costly but it seems to me that so much money is spent on patching up problems caused by the breakdown in communities, so much money wasted dealing with the ramifications of a despondent society that this would be a proactive investment, hopefully stopping some problems before they become problems.

Disclaimer
This is an embryonic idea, an idealistic proposal and not to be taken as a blue print but what I do know for certain is that something needs to be done. Not more patching up, not more dumbing down. A nation’s most valuable resource is its people and none more valuable than its young. Governments are elected by little more than half of the electorate in most countries and of those who do vote the majority are 40plus and their choices driven by unreliable media campaigns (also discussed in ARE YOU QUALIFIED FOR DEMOCRACY). In the Brexit referendum, which attracted a significantly larger turnout than general elections, constituencies with proportionally larger young populations faired the worst, with Oxford and Cambridge notable exceptions (draw your own conclusions there). We could just make voting mandatory but that would not address the matter of engagement, people would vote ‘whatever’ or spoil their ballot. This is not democracy.

A YouTube video I watched recently said, “Harley Davidson, as American as low voter turnout…” funny until you see what those who did turnout chose and what the only viable opposition was. Time for change, I feel, before it is way too late!

… I await your comments below

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