In the last century, the United Kingdom has introduced conscription twice. Both of these times it was the result of two major world wars. It could then be seen as a rather strange time for Conservative MP Philip Hollobone to sponsor a bill seeking to reintroduce National Service for young people. Conscription is not something to be taken lightly; the threat to people’s liberty has led many to question Hollobone’s plan.
The bill is just one of many proposals in the so-called ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ pushed by Tory radicals such as Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone. This ‘modern’ National Service would see young people being compelled to take part in services to society, ranging from work in the armed forces to the slightly less militaristic participation in the NHS through services like care for the elderly. Ultimately the bill aims to foster a sense of ‘self-respect, personal reliance, discipline and behaviour’ in those who would take part. Yet is this to say that the people in society who have not ‘benefited’ from compulsory national service neither respect themselves, have any discipline, or know how to behave?
It seems that politics is still afflicted with a generational distrust of the younger generation. The bill is riddled with assumptions about younger people being lazy and disrespectful, a harmful stereotype that is often mistakenly used. Of course, if younger generations come out of schools without having learnt basic life skills like ‘time-keeping’ and ‘financial budgeting’, then something in our education system is failing them. Perhaps then a change in schools is needed rather than Hollobone’s bill.
Proponents of the notion of a ‘modern’ National Service often point out that since many people would choose not to participate in military service, the benefit to charities and other institutions such as the NHS would be substantial. Charitable work has always been associated with the idea of ‘social capital’ within society; that we’re better people for having done some work for charity, and in turn that makes our society a better place for us to live in. This may well be true, but if we aren’t afforded the liberty of choice then surely it detracts from the sincerity of the action. Voluntary schemes like the Duke of Edinburgh Award already run in most schools, encouraging people to take up a form of charity work that they are interested in. Getting people involved in voluntary activities that benefit society and at the same time keep in line with their interests, whether they be Girl Guiding and Scouting or hospital care, is undoubtedly good – just as long as it remains voluntary. That way people , not only enjoy it more, but work harder.
Civil liberties are something we should all be thankful for. The freedom to determine our own future and to live our lives however we want, so long as we do no harm to others, is a characteristic for us to cherish in the United Kingdom. This is especially so considering the number of totalitarian regimes that still exist in the world (even in Europe) which place substantial restrictions on the kind of lives their citizens are able to lead, affording them few choices in determining their own future. It is a slippery slope should MPs vote to begin directing the futures of millions of people in our society without an option for us to refuse.