“I Agree with David”

After a while spent following politics, you are occasionally presented with a dilemma. One of these comes when, as happens on occasion, one of the other people (you know, THEM. THOSE PEOPLE. THEY WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED) come up with an actually rather good idea. Is it disloyal to say, “I Agree with David?” Do you put your immortal soul at risk by listening to the siren words of our dear Prime Minister, and actually agreeing with him?*

Such a situation presented itself to me in the run-up to the election campaign, and was presented to me in the unlikely form of that eminent British actor, Mr Maurice Mickelwhite Esq., otherwise known as Sir Michael Caine. Last seen starring in “LOCK YOUR DOORS! THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU!”-fest Harry Brown, Sir Michael announced his sudden conversion to the Conservative party by promoting their new big idea: “Bring back National Service!”

Now, considering what I’m usually like about such authoritarian solutions and the vilification of young people in our current society, it might seem unusual for me to agree with statements like, “We’ve got three and a half million layabouts laying about on benefits and I’m 76 getting up at six o’clock in the morning to go to work to keep them.” But the thing is, I actually think that reintroducing a (non-military) form of National Service is a rather good idea…


One of the major problems we are facing in our society today is the breakdown in social cohesion. I think just about everyone would agree that people do not talk to their neighbours as much as they used to, and are often even afraid of them- just look at the number of gated communities which are springing up all over the country. However, it’s also a general rule that if you don’t actually meet people from a different social, ethnic or national background, then you’re more susceptible to rumour about them- for example, the bedrock of BNP support is young white men who have heard things about immigration, but are from areas where it is not high. One of the reasons why Polish immigration into this country has not aroused the same passions that, say, Caribbean immigration did in the sixties, is the “oh, we got some Polish builders in, they can’t speak a word of English but you should just see how hard they work” effect. Simply put, Polish immigration has been much more evenly spread out around the country than Caribbean has, making it much more likely that someone will have actually met a Polish plumber than a British Caribbean one. It’s also a general rule that the earlier people mix with other cultures, the more used to them they get- kids under the age of four, for example, see no difference between black and white people, or so I’m informed.

So why not mix people, from different backgrounds, from different parts of the country, at a relatively young age?

You can see where this is heading, can’t you?

Traditionally, in countries which had conscription, this function would be performed by the one or two years of compulsory military service. Often, in countries like Italy which had recently been unified, recruits from different areas and backgrounds would be deliberately mixed to create a sense of national unity- and so, when people went home to Sardinia or Puglia or wherever, they could say, “Oh, those Sardinians aren’t bad- you remember the night when me and Vicenzo…”

So why not use a form of non-military National Service to address the same problem as the Italians faced, that of a country divided into many small regions, distrustful of each other, and which often would not mix otherwise? This wouldn’t have to be for a year- it could just take place during the summer holidays, where, from my own experience, I can say that boredom can reach quite monumental heights when you’re 16. If you can give kids the (voluntary) choice of spending six weeks doing some socially useful work a long way away from their parents, then going back to the camp and meeting girls/boys in the evening, do you think they might be interested? And who knows, maybe they might actually do some useful work in the process- clear up some grafitti, tidy up parklands- things like that.

So yes, I can say, I do agree with David- though maybe I wouldn’t put it in the same terms as he would. Don’t hate me, please!

* For the record, I reckon that if politicians occasionally could say, “Fair play, that’s actually a really good idea”, people might be a bit less cynical about the whole merry dance.

Published in: on June 3, 2010 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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