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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
31 May 2024
National Service: An unwanted call up

Rishi Sunak has pledged to reintroduce National Service for 18 year olds if the Conservatives win the general election | Alamy

National Service: An unwanted call up

My dad occasionally recalls a drill his teacher had his class do where they ducked below their desks to simulate how they would prepare for a nuclear bomb being dropped on the West of Scotland. Both my parents say that during their childhood nuclear destruction was their greatest worry. 

And 50 years on, after decades of relative peace between global superpowers, the threat of nuclear war is at its highest since the Cold War. As tensions with Russia and China continue, there have been suggestions from senior UK Government ministers that we must be prepared for conflict. 

Defence minister Grant Shapps described “a pre-war world” during a speech in January this year and forecast that in five years’ time “we could be looking at multiple theatres involving Russia, China, Iran and North Korea”.

This is all in the spectre of reports from January last year that a senior US general privately told then-defence minister Ben Wallace the British Army is no longer regarded as a top-level fighting force.

Things have got so bad that we are at the point where the Royal Navy is so desperate it is accepting candidates that can’t swim – what a way to illustrate the state of defence in this country. 

And what are our leaders suggesting now? Ah yes, that old chestnut of conscription and National Service. 

Rishi Sunak’s recent National Service plan, he says, will promote “a shared sense of purpose among our young people and a renewed sense of pride in our country”.

Firstly, I ask, a shared purpose? This government has done well to destroy any sense of shared purpose between this generation by pushing classes further apart and alienating people from one another. 

Let’s take public spending during the pandemic – borrowing was increased by £313bn and a good chunk of this was used for the furlough scheme. All I see is a huge transfer of wealth from the public coffers to the richest in society. 

Most of the companies who were paying the newly furloughed workers’ salaries were struggling too. And the reason for that was the customers of these companies were not spending, instead they were holding onto their money.

But not all customers are equal. Remember, all in this together, Sunak and company want us to think. The reason people, theoretically, had more money was because they cut spending, but things like rent, mortgages, food, and bills all still had to be paid. It was the country’s wealthiest, the people who spend a lot on non-essentials, who were able to keep hold of that money because nothing was open. 

What’s happened since then? Rent, house prices, food and bills have all skyrocketed. All in this together, right Rishi?

I agree with Sunak when he suggests there is a lack of national pride. However, I suspect we think this is a result of different things. 

Many of my most successful peers from school and university have left or have plans to leave to the UK in the next few years, with Australia, America, and Canada all popular destinations.

And can you blame them? We have an underwhelming education system, a failing health service, the country is walking a tight rope when it comes to its climate targets, the cost of living has risen much quicker than salaries in the last few years, all while wealth inequality grows. 

If the government want to restore national pride and encourage a sense of national purpose, then it might be an idea to start making things tangibly better for whichever people are left to work here over the next 40 years.

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