Young people would learn more from National Service than any university

Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer

The proposal to create a new National Service programme came out of the blue and caught everyone by surprise.

Unlike some politicians, I immediately welcomed the proposal. I did so because, during my time serving in the Scots Guards on active Service, I saw how life in the military, in often testing circumstances, helps you learn more about yourself. You quickly learn about your strengths and your weaknesses. It teaches a self-respect which can be the antidote to the all-pervading shallow celebrity culture.

Beyond that, being thrown together in a barrack room or out in the field ensures you work as a team, learning about others serving with you, you quickly discover the hidden talents of those around you. You learn self-discipline and in turn to rely on others and not let them down.

I recall my brother-in-law talking about his time in the army during National Service. He often made the point that perhaps the most important thing it did was to throw young people together from hugely different backgrounds. From state schools to public schools and from poor to rich, all were faced by the same challenges and forced to rely on each other’s innate skills. Mutual respect grew.

Even though the plan is not to run a National Service, based purely on the Armed Forces but also to include work in the community with charities and other social projects, the lessons will be the same.

The organisation I set up, the Centre For Social Justice (CSJ), works with small community groups and charities which work to support those in difficulty and to try to resolve the causes of their problems. They work tirelessly as a tight team to help those blighted by failed education to those with drug addictions, debt, family dysfunction or worklessness.

Such organisations are always in need of fresh help, and this new national service programme could provide it. It is a service, similar to the Army, where people will meet others they would normally be unlikely to come into contact with, working alongside those all backgrounds and discovering capabilities in themselves they may not have previously know were there.

I often wonder whether those who end up in top universities can all too easily slip into elitism. With prospects so far removed from most of those not so blessed, national service would help to keep them grounded.

Across our communities we see elements of division, whether it has its roots in extreme religious belief or anti-social behaviour. Breaking down barriers is vital, and this could be the way to do it.

Some years ago, the local council in my constituency closed down the local library. The community refused to accept it, so they set up and now run the library themselves. It has been a brilliant success, bringing together people from different walks of life and all ages. They are united by the desire to serve their community. They fought to keep it open when the local Labour council wanted it shut.

Young people have been discussing such a service online, and this should idea resonate with them. I would also add one other change. I would bring in those at 15/16 who have left school, often without qualifications, who can be prey for the terrible street gangs. They would benefit from this as well.

How sad it was to see the knee jerk reaction from Sir Keir Starmer and Labour. Referring to it as a Dad’s Army for kids showed a level of patronising grandstanding that too often characterises the political elite. And anyway, it was he who only days before called for those in the same age group to have the right to vote because they were responsible enough.

If they are responsible enough to vote, then they are responsible enough to join a programme that will help balance their lives in the future.