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Daily View: Conservative national service proposals

Clare Spencer | 10:25 UK time, Friday, 9 April 2010

cameron0704.jpgCommentators consider the merits of David Cameron's plan for voluntary "national citizen service" for all 16-year-olds.

The Times editorial says the shift in policy from compulsory to voluntary is telling and suggests that this could exclude people on lower incomes but could also provide a much-needed celebration of coming-of-age:

"It will be difficult to sell the idea to all teenagers but there is much in Mr Cameron's proposals to like. British youth is, indeed, woefully short on unifying rites of passage, and one can only approve of the tradition that the Conservative Party hopes to create."

David McKie writes in the Guardian that war veterans will be shouting "call that national service?":

"Will Cameron's conscripts find that for two whole years they'll be cropped right out of society? Will they find themselves condemned to spend hour upon miserable hour cleaning and buffing and polishing, only for some lip-curling corporal to throw their work to the floor the following morning? Will they drill on a barrack square, red-faced and sweating, to the mocking sound of the dawn chorus? Will they plough down muddy tracks under a back-breaking pack and a volley of non-commissioned abuse? Apparently not. They won't even be conscripts. This national service, at least at the start, will be voluntary. For young men - young women were spared - our national service was voluntary only in the sense of the famous army sergeant command: I want three volunteers - you, you and you. Those who refused real national service could - unless they could show irrefutable proof of a deep religious affiliation - find themselves sent to jail."

On Radio 4's PM Programme, Nick Barrett from the Outward Bound Trust called it a visionary idea in an otherwise dreary election:

"Can it work in practice? Yes. We've been involved in the pilots. We know just how much you can get out of young people if you present them with a challenge and what they can go on and achieve. Yes, it could be bigger and broader and detail needs to be worked out. But as a starter for ten and something that's been piloted and Cameron's put his money where his mouth is - yes, it's a great idea."

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The chief executive of a full time volunteering programme called City Year London, Sophie Livingstone argues in the Guardian that the plans should be bolder:
"It was heartening to see the Conservatives grasp the nettle of national service by championing the concept of a shared, structured experience for all 16-year-olds. "But I would urge them (and indeed all the parties) to be even bolder in their ambitions for young people. I wonder if they have underestimated the potential for them to create social change in communities. If we are really to create the 'culture of service' that David Cameron talked about today, what we need is a cultural shift. This means providing a critical mass of meaningful opportunities to serve that start at a young age and continue throughout someone's life."

Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times thinks the Conservatives could have chosen a younger celebrity than Michael Caine to help launch the campaign:

"Playing the celeb game has never been easy for the Conservatives. It just isn't cool to be a Tory, so they tended to get rather comfortable middle-class older figures, more sit-coms rather than rom-coms. Likewise the musical backers tended to be far more middle of the road, although the backing of cutting edge arts and musical types is a double-edged sword as Tony Blair swiftly found out."

Links in full

BBC NewsBBC | Michael Caine backs Tories' youth citizen service plan
TimesTimes | Citizens Caine
GuardianSophie Livingstone | Guardian | Tories' national service plans should be bolder
GuardianDavid McKie | Guardian | Call that national service?
Guido Fawkes' blog Paul Staines | Guido Fawkes' blog | Michael Caine: 'Hang on, lads'
Financial TimesRobert Shrimsley | Financial Times | Armchair election: His name is Michael Caine
GuardianMarina Hyde | Guardian | Michael Caine lends Tories his cast-iron guarantee of quality

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