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Published on September 10th, 2013 | by Eve Stanger
Image © mistereels 2007


Your Country Needs You

To most of us the idea of compulsory conscription seems like an alien concept, bound to the history of war and the occasional period drama on BBC. However now Philip Hollobone has proposed a bill to make conscription compulsory, and a failure to do so punishable by law, which could make a year of conscription a reality for 18 – 26 year olds across the country.

Philip Hollobone, who has also proposed a ban on burkas and any garment which covers the face, has argued that a year of conscription for young people is essential. He has vouched for the benefits of such a programme, for the way in which it could instil greater levels of ‘self-respect, personal reliance, discipline and behaviour’ into society. However, though this may be valid to a certain degree, this development is likely to be hampered by the feelings of bitterness at the loss of independence being felt by young people. Upon finishing education, most look forward to striving for that dream job or accepting the university space that they’ve spent years fighting for, rather than being forced into conscription. Truth is, a year of forced conscription is unlikely to be the only way to develop such assets, surely going to university is a route to independence through which personal development goes alongside young people really fulfilling their aims and dreams.

However, Hollobone’s proposals are not for conscription as we know it. Rather than sending us all to the frontline of war, he believes young people should have a choice of charity, health or armed forces work. This stretches the idea of service to community service, and would allow young people to find a route more suited to them personally. But does this really soften the blow? Though some may relish in the chance to spend a year volunteering or working in health care, others will be left wondering why they have wasted a year of their lives, and what benefit the scheme will have given them. This reflects the huge danger in one size fits l schemes. Hollobone vouches for the way in which it would teach life skills including budgeting, nutrition, cooking and time-keeping. Though this correctly identifies areas where young people seem to be lacking adequate skills, as was apparent in my university kitchen when the highest cooking ability was pasta, surely there are better ways to learn these skills. Furthermore, if it is so paramount that these skills are developed then perhaps the right time for this is in schools. Though it is true that schools do consist of Food Technology lessons and Citizenship, these are far from effective. Though I can only speak from my experience, these generally failed to engage a class or translate into any usable skills. It seemed that the end aim was to have a finished product to show, regardless of whether the technician or the bakers of Tesco supermarket did all the work for you.

However my experiences of forced voluntary work (however much of an oxymoron that is) are far more positive. At my Sixth Form we were required to do a minimum of 30 voluntary hours across the spring term. As much as I grumbled at the thought, I soon found myself thrown into a local primary school as a teaching assistant. The beauty of this was that it didn’t require me to give up a year of my life to the cause, but instead allowed me to volunteer at a place and pace of my choice. Though I may not have taken the year out for this voluntary service, there was still no question that my skills were developed and time-keeping all the more so as I completed my voluntary work alongside my A levels. Thus, though I agree that young people need to develop skills for the real world, creating a bubble of a year volunteering is not the best answer. Schools already provide the framework to allow large scale programmes to improve these skills, without launching huge new programmes, at an earlier date. However, if we are to rely on schools for the provision of such schools and schemes the reality is that a radical overhaul is still needed. As much as I enjoyed watching the technician complete my food technology work for me, I would struggle to tell you how exactly ‘I’ made that Swiss Roll that was so delicious in ~Year 8. Though programmes in schools to improve life skills will never be as successful as we may hope, they could nonetheless be improved enough to give the foundations of these skills to soften the blow when reality hits. One browse over my Facebook timeline and already I’m confronted with numerous complaints, made by people in the 18-26 bracket as they moan that school taught them trigonometry but not how to deal with paying bills and filling in CVs.

The truth is, the only way to truly gain life skills is through living in the real world. A year ago I would have struggled to survive a day on my own, but after one year at university I feel well prepared for the everyday struggles that we all face – be it deciding which energy supplier to go with in my student house or finding time to watch the latest episode of Dragon’s Den. Thus, to me, the argument that community service programmes are in the interests of the youth is unconvincing. Though it is true that the schemes are primarily for the community (it’s in the name), the truth is if I were ill or in care I would rather not be swarmed by 10 different surly 18 year olds who would rather be anywhere else.
Hollobone has recognised that his proposals are unlikely to go through. Though the issue was set to be debated upon last Friday, it has been postponed to next February making the chances of it developing seem slimmer. Blaming ‘arcane procedures,’ Hollobone recognises that his bill will not go well in the debates, citing the lack of time as a problem due to the way it would prevent the benefits of his idea from truly coming across. However, in fear of the slim chance that some of us will be sent packing to the front line, a petition has developed by Debbie Sayers. Debbie, an activist from Falmouth, focuses on the military side of Hollobone’s propositions and her belief that young people ‘should be able to choose their own futures.’ In her statement she argues that  “it is unacceptable to force any person to engage in training that has mandatory residential elements, military training or actual service in the military without the ability to refuse. We do not want our children and grandchildren to fight and die in wars, or in training that they or we have no control over.”  With over 10,000 signatures already, the public attitude to the bill is already becoming clear.  Whether or not the petition will have any real impact on the movement of the bill is unknown, right now we can only sit back and wait for our possible call to arms.

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About the Author

Eve Stanger

Eve is a current student at the University of Warwick studying History and Politics. Interests include British Politics, development Politics and globalisation. Next year Eve plans to focus her degree on development politics as well as the history of Britain from 1600. Greatest achievement to date is receiving a UBS Award for Outstanding Students... or surviving travelling America alone. Hobbies include writing blogs, watching Hot Fuzz on repeat and travelling - as far away from East London as possible.

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