Rethinking the National Service

Matthew Randall outlines his vision for a renewed National Service. 

Rebuilding communities, both at home and abroad, is a complex matter which will require more thought and space than can be given to it in the limits of this blog. What follows is a broad sketch of a National Service; which could make the UK a leader in civic reconstruction, by requiring all residents to have completed at least one paid year of in country service, by the time they are thirty. Differing from previous incarnations, this version of National Service would not seek to incorporate the armed forces. Rather, in line with the morals of the Left, it would seek to peacefully build community cohesion at home and abroad. The outcome of the service would be a world where people are drawn together in a common conception that we have all contributed, in a meaningful way, towards improving the lives of others.

The service itself would be split into two principal parts, a compulsory internal part focusing on the UK, and an optional international part for those wishing to aid those beyond the UK’s borders.

The initial year is designed to help rebuild and strengthen communities across the UK whilst equipping young people (18-30) with skills they can use to serve their communities both now and in the future. Although initially, this section would be rather prescriptive, focusing on areas such as Education, Health, and Community Support Officers, eventually the service should become a more generative body. A good example of this might be looking into ways of utilising technology for the community and working on infrastructure updates. As the programme matured, we should hope to see an improvement in our understanding of what our communities require to grow, and our ability to provide for them.

The optional second year of service would provide an opportunity for the individual to use their skills and apply them in an international context. This section of the service would seek to strengthen the UK’s ties to the international community in a way that is predominantly guided by peaceful principles and a reviewed notion of ‘development’. Unlike past development attempts, which have often been broadly neo-colonial at best, the service would work in close partnership with countries globally. Offering them a helping hand that does not disrupt their sovereignty, nor their nations right to its own unique character.

By allowing the service to draw from UK Residents, rather than citizens, the state can acknowledge the diversity within the UK’s population. During the compulsory year, residents would work in mixed-age range cohorts, 18-30, or 19-31 in the optional year. The overall idea in drawing from such a large group is to broaden the depths of experience captured by the service. The freedom to engage at any point during these years allows individuals the chance to grow at their own rate. For example, some may wish to continue their studies post 18 prior to service, whilst others may not.

Ultimately it would be hoped that this inbuilt diversity would lead to a better community during and following the programme. As the service will pay participants a living wage during their commitment, this should allow them to focus their attentions on building strong and varied inter-age, if not inter-community, personal networks. One possible benefit of this could be a reduction in mental health issues currently associated with social isolation in the UK.

Dividing this brief amongst already existing departments, where various elements of the programme would naturally fall, would likely lead the service to lack the clarity of vision required to successfully deliver such an ambitious project. Therefore, to deliver such a broad programme, the service would have to be run out of a new department. The state should look at funding the departments costs through a higher level of income/capital gains or even inheritance tax. However, electorally these raises should be weighed against the ability of the service to create a more connected community both at home and abroad. 

Just as the service is a break from tradition, so too would be the new department. Whilst the minister would still be appointed by the Prime Minister, and accountable to parliament, they would act more as a spokesperson for the department, rather than the director of it. The real power of the department would lie in its multitiered elected officials, serving short terms in office, and acting in a similar role of that of the civil service today, but made up of recent graduates of the service. In addition to those in the department, there would also be short-term elected legacy positions working directly with active projects, training and guiding new recruits on long-running projects. Ideally, this is just another way that we could envisage the National Service rebuilding, and to a large extent reviving, the social contract, and our democratic systems.

Matthew is a former parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Fareham Hampshire, where until recently he was also chair of the CLP. He is currently transitioning to becoming a History Teacher in the East of England, whilst he continues to think about how the left can tackle the issues it faces over the coming years.

Whilst he infrequently retweets and rarely tweets himself, he can be engaged with on the handle @Majar21

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