Alan Dee: Bring back national service? Don’t be so draft...

There are a number of phrases which I have sworn never to utter, even in jest, lest those close to me get the wrong idea.

Tuesday, 5th November 2013, 4:07 pm

There’s the one about how it all used to be fields around here, the one about how they’re coming over here and taking all our jobs, and the one about kids today not having any idea what a proper day’s work is. There are others, but you get the idea.

None of them is necessarily proof that I have gone a bit bonkers or signed up for a subscription to the Daily Express, but all are indicators – along with ownership of a comfy pair of slippers, concern about the after-effects of spicy food and a tendency to get to the top of the stairs and completely forget what I went up there for – of advancing age and more entrenched attitudes.

Also included in the list of unsafe phrases are sentiments which hark back to the supposed good old days and look to turn back the clock. Bring back hanging, anyone?

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Bringing back something else is suddenly on the political agenda, though, with a private members’ bill to bring back national service. Mmmm.

From everything I’ve read on the subject national service created as many problems as it ever solved, and there’s certainly no need at the moment for our high-tech fighting forces to be saddled with a bunch of insolent and unwilling square-bashers.

And I think you’ll find that all those Nissen huts where raw recruits once bungled their way through basic training have long since been flogged off and replaced by bijou housing developments.

But fans of the latest recruiting call say that it’s not just about getting into uniform, they emphasise the service side.

And although they admit that there’s little chance of the scheme making it into law, they say it has potential to offer participation in a variety of activities, including charitable work, care for the elderly, and work connected with the NHS or the military.

A year of national service, which would apply to those aged between 18 and 26, would also instil physical fitness and discipline in youngsters.

It’s tempting, if you take away the national dimension which could see you shipped off to strange parts for the duration and the non-starter of making military service part of the deal, to see advantages – but just like that spicy food, it would only lead to regrets in the morning.

There are already more than enough opportunities for young people with the right stuff to get involved in worthwhile community projects close to home, and many don’t need forcing into it.

And sadly those who would need to have their arms twisted would be more hindrance than help wherever they were allocated, and changing that would take a lot more than a year. Back to the drawing board, I’m afraid.