STEPHEN POLLARD: We aren’t in the 1950s. And bringing back National Service is not going to magically take us back there

For many of its supporters, the idea harks back to an idealised 1950s – those patriotic halcyon days when you could leave your front door unlocked, the police cycled around nabbing petty criminals and old maids drank warm beer.

But we aren’t in the 1950s. And bringing back National Service is not going to magically take us back there.

The problems young people face today are the same problems we all face – crime, drugs, the economy, family breakdown and so on. Tackle those, and you tackle the issue of young people who feel they have no purpose.

A national volunteering scheme is certainly a sensible idea. And we have one – the National Citizen Service, set up by Lord Cameron in 2010. In 2019 its budget was £158.6million. Today it’s £50.3million, slashed by the same Rishi Sunak who is now saying he will spend £2.5billion on a compulsory scheme.

Supporters of Mr Sunak’s scheme cite Israel and some Nordic countries where there are forms of National Service. But we are nothing like Israel. As the current military operation in Gaza shows, Israel is a country which faces a permanent existential and terrorist threat and where national security is the most important issue by a mile. No other issue comes close.

The National Citizen Service was set up by Lord Cameron in 2010

And army service in a tiny country like Israel is not really about building character or national identity – those are by-products. Army service is the only way to sustain its defence – and it carries on long into adulthood.

The likes of Norway and Finland are not worthwhile comparisons either. Nordic countries have a very different approach to state control. Their citizens accept state diktats in so many areas, where we Britons view the state with scepticism.

In that vein, one can only imagine what will happen when the first hapless army recruit breaks a leg on an assault course. It will be a lawyers’ bonanza. I can already see the class action suit looming.

Joining the Armed Forces will not be compulsory under Mr Sunak’s plan. But according to the Prime Minister, it will be mandatory for young people to give up one weekend a month for volunteering (though the concept of ‘compulsory volunteering’ is a little puzzling).

I am left wondering what it is about the young that so many people in power appear to dislike? It was under this government, don’t forget, that so many young people were forced to miss school and stay cooped up at home during lockdown in order to protect the elderly.

Now the plan is to tell them they have too many free weekends and they need to do what the Government tells them with their spare time.

As one mother of an 18-year-old prison officer posted on social media yesterday: ‘It’s a tough job, and includes working every other weekend and some nights. Rishi Sunak thinks she should also give up one of her remaining free weekends each month to “volunteer”?’

Mr Sunak’s bombshell plan to bring back National Service is a dismal misfire. It will do little to shore up our underfunded Armed Forces and it won’t paper over the cracks in our fractured society.