RISHI Sunak has pledged to reintroduce national service for young people across the UK if re-elected on July 4.  

The Conservative Party’s plan is for those aged 18 to choose between a full-time placement in the Armed Forces for 12 months or volunteer in a public or charitable service one weekend a month over a year.

We’re told a royal commission would develop the operation of the scheme – including those with military and civil society experience – with the aim of launching next September at a cost of £2.5billion per annum.

National service was abolished 64 years ago, although the last national servicemen weren’t discharged until 1963.

Clement Attlee’s Labour government persuaded Parliament to pass the National Service Act 1948 and it was controversial given we were then in peacetime.

National service came into force in January 1949 and required all physically fit males between the ages of 17 and 26 to serve in one of the armed forces for 18 months. Over two million men took part from 1949 to 1963.

The rationale and logic for conscription after the Second World War was the need to maintain high levels of military forces in parts of the world where Britain had ongoing commitments – Germany, Palestine, and India.  

Contrast that with the position today. We aren’t at war and don’t have post world war commitments. For those who argue we need to increase the ranks of our military, it’s important to remember the armed forces have been subject to systemic cuts.

From 2000 to 2023, armed force numbers reduced by almost one third – 207,000 in 2000 to 141,480 last year. The majority of cuts took place as part of a strategic defence review from 2010 to 2015 – implemented by the Tories.

What’s the point of Sunak’s national service plan? Is it an economically feasible and workable proposition or a bit of shameless electioneering?

Certainly, the use of terms such as “choosing” and “volunteering” make no sense as the Prime Minister is proposing a compulsory scheme.

Just how much socio-economic value will be gained by forcing young people into military or unpaid charitable work is anyone’s guess.

In my experience, you get the best results from people who want to do things through personal choice, principle and self-belief.

The proof of how out of touch Rishi Sunak truly is came last week when he told a public audience that young people could face “sanctions” including “losing access to finance or driving licences if they refuse to do national service”.

How does this square with previous platitudes of how national service would help unite society in an “increasingly uncertain world” and give young people a “shared sense of purpose?”.

Picking on 18-year-olds when they’re unlikely to afford their own home for years to come and are more likely to have less job security in the gig economy than older people is an easy thing to do before a general election.

But it’s cheap and derogatory.

We’ve seen various youth programmes over the decades. Callaghan’s Labour government introduced the Youth Opportunities Programme in 1978. It had little positive long-term effect on youth unemployment statistics. Its successor was Thatcher’s Youth Training Scheme in 1983.

We can learn from the good and bad aspects of past economic interventions to help young people. There’s no evidence the current Prime Minister has done so.