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The Independent Online
Service

LABOUR'S Commission on Social Justice has a plan for a voluntary workforce, provisionally called Citizens' , which put me in mind of my progressive boarding school. For punishments we were made to clear undergrowth on the estate, empty dustbins and so forth. It was called 'being put on report'. Another body which also worked on the estate was popular among those who preferred work to organised games. It cleared undergrowth, filled in potholes and so on. That was called 'pioneering'.

There could be a lesson here for Labour's commission. The school wasn't being hypocritical like Orwell's Ministry of Truth, for those identical jobs really did have different aims. I am not suggesting that the proposed citizens' workforce would be spending all its time hoeing and weeding, or that it should be called Pioneers, like the old Communist youth movements. But the commission would do well to find an alternative to service. We have already had Community Orders, not voluntary - the equivalent of being put on report.

is becoming as shabby as the beggars who upset John Major. It can simply mean train ('The Brighton service is on platform 12'). Being 'no longer in service', once said of families that had bettered themselves, now means that the bus has been taken off. Nor does the heart leap up as one approaches the service counter.

The word is from the Latin for slave, and we still have slavey, a domestic drudge, which recalls its origins. But slave's associated word is servitude - not service, which was not necessarily ignoble in the days when everyone was seen as serving someone, whether employer, monarch or God. Now, when all are perceived as equal, service tends to be an impersonal function, carried out by firms or large bodies.

What to call the new force, then? Assistance and support sound promising. Admittedly both have unhelpful associations with the Welfare State, but this time the citizens, not the state, would be doing the assisting. Citizens' Support Force? Perhaps not.

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