the independent debate

Readers blast Rishi Sunak’s plans for national service as ‘ill-conceived, headline-grabbing’ and ‘half-baked’

Many called for more substantial investment in the youth and systemic reforms of the military over national service

Friday 31 May 2024 07:00
Critics argued that conscripts and national servicemen would make ineffective soldiers
Critics argued that conscripts and national servicemen would make ineffective soldiers (PA Archive)

Rishi Sunak’s pledge to enforce national service for 18-year-olds has marked a controversial beginning in the Conservative Party’s general election campaign.

Independent readers were broadly critical of reintroducing national service in the UK when we asked for your opinions this week.

Critics argued that conscripts and national servicemen would make ineffective soldiers, suggesting they would be unmotivated and poorly trained, leading to inflated but hollow army numbers.

Overall, the idea was dismissed as misguided and detrimental, with calls for more substantial investment in the youth and systemic reforms of the military instead of coercive measures like national service.

Here’s what you had to say:

‘Conscripts and national servicemen simply don’t make for good soldiers’

Ignoring the moral issues aside, the idea of national service is motivated by a very selective memory to ignore it was scrapped because it’s pragmatically, just not a very good system.

While it inflates numbers on paper to make armies look bigger than they are, conscripts and national servicemen simply don’t make for good soldiers composed of young people often less devoted to their government and absolutely no desire to be there.

The only times where procedures like this should be looked at is in a need to fill out numbers in a defensive war, but all it does outside of that is devote countless amounts of time and resources in creating poorly trained soldiers with no motivation and the skills it teaches often proven to be imaginary during a real conflict, as can be observed by current conflicts today.

The only purpose of it otherwise is simply to claim a larger army than exists for propaganda purposes and is not the mark of someone taking security issues of the country seriously but sees it as a frivolous thing to be played with for politics as needed. As Sunak also touts the strength of missiles and nuclear submarines, there’s little difference in his approach to security issues beyond many of the states he claims to be defending the UK against, mirroring the same distraction notes to downplay the rot of the larger forces as a whole.

It would make more sense to commit to actually modernizing the forces and to delivering reforms to military culture to remove the negative light on it than obligate them into it mostly unwillingly. But that would require admitting those problems exist. Something neither Sunak, Farage, nor Starmer, has any willingness to admit to.



So far it isn’t much more than a headline.

A Royal Commission is to be set up to design it. Therefore the budget of £2.5 billion is meaningless.

Underlying this idea is a poor view of the youth of today - the old codger view of the youth of every generation. So of course this is something aimed at old codgers.

Strange the idea coming from Sunak. As chancellor, he spent his time wrecking something similar set up by Cameron. Indeed he has spent most of his time running down the armed forces. But then he and his gang aren’t troubled by their own hypocrisy.


‘Unwilling conscripts’

No, I don’t agree with Sunak that national service should be brought back.

First, I see no reason why our professional armed forces should be burdened with a huge group of unwilling conscripts.

Second, what does he suggest we do with those who refuse to serve? While they’ve ruled out criminal charges, they’ve implied, pretty heavily, that future employers will take refusal to serve into consideration in their selection criteria. So refusal to be coerced may make youngsters unemployable.

And what of the ones who accept being conscripted? Are we going to make them fight in our next war in the Middle East? Maybe get a few killed? That would NOT be all right. When people volunteer to join the military, it’s a risk they take, although I think we’ve been asking too much even of them in the past 15 years, sending them to fight in conflicts like Iraq that are hard to justify even in legal terms. But sending conscripts to fight and die in peacetime? How would the government explain that to their parents?

Finally, Sunak seems to assume that these kids have no plans for their lives. Starting a medical or nursing degree perhaps. Or learning a trade?

Or perhaps it’s only the uneducated children of the poor that he’s proposing to deprive of their liberty and lives.

No, it is NOT a good idea and if the prime minister has any more ideas like this, perhaps he’ll keep them to himself.


‘Shortage of labour’

Good idea, but it will cause a shortage of labour in society and increased wages.


‘There never was a plan’

I’m not aware that Sunak actually has a plan.

To come up with the “idea” of reintroducing national service and the very next day announce it, is one thing. But to do so without discussing it in cabinet and especially without discussing it with the Chiefs of Defence Staff, shows there isn’t, and never was a “plan”. It was just another monumentally unclever idea by a monumentally incompetent supposedly politician.


‘National service would end up costing billions’

It’s about as good an idea as the farcical smoking ban to be phased in. Do these politicians not learn from history? How well is the ban on various drugs working?

A scheme that will cost billions in wasted police time, more black-market trading and less tax revenue.

National service would end up costing billions, would be run by the same parasites that Conservative AND Labour governments have been using for decades the likes of Capita, Fujitsu, G4 etc etc. and who just can not get anything right except wasting taxpayers’ money.

All to train a bunch of yobs to be fitter and better with weapons but no good in an actual conflict that requires high levels of training, expertise and discipline.

Why not spend the money on improved NVQ training and apprenticeships which are not a scam?



If you want kids to become patriotic, you don’t remove the benefits that the previous generations have enjoyed. Free school meals, cheaper housing, free education, better wages, an NHS that is world-beating, free movement… the list goes on.

If you want a better military, letting experienced talent leave in droves because pay and conditions, housing etc are terrible and replacing them with green kids is not the answer. See the NHS for how that approach is going.

Instead of coming up with half-baked ideas to plaster over the cracks you’ve made, fundamental remedies are needed.


‘Broken social contract’

How about our kids (Britain’s future) getting a real leg up in society, with proper funded training in the skills that are desperately needed. End prohibitive loans or heavily subsidize college, university and accommodation support for our youngsters.

At the moment national service would imply and warrant a better and clearer stake in society as 14 years of Tory austerity has broken the social contract with our youth. But there is no talk of that, are you going to give them a home? Not likely under the current circumstances! Why should they want to protect an uncaring, miserable and deeply corrupt elite? Why should they be made to comply with your current elites folly and bad decisions? What have the Tories done for our youth? You have to invest in our kids if you want the best from them!


‘Ill-conceived, headline-grabbing idea’

If it were a carefully reasoned plan you could volunteer for with tangible and certifiable benefits then I would be in favour.

However, this is not. It is purely another ill-conceived, headline-grabbing idea designed to appeal to the apathetic Daily Thickness readers in the hope it will get them out of ‘spoons and vote.


‘Wrong methodology’

I’ve spoken to a few young people — not claiming they were representative, this was a few years ago. They were pretty fed up with their lack of prospects, hadn’t voted, distinctly unpatriotic and when I asked if they would fight for their country if it faced invasion, the answer was a very firm and, rather shocking, no. Good luck Sunak with your national service, I understand the unifying intention behind it but the wrong methodology.


‘Mobilise the young’

Hopefully this will mobilise the young (normally apathetic about voting and who can blame them) to register and vote to get this sorry excuse for a Government, OUT!


‘Dying throes of the government’

This is merely a bid to distract the electorate from the crucial issues and problems in need of addressing and the failure of the Tories to do so in the dying throes of the government.


Some of the comments have been edited for this article. You can read the full discussion in the comments section of the original article.

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