James Cleverly Advocates for Mandatory National Service

Home Secretary James Cleverly has proposed the reintroduction of national service to re-engage young people in society, stating that “too many young people live in their own bubble.” The Conservative Party has pledged that, if they win the upcoming general election, all 18-year-olds will be required to participate in a mandatory scheme for either military or non-military service.

Mr. Cleverly emphasized that this initiative aims to “address the fragmentation in society,” but clarified that incarceration would not be a consequence for those who do not participate.

The Labour Party criticized the proposal, calling it “a desperate gimmick” and questioning its financial feasibility.

Home Secretary James Cleverly explained on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme that the proposed national service aims to foster “coming together” in society. He said the initiative is intended to address societal fragmentation.

“Too many young people are living in their own bubble, whether it’s a digital or social bubble,” Cleverly remarked. “We want to encourage young people to interact with others from different areas, economic groups, and religions to combat the fragmentation we see too much of.”

The Conservative Party’s plan involves 30,000 selective military placements, where “the brightest and best” would engage in cyber security, logistics, or civil response operations full-time for a year. Others would participate in 25 days of service, or one weekend a month for a year, with non-military organizations such as the fire service, police, NHS, or charities.

Cleverly emphasized that the military component is “a small element” of the plan and that no one would be compelled to undertake military service. “There will be no criminal sanctions—no one is going to jail over this,” he assured on Sky News.

He also stated that the plan is “fully funded,” with £1.5 billion redirected from the levelling up’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund starting in 2028, and an additional £1 billion sourced from measures to combat tax avoidance and evasion.

The Labour Party has criticized the proposal, dismissing it as “a desperate gimmick” and questioning its financial viability.

Rachel Reeves

On the same programme, Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves dismissed the proposal as “just another gimmick, a desperate gimmick from the Conservative Party with no viable means of funding it.”

“One minute they say levelling up is really important, then they raid the levelling up budget and say it’s going to be used for national service,” Reeves criticized. “This is just another example of a gimmick where the sums don’t add up.”

Nigel Farage, honorary president of Reform UK, also criticized the plan, calling it “a joke” and “totally impractical.” He accused the Conservatives of crafting policy based on “a focus group of half a dozen Reform voters” who supported national service.

“When you’re a weak leader – and Sunak is not a leader in any way at all – you’re a follower, so you follow what the focus groups say, and you think ‘by doing this I can attack the Reform vote.’ That’s what it’s all about,” Farage stated. “It’s totally impractical – the Army has shrunk from 100,000 to 75,000 in 14 years of conservatism, and we have a growing number of young people in this country who do not subscribe to British values and, in fact, loathe much of what we stand for.”

The Liberal Democrats highlighted that Mr. Cleverly’s Braintree constituency had received £1.6m from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and accused him of leaving his constituents “high and dry… in a desperate plea for headlines.” Helen Morgan, the party’s housing and local government spokesperson, argued that the Conservatives should instead focus on reversing the cut of 10,000 Army troops.

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