Home Lifestyle We’re ex-military — this is what we really make of Rishi’s conscription...

We’re ex-military — this is what we really make of Rishi’s conscription policy


Rishi Sunak’s Tory Party have proposed a mandatory national service scheme for 18-year-olds (Credit: Getty Images)

‘National service is only necessary in extreme times. Military training is difficult enough when you want to be there and succeed. If you don’t want to be there, what’s the point?,’ former Royal Engineer Matt tells Metro.co.uk. ‘It’ll just dilute the effectiveness of the Armed Forces.’

Last week, the Tories announced controversial plans to bring back mandatory national service if re-elected in the upcoming General Election on 4th July.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak outlined that, under the proposed new policy, 18-year-olds would either have to undertake a 12-month placement in one of the Armed Forces, or they would have to spend one weekend a month doing mandatory ‘volunteer’ work.

Details have so far been vague and will be up to a special committee to determine before September 2025, when applications would open. For example, while Sunak has said that people in the scheme would receive a stipend (or allowance), he has not confirmed how much that would be. Home Secretary James Cleverly also said that those who refuse to serve would not be ‘sent to jail,’ but it is not clear what the repercussions would be for those who object.

The reasoning behind this new policy, according to the Conservative Party, is to give young people a ‘shared sense of purpose’ and help unite the nation in an ‘increasingly uncertain world’.

Doubling down on this messaging, Cleverly said the initiative would get teenagers ‘out of their bubble’, allowing them to ‘mix with different religions’ and ‘mix with different viewpoints.’

Rishi Sunak’s new mandatory national service policy has already caused waves. (Photo by Alastair Grant – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

There has, understandably, been an overwhelming response from young people themselves. Many fear what this would mean for their chosen career paths, personal relationships and wellbeing, and also question the financial implications of such schemes.

A 2023 YouGov poll found that while 72% would support volunteering schemes, a staggering 64% would oppose mandatory national service. A subsequent poll from earlier this year also revealed that more than a third of Britons under 40 would refuse conscription in the event of a war.

In an age where young people not only face the impacts of the cost-of-living and housing crises, but also face the prospect of not being able to retire – which could potentially be extended further if their entry into work is prolonged – it begs the question: are their fears valid?

Previous national service initiatives in the UK

Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron had proposed a similar initiative during his premiership as part of his Big Society scheme, but it did not include a military element – nor did it come to fruition, after a 2022 review led to budgets being cut by two-thirds.

Prior to this, the last time British citizens were subjected to mandatory national service was between the years 1949-1960. At the time, physically fit males between the ages of 17 and 21 had to carry out a 24-month post in one of the armed forces.

Sir Keir Starmer accused the Tories of ‘desperation’, saying they were seeking to form a ‘teenage Dad’s Army’ by ‘cancelling levelling up funding and money from tax avoidance that we would use to invest our NHS.’

Nigel Farage also noted that while in theory the plan could have merit, there would only be 30,000 full-time military placements for around 700,000 school leavers.

When 31-year-old Liam Gretton joined the Infantry branch of the British Army aged 18, within the Mercian Regiment, he didn’t know what to expect. ‘My understanding of what military service entailed was limited to what I had seen in movies and heard from others’, he explains.

Then, within just three month of passing his basic training, he was shipped off to Helmand Province in Afghanistan. ‘It was pot luck, but also a significant career step’, Liam explains. ‘Naturally there was a mix of anticipation and anxiety, but also a strong sense of purpose. The environment was challenging, and the reality of active deployment does hit home. But without thinking about it, you truly understand the importance of the skills and discipline taught during the initial training period.’

Although he was pushed beyond his comfort zone and was challenged in the face of combat, Liam believes that his time in the forces helped him grow as an individual. ‘Overall, serving in the Army has had a hugely positive impact on my life,’ he explains. ‘It provided me with the unique opportunity to collaborate with individuals from diverse backgrounds – both within military settings and UK civilian networks. It allowed for personal growth, resilience, and a strong sense of camaraderie.’

He also notes that, in among the training and combat elements, day-to-day life on a permanent camp is ‘like a normal 9 to 5 job’, in that you have daily tasks, lunch breaks and go back to your living quarters when you’re done.

And although it is yet unclear under the new policy whether young people would be expected to live in camps like those in full-time employment, or how much they would earn, Liam believes that ‘the financial stability and comprehensive benefits provided by the military are indeed attractive options for young people’. They might, after carrying out national service, even choose to make it a permanent career move.

Liam Gretton was part of the British Army’s Infantry branch, until he left in 2019 after being medically discharged. (Credit: Liam Gretton)

Since leaving the Army in 2019 after being medically discharged, Liam has set up his own estate agency in Merseyside and attributes a big portion of its success to the skills he learnt during service. ‘The military mindset and teachings have massively helped and provided me with an adaptability and attitude to get things done, which is essential for navigating the complexities of modern life.’

He adds: ‘Since leaving the forces and building a business, I’ve often noticed when collaborating with others that there is a lack of time management, and how it is easily brushed off and acceptable by those who haven’t served. The “get up and get it done” mentality and the respect for others in the military are crucial for personal development and success in any field.’

He also suggests that the proposed plan will alleviate some of the pressure on Armed Forces and other public services, and that it isn’t the same as the full-time gig. ‘It’s only 12 months… and just because the option [of having volunteers] is there, doesn’t mean we’ll need to use it [in terms of combat].’

When it comes to advice for those potentially facing this new initiative, Liam suggests they ‘look at the bigger picture – not from a political point of view but from a personal point of view. Embrace it with determination to prove that your generation is ready to step up.’

Home Secretary James Cleverly has stated that those who refuse service will not be ‘sent to jail’. (Photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)

This is a sentiment shared by 40-year-old geospatial analyst Andrew Clarke, who also believes young people should ’embrace’ the opportunity if it comes around, instead of seeing it as a form of punishment.

Having joined the Army the day before his 19th birthday, Andrew explains how the experience harnessed his existing skillset and gave him focus at a time when he didn’t know what direction he wanted to go in.

He also states that this type of experience is about more than just the physical or combat elements. ‘I received a foundation degree as part of my career-specific trade training, which I still use today,’ he explains. ‘I was able to earn qualifications whilst effectively having on-the-job training, which meant by the time people my age were finishing university, I had already 4-5 years of practical working experience and no debt.’

Since leaving the forces, Andrew has gone on to forge a successful career, working with various organisations on mapping and cartography. ’21 years on from receiving my initial training, I am working in the same sector, managing a whole department.’

As for the Tories’ proposed plan, Andrew believes there are pros and cons. ‘There are obviously going to be people who relish the opportunity and decide that it is something that they would like to continue to do after being taught several new practical skills. However, there will also be people who just don’t want to be there and will ultimately be wasting the time of all involved.’

For Matt Ward*, that is the main flaw in the scheme, because full-time servicemen and women will be stretched further by having to train and monitor volunteers. When there is a lack of choice involved, he feels there’ll likely be pushback and a lack of engagement with the work.

The money spent implementing mandatory national service would be better spent on the regular Armed Forces. One willing volunteer is worth 10 men who don’t want to be there,’ he argues.

‘This policy comes from people who have never done this type of service and have zero military experience,’ he adds. ‘I completely empathise with the people who get called up. It’s really hard training and an uncompromising lifestyle – it’s also, at times, very dangerous. It should be a choice, not a forced decision.’

Ultimately, that’s what it boils down to: choice. Although there are clear advantages for both young people and the community at large, forcing younger generations into this type of service won’t necessarily generate the desired result and may also add strain to those tasked with training them up.

It is clear that there is a general desire to build a sense of community and improve the uptake with volunteering opportunities, and there’s also a plethora of ways that military service helps individuals. But the longer-term impact of the scheme and what it would mean for other vocational areas is yet to be understood.

*Surname has been changed

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

MORE : Row over candidate selection leaves Labour facing first real crisis of campaign

MORE : Labour candidate defends describing UN as antisemitic and Jewish people as ‘politically Black’

MORE : Who is Diane Abbott? Inside her controversial Labour career



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here