Thursday, September 06, 2007 

Let sunshine (and volunteering) win the day.

Err, so anyway, where was I?

In just how many different ways can you write that David Cameron is an idiot? Each new idea he presents is somehow spectacularly worse than the last: let's have a debate between the three party leaders before an election to see just how little difference there is between the three of them! Give police the power to stop and search whoever the hell they like! Hand out £20 a week to middle-class families who'll vote for us whatever happens, but it isn't a bribe, oh no! Destroy the Human Rights Act, the hated legacy of err, Winston Churchill!

After getting it in the neck from Michael Ancram earlier in the week, what then would be a policy that would instantly cause all the usual right-wing types to do the equivalent of dropping their panties and throwing them at Dave's lovable cheeky pink face? How many times do we hear it? Bring back national service!

And so it was done. Well, sort of. Dave's policy isn't for all 16-year-olds to get suited and booted, strap on a backpack and learn how to fix a bayonet on a sandbag, although that might conceivably make up a whole week of the six that he's declared that they should all willing give up for the love of their country, but they will be heavily encouraged to do "voluntary" work and spend at least two weeks away from home. After all, what better way to encourage our youngsters to love their glorious country than make them walk up a bloody great hill with other people they don't know and will probably loathe on sight?

Presenting his plans to that august organ of good taste, sanity and fair play, the Sun, Cameron admits that his plans haven't been costed, but after all, it'll pay for itself! Just think:

But he insists it will SAVE the nation money by slashing the numbers of kids turning into yobs. Crime will fall and many of the nation’s costly social problems will be reduced, he says.

Right, let's get this straight. After 11 years of school, education, association with your peers and citizenship classes, what's really going to stop our errant, feckless youth from knifing each other, getting together in gangs with stupid names like the "Burger Bar Boyz" and congregating on street corners being a general nuisance is a voluntary scheme with a sort of bribe, half going to the organisation worked for and half to the charity of choice of the teenager at the end of it. All that's required is to ship them off to a third world country, see some real suffering, get them to sing the national anthem and pledge allegiance to our clearly not undemocratic monarch, and those about to turn to yobbery will instead see the error of their ways, start reading the Daily Telegraph and take a vow of chastity. Problem sorted.

There just might be a few chinks in the armour of this plan. Cameron admits it's uncosted; how much is such an ambitious scheme, potentially involving the around 150,000 kids turning 16 every year going to work out at? A lot, that's for sure. Then there's the obvious other flaw: what's the point if it isn't going to be compulsory? As others have spent the rest of the day pointing out, the vast majority of schools already offer similar schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh award, while there are already other voluntary volunteering schemes, including ones set up by this very government. For those who haven't succeeded or have struggled, there's the Prince's Trust. Aren't the Tories meant to be big on the voluntary and private sector sorting things out rather than the state, or is that the point, with this being farmed out to those very organisations?

This doesn't just smack of not being properly thought through, it's completely and utterly threadbare. It doesn't take into account the main failure of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme: that it's mainly the middle class kids, already in the Scouts or similar that take part while all the rest sit it out, either because of lack of money or because they don't much fancy doing something that doesn't count for hardly anything unless you bother going for the gold award, which requires a ridiculous amount of work. The Duke of Edinburgh scheme at the least usually takes place during term time, while this is meant to happen during the summer, just after the teenagers have gone through probably the most stressful time of their lives. They're not going to be interested in traipsing through the countryside or helping old ladies across roads, they're going to want to relax and wait for their GCSE results in relative peace.

Which also brings us to the something else overlooked. 16-year-olds, relatively free, tend to think about two things: getting drunk and getting laid. What better way to bring together those two things than by taking them away from home for two weeks? The teenage version of Big Brother for once painted a fairly accurate picture of life when two of the housemates got it on far more eagerly than they tend to in the adult version. You can just imagine the tabloid headlines if things predictably get a little out of control at one of these camps.

Seeing as we're currently pretending to be in the spirit of seeking consensus, listening to everyone's views and then deciding policy on the basis of that, perhaps it would be a good idea to actually ask some teenagers what they'd like to do or what they think of Mr Cameron's plans. The response might be all too illuminating. Amazingly, the Sun's leader writer has also decided that not all young people are so bad after all:

But hang on — not all youngsters are tearaways looking for someone to mug. The vast majority are decent, considerate and appalled by bad behaviour.

Really? What tabloid reader would have thought that? The paper then unwittingly demolishes the whole policy accidentally:

The Boy Scouts offered this sort of community training for more than half a century.

The Duke of Edinburgh scheme and Outward Bound courses have been amazingly successful.

What then is the point if it isn't compulsory?

The answer came there none.

Related post:
Bob Piper - The good old days are gone

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