The cover story of our latest issue, written by our own James Crabtree and Frank Field MP, garnered significant media attention even before the edition hit the shelves, with coverage in the Mail, Sun, Sunday Times, Independent, Evening Standard and the BBC’s Daily Politics, among other places. In their piece, Crabtree and Field argue that the time is ripe for Britain to forge a positive legacy from the current crisis, and institute a scheme of compulsory civic service, to be undertaken by all young people at any time between the ages of 16-25.
It’s an idea that sounds, they acknowledge, both utopian and illiberal; that can be accused of being both expensive and unrealistic. And yet, they argue, there is both unprecedented support for such an idea in principle, even among the young (as a Prospect/YouGov poll of over 2,000 adults throughout England, Scotland and Wales reveals); and a pragmatic as well as a philosophical case to be made for its benefits, run along progressive rather than authoritarian lines, and drawing on the well-established lessons of organisations such as the Peace Corps, Americorps, Teach for America and CityYear in the US, or Britain’s Teach First and Duke of Edinburgh schemes. In a country that’s starting to reel from the effects of recession—and where fears that discontent may bubble over into civic disorder are increasingly rife—it’s a proposal which has struck a powerful chord.
Ultimately, though, the case Crabtree and Field make is a social and moral one: that this this scheme would offer 21st-century society something it lacks and needs—a sense of belonging, mutual achievement and pride, meaningful national identity and a motivating start in life. “The task facing Britain’s leaders today,” they argue, “is nothing less than beginning to bind the wounds of the post-industrial revolution.” As ever, let us know your own opinions below.