Has Paul Embery really gone full armchair reactionary?

Labour’s Liz Kendall takes aim …

“In my youth, there was at least the leavening of compulsory National Service, where for a couple of years we public-school boys were obliged to rub along with people we would not otherwise have entertained in the woodshed. The best emerged chastened and enlightened. The worst stayed as they were.”

John le Carré, A Murder of Quality

I gather Paul Embery advocates in his book, Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class, the return of National Service in the shape of a mandatory, sheep dip youth programme.

Embery is not old enough to remember conscription nor I suspect, was he alive when National Service ended in the United Kingdom.

I am sure Embery, a big fan of faith, flag and family regards himself as a patriot.

And like many a Brexit supporting patriot, I am sure he believes he has a good grasp of English history.

He will, therefore, know like me that conscription has always been seen as an infringement of an English man’s rights.

That conscription has only been enacted three times in the history of our country, twice in wartime, during World Wars One and Two, and once in peacetime after World War Two.

That all three were cases of necessity. And that none of the three were rigorously conducted and assessed social experiments.

Embery will also know, like me, that post war conscription only extended to males.

In 2021, what would National Service involve?

Let us, for sake of argument, assume a two year period of service, starting on or just after one’s 18th birthday.

The 2011 Census put the 18 to 19 population for England and Wales, alone, at 1,460,156.

Let us assume a 5% exemption rate.

We would still be left with 1,387,148 young men and women to house, feed, clothe, police, train and productively occupy for two years.

And to what end, Sir Humphrey?

Sir Humphrey makes the case for and against National Service

Sir Humphrey Appleby: [demonstrating how public surveys can reach opposite conclusions] “Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?”

Bernard Woolley: “Yes.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools?”

Bernard Woolley: “Yes.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives?”

Bernard Woolley: “Yes.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Do they respond to a challenge?”

Bernard Woolley: Yes.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?”

Bernard Woolley: “Er, I might be.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Yes or no?”

Bernard Woolley: “Yes.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Of course, after all you’ve said you can’t say no to that. On the other hand, the surveys can reach opposite conclusions.”

On the other hand …

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?”

Bernard Woolley: “Yes.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments?”

Bernard Woolley: “Yes.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Do you think there’s a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?

Bernard Woolley: “Yes.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Do you think it’s wrong to force people to take arms against their will?

Bernard Woolley: “Yes.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “Would you oppose the reintroduction of conscription?

Bernard Woolley: “Yes.”

[does a double-take]

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “There you are, Bernard. The perfectly balanced sample.”

Do the military really want the job of organising this disparate mob?

Probably not.

The days of mass armies are long gone.

And a volunteer is worth a pressed man or woman, any day.

“The army does not want conscription, and has never wanted it. They are very proud of their élite, professional army. It is tough, disciplined, possibly the best in the world. The Chiefs of Staff do not want a conscripted mob of punks, freaks, junkies and riff-raff, a quarter of a million hooligans on its hands with nothing to do except peel potatoes at Aldershot. The generals are afraid that this would turn it into an ordinary army.”

Extract from the Appleby Papers

A civilian programme modelled on National Service would be essentially no different from the traditional model, despite not involving the issuing of firearms. The logistical requirements would still be immense, finding useful work placements for all virtually impossible and, although there would some value in the programme for a minority there would not be for the overwhelming majority. It would, therefore, be a complete waste of public money. Money that would be better spent elsewhere on, say, a programme like Sure Start.

I was going to ask if Embery had gone full Colonel Blimp, but that seemed unfair on Blimp. Blimp’s creator, the cartoonist David Low, did see his character as pompous, irascible, jingoistic, and stereotypically English.

But, although Low described his character Blimp as “a symbol of stupidity”, he lessened the insult to the English upper class by adding that “stupid people are quite nice”. Embery may or may not be stupid, but nice?

In his 1941 essay entitled “The Lion and the Unicorn”, George Orwell referred to two important sub-sections of the middle class, one of which was the military and imperialistic middle class, nicknamed the Blimps, and characterised by the “half-pay (i.e retired) colonel with his bull neck and diminutive brain”. He added that they had been losing their vitality during the past thirty years, “writhing impotently under the changes that were happening”.

Now that is Paul Embery and Blue Labour to a tee!


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