First of all it is no exaggeration to say that the British public are hugely proud and supportive of our armed services, and so we should be of the men and women who dedicate their lives to national service. But in modern times the military is facing a number of challenges which are rapidly changing the function they serve.
With a Conservative Defence Secretary enacting the biggest round of cuts since the end of the cold war, it is clear that our armed services must adapt to survive. Thus Labour’s proposal for schools staffed by armed service staff come at an interesting time. They are right, I believe, to point to the effective presence of combined cadet forces in the private sector, but many Liberals baulk at the idea of militarizing education.
This is where our credentials as radicals and innovators are put to the test: is there a credible way that the military and schools can both adapt to have a more productive relationship to mutual benefit? Labour appear to have fallen into their more authoritarian tendencies by focusing on discipline and a service ethos underlying this relationship. But as we bemoan the lack of vocational opportunities available to young people, and pledge to do more, is there a better way?
I believe the military, in a parallel effort to private sector companies, should have more of a role to play in providing training and career opportunities to young people. This doesn’t mean conscription, and certainly not sending the less able kids off to join the army. It is a vision of co-operation between schools and the military, with service personnel providing training and mentoring to young people not in education or training, helping meet our manifesto pledge that they won’t spend more than 90 days out of work or training and on Jobseekers’ Allowance.
But more than this it offers our armed services an opportunity to adapt, and modernize. For those with misgivings about unnecessary and illegal wars and excessive defence spending we should focus the debate on a military complex in this country which focuses on humanitarian missions and goals, and I believe helping provide training to our young people could be an important first step in bringing about this renewal and reform of Britain’s armed services.
* Sean Davey is the Chair of London Liberal Youth