Why we all recoiled at Sunak’s ‘national service’ plan

It’s the phrasing, not the idea itself, that seems so authoritarian and reactionary.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics UK

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One of the main problems with UK prime minister Rishi Sunak’s plan for ‘national service’ is the phrase ‘national service’ itself. We have heard a lot about how repellent the idea of compulsory military service seems to young people, but I’d wager that ‘bringing back national service’ sounds deeply reactionary to most over-40s, too. Even to those of a conservative persuasion, it sounds like Blimpish bluster.

When it comes to politics and campaigning, the choice of words matters. Never more so than in General Elections, when spin doctors are at pains to find winning wording or slogans, such as ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ or ‘Yes We Can’.

Sunak’s decision to deploy the phrase ‘national service’ has prompted much derision about his plan. It’s a shame, because the ‘national service’ that the Conservatives now envision would not send most 18-year-olds into the armed forces and would not pack any of them off to war. Most would instead have to do monthly weekend placements in the fire or police services, the NHS or charities helping the elderly or lonely. If you accept that many teenagers today suffer from depression and loneliness, that they need a sense of purpose and means to foster a feeling of community, then the civic-volunteering option sounds far more acceptable. At least, that is, if you believe that the state should be telling 18-year-olds what to do with their free time in the first place.

Had Sunak used a phrase that placed a greater emphasis on service to the community, then his scheme would have been received with far less cynicism. But that could also throw up a different linguistic problem. ‘Community service’, after all, sounds like a punishment.

You do not have to believe that language wholly shapes the way we think to appreciate the value of words. Today, the language we use is accorded particular great importance. Just observe how the woke insist fanatically on the use of preferred pronouns. This is testament to wokery’s debt to postmodernism, which does indeed believe in the ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis’ – that is, the idea that language determines how we conceive reality. Or look at how the woke invent new words to solidify tribal allegiance and exclude outsiders.

Words serve to signify status and political alignment. We can pay a heavy price if we get them ‘wrong’, even by the slightest of margins. Despite the superficial similarity, there’s a whole world of difference today between calling someone a ‘person of colour’ and a ‘coloured person’.

‘National service’ has been tainted by its past associations. Sometimes the woke use these old associations to their advantage. Take ‘conversion therapy’, for instance. That expression used to solely apply to the practice of trying to stop people believing that they are gay, often through such brutal means as electroshock therapy. Today, ‘conversion therapy’ is applied to the therapeutic practice of talking to children and teenagers about their sexuality and gender, instead of rushing them into physical gender-reassignment procedures. Yet still the stigma remains. ‘Conversion therapy’ is a hard sell.

Meanwhile, ‘anti-racist’ today refers to a person who is attuned to his own ‘privileged’ circumstances, whereas an avowedly colourblind ‘non-racist’ is judged to be passively and actually racist, on account of his apparent complacency towards racial injustice.

The words and phrases we’re supposed to adopt can often be ill-thought-out, misleading or just plain wrong. Perhaps the most preposterous neologism of late is ‘global majority’. It has been devised by anti-racists to refer to the majority of the world’s population who are not white. It is supposed to remind us that those who are treated as ‘minorities’ in the West actually constitute the majority of humankind.

Here we’re supposed to overlook just how insulting it is to lump all non-white people together under one classification. Never mind that talk of a ‘global majority’ is itself implicitly Eurocentric and racist. After all, it defines and ‘others’ people negatively, not by who they are, but by what they are not – ie, white. You might as well use the word ‘miscellaneous’.

People should think a bit more carefully about the words they bandy about. Both old and new ones can conceal and mislead as much as they inform.

Remainers have no idea what’s happening in Europe

The prospect of a new Labour government has got some ruminating about Brexit and how our next PM might rethink the UK’s relationship with the EU. In The Times last week, Daniel Finkelstein urged that we at least talk about this divisive issue. In an interview with the Independent at the weekend, Michael Heseltine damned the refusal of both main parties to debate the consequences of Brexit during the General Election campaign.

Heseltine is an inveterate Europhile, but there are many of his ilk whose Remainer tendencies are more shallow and less well-informed. For them, ‘Europe’ consists of second homes in Tuscany and the south of France, of a continent populated by ‘civilised’ people who don’t get roaringly drunk at the weekends. In their minds, Brexit means queues at airports abroad, and racism and xenophobia at home.

Yet continental Europe is in turmoil right now, and next week’s European Parliament elections might come as something of a shock to ignorant Remainers. The Guardian has already warned that ‘far-right and hardline conservative parties could finish first in nine EU states’. A whole host of ascendant hard-right, far-right and populist parties, with varying priorities, convened in Madrid last week to lay out plans for a pan-European bloc to thwart the EU’s centralising tendencies. Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper has been reporting on plans by Marine Le Pen of France to spearhead and lead a pan-European Eurosceptic movement with Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni. On Tuesday, Le Figaro in France also reported on the rise of ‘souverainiste’ (sovereigntist) movements on the continent.

The EU election results should be a wake-up call to those with a rosy, anachronistic view of continental Europe.

The laziness of bashing GB News

I’ve noticed that people have started to use ‘GB News’ in much the way comedians use the words ‘Daily Mail’ – as a snotty shorthand for the stupid and suburban. These haughty detractors of GB News imagine the channel to be full of pro-Conservative, hang-em-and-flog-em diatribes. I can’t help but suspect that, like those who mock the Mail, those caricaturing GB News have never actually watched it. I doubt they have ever seen in action the cerebral and classically liberal presenters, Andrew Doyle and Simon Evans, or the witty and perceptive comics, Nick Dixon and Leo Kearse.

As the woke like to say, perhaps they need to ‘educate themselves’.

Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, is published by Societas.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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