National service policy has already descended into farce

  • Post last modified:May 26, 2024
  • Reading time:16 mins read

Given the Tories’ historically poor polling, we all knew this general election was going to be a mess. What we didn’t realise was the wheels would come off Rishi Sunak’s campaign so quickly that he’d have to revert to National Service to try and save himself:

Nor that Sunak would return from his break to somehow make things even worse:

The policy in question? Mandatory/voluntary national service for Gen Zers:

If you’re confused by the mandatory/voluntary part of the announcement, don’t worry – so are the people announcing it.

Before we get to the confusion, however, let’s investigate if this policy – in any form – is appealing to anyone:

Who is this for?

The Tories are clearly targeting older voters with their new proposal:

As many have speculated, the policy would go down less well if it was expanded to everyone:

As the generation which incorrectly thinks they fought in World War II, boomers are often ridiculed. To be fair, though, they’re not all frothing goons – just 99% of boomer opinion columnists. A 2023 poll from YouGov did find that compulsory military service was most popular with those who wouldn’t be compelled, but it did fall short of a majority – even among the 65+ bracket:

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The same YouGov poll covered a number of national service options:

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As you can see, all ‘compulsory’ options were unpopular (the exception being ‘one month of community service’, and even that was opposed by half of those with an opinion).

The polling also broke the above brackets down by age:

The policy seems to purely be about giving nasty Tory voters a reason to bother voting – something which is far from guaranteed in this election. Going off the record number of Tory MPs stepping down, these people can’t even stomach voting for themselves:


While we’re sure there are tens of thousands of voters who would spitefully vote Tory to punish young people for the crime of being young, they might not buy into this particular policy. After all, the Tories have only just announced it, and it’s already descended into farce:

Compulsory or optionally mandatory?

When national service was first announced, several outlets reported on it being ‘mandatory’:

Presumably, they were briefed on it being mandatory. Interestingly, however, it wasn’t described as such in Sunak’s general election announcement video (a video in which Sunak looks so dead behind the eyes that you’d feel sorry for him if he wasn’t a Tory):

The Conservative Party’s account also didn’t mention it being ‘mandatory’:

Nor did the Tory MPs retweeting it:


On Sunday 26 May, home secretary James Cleverly said the following (as reported by Huffington Post):

Asked what the punishment would be for people who refused, the home secretary added: “There’s going to be no criminal sanctions, nobody’s going to jail over this.”

There’s a word for a ‘mandatory’ act which you’re not mandated to do, and that word is ‘voluntary’.

So where is the ‘mandatory’ part coming from?

In our opinion, this policy was dreamed up in the last few days, and the Tories have messed up announcing it. If this was a general election policy they’d put some time into, it would have its own launch page. They would also have promotional materials which didn’t look like ten-minute Photoshop jobs.

Our best guess is that one or more of the following are occurring:

  • They originally decided on it being mandatory but are in the process of backtracking.
  • It was always voluntary, but people have gotten confused and reported otherwise.
  • It was always mandatory, but they’ve not figured out if they can legally make that fly.
  • They still haven’t decided which it will be.
  • It’s a ‘Schrödinger’s national service’ type situation, and we won’t know if it’s mandatory or voluntary until the first 18-year-old signs up.


Media response to National Service

Sunak’s proposal is even unpopular with goons like the Daily Mail‘s Dan Hodges:

ITV‘s Robert Peston, however, described the policy as “brave”:

Presumably that’s ‘brave’ in the historical sense: i.e. ‘the general/aristocrat/moron bravely sent his troops over the front line and into a massacre‘.

Journalist (and sibling of Boris) Rachel Johnson, meanwhile, may have exposed what the Tories are actually up to:

Blitzed spirit

We’re not even a week into this election yet, and Sunak is already acting desperately. This time next Sunday, we might be looking back at national service as the most sensible policy proposal he ever had.

Maybe things really can only get better?

They certainly seem to be getting funnier anyway.

Featured image via Rishi Sunak – YouTube

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