John Howell: ‘Conscription is not the solution after riots’

MP for Thame John Howell brings you his views in a monthly Thame Gazette column
MP for Thame John Howell brings you his views in a monthly Thame Gazette column

The Thame MP gives us his thoughts in his column

A RETURN to military conscription has been suggested as a solution by many who have written to me after the riots.

I understand why. Like the Jesuit claim ‘give me a child for his first seven years and I’ll give you the man’, conscription is expected to mould an individual early enough to affect subsequent behaviour based on exposure to obedience and discipline.

It is the wrong solution. Recent international research shows clearly that conscription increases the likelihood of developing a criminal record in adult life. It is worse where conscription starts at 18 rather than 21 and the longer the period of conscription.

Much of this is due to reduced or delayed job prospects amongst those conscripted. One thing that does, however, seem to work is an additional year of schooling.

The Prime Minister is right that what we need is non-military service that captures the notions of team-work, discipline, duty, and decency.

National Citizen Service already provides this to thousands in the UK. Extending it to all 16 year olds is based on experience not instant reaction.

So far, of those who have appeared before the courts because of the riots, 20 per cent have been juveniles, 80 per cent have been adults; many, but not all, young adults.

The Prime Minister is right to stress that the solution lies in a range of policy across government from education to welfare not just youth policy. It lies in mending our broken society.

Finally, let us remember that many conscripts were killed in action and about 150 committed suicide. It wasn’t ever a universal answer.

Two of conscription’s most famous alumni, after all, went on to terrorise London’s East End. They were the Kray twins.