Apparently, the new Labour policy is that everyone shall have performed 50 hours of community service by the age of 19, under proposals released today (it's Easter Sunday, for pity's sake, haven't you got families to oppress, guys?).
It's just another step towards a state which tells you what to do, how to do it and well, from a political party that actually believes that you should make co-operation mandatory (think about it for a moment). There are, according to government figures, some three million young people carrying out some form of community work in this country, all of it presumably voluntary, through church groups, guides, scouts, youth clubs and all of the worthy organisations that do so much to enrich our lives.
And yet there are young people out there, forced to step in to replace the state, as carers, as babysitters, bringing in earnings to supplement those of their parents, or to help keep a roof over their heads. There are those who serve in our armed forces, or as local councillors, or who are studying to go on to teach, or nurse, or police. All of these things enrich our society, and often for little reward.
Labour propose to make our young do the things that they, the Labour Party, choose to support. They probably don't consider campaigning for action against climate change or for fox hunting, or for the preservation of castles to be community work, and yet it can be (by the way, I'm not in favour of fox hunting, but there are those who are, and they have a right to be heard too).
Young people have turned away from politics with its inevitable compromises, towards single issue groups who lack the baggage that political parties drag behind them. They believe that by working for those causes, they can make the world a better place. Who are we to tell them that this is less valuable than painting a fence at a care home for the elderly?
Labour believe that citizenship includes contributing to your community, as do I, and aim to include this in the national curriculum for 14-16 year olds. However, National Youth Service, as it will be called is just another kneejerk reaction to the calls for greater discipline amongst our young people. Calls made, for the most part, by people made frightened by the media and too many of our politicians who demonise our young because they can't vote, and those who cry out can.
I believe that Liberal Democrats should oppose mandatory community service, whilst encouraging those who wish to volunteer by providing interesting and fulfilling opportunities, and by providing financial and moral support to proposals that support volunteerism. If, for example, a group of young people organise a day to clear rubbish from a stretch of river or stream, local councils should provide protective clothing, perhaps lay on a truck to take away the rubbish, invite the press to attend, and mark their efforts publicly.
Yes, we need to find ways to encourage our young to integrate into the wider community. Most of them, if given an opportunity to do so, will accept with open arms.
But please, please don't make it mandatory. Remember, we have a volunteer army for a reason. It stands and fights because it volunteered to be there, not because someone made it. Likewise, our young people won't be much use in their communities if they're made to do something and be somewhere that they wouldn't otherwise choose.