New form of national service would help tackle ‘social apartheid’ – Umunna

Chuka Umunna Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Young Britons should be forced to carry out a modern form of “national service” to break down barriers between different parts of society, Chuka Umunna has suggested.

The Independent Group (TIG) frontman stressed that the plan would not be a return to compulsory military service but would help people meet other Britons from different social backgrounds.

Mr Umunna also put forward ideas for a ring-fenced NHS tax, a new model of “public benefit companies” to run utilities and services and means-testing of university tuition fees.

The Streatham MP, the group spokesman for TIG, stressed that his policy pamphlet was written in a personal capacity and was not a manifesto.

But he said all members of the 11-strong TIG “share the same values and principles I have set out, and agree with much of what I have written”.

Under his proposal for a “citizens’ service”, Mr Umunna acknowledged that “it might seem strong medicine” but was necessary to tackle “social apartheid” in modern Britain.

He said national service, which ended in the early 1960s, “brought people from an array of different backgrounds and different parts of the country together in a way like no other”.

Mr Umunna said his proposal could build on the National Citizen Service scheme introduced by David Cameron, which “has suffered by being voluntary”.

It could also draw on evidence from France, where Emmanuel Macron made a national service requirement for 16-year-olds a key policy, with trials beginning this year.

“What we mustn’t do, in a fit of national cynicism, is dismiss the idea of bringing young people together and trying to at least start breaking down the social silos that are such a scar on our society,” Mr Umunna said.

Other measures put forward in the pamphlet for the Progressive Centre UK think tank include:

– Supporting students going to university from poor backgrounds by means-testing tuition fees and reintroducing maintenance grants

– Equalising tax rates on unearned dividends and income from work, using the proceeds to fund universal childcare

– Introducing more comprehensive state funding for political parties

– Moving Parliament out of the Palace of Westminster and replacing the Lords with an elected chamber.

Mr Umunna said: “It is time we dump this country’s old-fashioned politics and create a new politics that does justice to who we are today and gives this country a politics fit for the 21st century, not the last one.

“A politics that looks, listens and learns from ideas and experience elsewhere in the world to better inform the course we take at home.”

TIG has eight former Labour MPs including Mr Umunna and three ex-Tories.

In a call for more to join them, Mr Umunna said: “The truth is too many progressive people are sitting in parties which, through those parties’ words and deeds, are no longer true to their values.

“This leads to the inescapable conclusion that our politics needs to be reconfigured to better reflect modern Britain and that it is time for the different progressive political traditions to come together under one roof – a new progressive party.”