I was amused to hear the other day that, after 60 years of trying, the best idea the Conservatives have for dealing with young people is 'national service'. Now this idea is not necessarily without merit and could be developed but it is hardly new and coming from the Conservatives it does rather smack of desperation - after all, the notion could have come from any Tory leader from about 1930 onwards. Coming from a supposedly progressive leader who supposedly represents change, it seems simply mistaken.
Like Conservative economic plans for uncosted 'efficiencies' to tackle the gaping deficit, their proposal to introduce national service for young people relies on rather too many 'if's, such as if voluntary organisations will be willing to join such a scheme, if there will be appropriate funding for such a scheme and if young people will be persuaded that it is in their interests to participate.
Instead of exhuming 'national service' for an easy headline, what about improving opportunities for all young people through free university education? What about properly funding paid internships with employers? What about ensuring that no young person claims Jobseeker's Allowance for more than three months without a right of access to training, apprenticeships, work experience or specialist advice? What about making the minimum wage - which the Tories opposed - the same for everyone, so that young people can afford to work for a living?
In another example of our Conservative opposition borrowing ideas, I was flattered to be told by a resident in Thame that my photo (see left) in front of the bridge at Henley clearly inspired the Conservative leader, who decided he would copy it for his election campaign launch opposite Parliament. Praise indeed!