Should We Bring Back National Service?
You want to know why last week's riots really started? Because young people today have not given old people enough baths. They have not spent enough time cleaning city boy puke off the streets on a Saturday morning, mowing the lawns of bankers, or daubing paint over abusive graffiti sprayed onto the sides of police stations. This is why David Cameron is looking to get every 16-year-old in the country to do three weeks of National Citizen Service. It's like community service, but more effective, because it will prevent people committing crimes they haven't actually committed yet. No more free shoes for you, kids!
We hung out at the Trocadero for a few hours to see what the postcode gang bangers of the future thought about the Prime Minister's plans.
VICE: What do you think about the government's plans to make you sweep the streets a couple of years from now?
Alicia: Well, I'm from England, but I live in Jamaica. Community Service is already obligatory in my school.
Oh really? What kind of things do they make you do?
Like, go to nursing homes, help the old people... We went to a handicap centre once. That made me feel really sad.
Do you feel that you learned anything from that experience?
It made me appreciate what I had more. I think you can benefit from seeing what the lives of the less fortunate are like.
Okay, so you sound pretty into this idea. Is there anything the government could do to put you off it?
Washing an old person would be pretty gross.
VICE: Hey, did you know you might have to spend next summer scrubbing park benches?
Jonnie: No. Where did you hear that?
We read about it in the Daily Mail. The Prime Minister says you have to do community service next year to stop you going out and throwing petrol bombs at the police.
That's really unfair. I didn't do anything wrong! I mostly just stay at home listening to my records.
But you're out now.
Yeah, I came to see The Inbetweeners. Usually I just go out to see bands, though.
Who's your favourite band?
Gimme a thumbs up! (Y)
Beth, 7; Margaret, 11; Sally, 10.
VICE: Hello. You all look really happy. Beth:
We are happy! We came here with our mum.
Look at you all! You're so sweet.
Margaret: We are from Essex.
Beth: We just took a picture in front of the big water fountain.
Sally: ...in Piccadilly Circus.
Were you tempted to hang from it whilst singing anti-government slogans?
Beth: My sister is a singer.
Would you sing to an old person as you washed them in the bath? The government want to make you wash old people.
Sally: Old people would be fine...
Margaret: Yeah, we have loads of them in our family. Aunts, grandmas...
Sally: But I wouldn't want to clean the streets.
Margaret: Yeah, I'd rather go to the pictures with my friends.
Beth: Or shopping!
Sally and Margaret: Yeah, shopping is great.
Mark, 15; Thomas, 15; Sophie, 14.
VICE: Hello. Have you heard the Prime Minister's idea about how to teach kids like you some respect?
Mark: Yeah, I think I read something about it this morning.
Thomas: I haven't.
What do you think of it?
Mark: I'm not sure. I think it could be good. I think everyone should try to give something back to the community every once in a while.
Thomas: I'm not looking forward to it.
Mark: You just said you don't know what it is!
Do you know what we're talking about Thomas? The Prime Minister wants young people like yourselves to do three weeks of community service once you've turned 16.
Thomas: Yeah, I don't wanna do that.
Sophie: I think it'd be okay as long as they made us do stuff that was also beneficial to us.
Sophie: Working in a nursing home, maybe?
Mark: Yeah, that'd be okay I guess, but nothing pointless like...
Sophie: Cleaning the streets!
What's so bad about cleaning the streets? The streets need to be clean. Unclean streets are a breeding ground for pests and disease.
Thomas: Are you saying there's going to be another Black Plague?
Quite possibly. Unless the streets are kept clean.
Thomas: Aren't there people we can pay to do that?
Zoe, 15; Jim, 13.
VICE: You're brother and sister, aren't you?
Jim: Yes. Handsome family, don't you think?
I would say so, yes. So this new National Citizen Service thing – you heard anything about it?
Zoe: What's that, sorry?
Apparently you'll have to spend the summer after you turn 16 scrubbing public toilets and cleaning graffiti off walls.
Jim: Are you joking?
Zoe: That's never going to work. You can't force people to do such a thing.
They sort of can.
Zoe: They can't!
Is this a free will thing? Would you do it if they gave you the choice?
Jim: Not really.
Zoe: Maybe if it had a cooler name. Nothing like 'National Citizen Service'; that sounds like a punishment.
What would you name it?
Jim: Jim's... Awesome... Winning Scheme!
Yeah, that does sound more fun.
VICE: Hey, so how horrible would next summer be if you had to spend it helping other people?
Nadia: Not that horrible. I already do it where I'm from...
That's very conscientious of you. Where are you from and what do you do?
I'm from Hull. Sometimes I help out at a homeless shelter. But I'd really hate it if I had to stop my Chinese lessons because of it.
You help the homeless AND you're learning Chinese?
Yeah, I take classes and then I give classes. I teach my friends.
You're a diamond in the rough, aren't you?
I guess I am!
Kieran, 12; Kelly, mum.
VICE: Hey! Did you hear about the Prime Minister's plan to save our nation's youth?
Kelly: Yes, I read about it. I agree with it but then I don't at the same time. I don't think it's fair to punish everyone for something only a few people did.
But it's a preventative measure, isn't it? Wouldn't it be kind of hard and unfair to pick out the kids who might start riots in advance?
Kieran: I don't want to do it.
Kelly: You see, I'm a single mum, yeah? And this one, when he's 16, I won't be able to support him. I'll need him to go and get a job. It's not fair to make me support him just so he can go gallivanting off to scrub some toilets. I mean, some people want to work, and that's fine with me, I had a job once. But you can't make him work without pay.
Kieran, what would be the absolute worst thing they could make you do?
Kieran: Clean the streets?
Kelly: Yeah, that would be extremely degrading.
I really don't know why everyone thinks cleaning the streets is that bad.
VICE: Do you think it's fair for you to have clean the streets in a couple of years just because some people your age broke a few shop windows last week?
Louise: NO! It's really unfair. Also picking up trash is really disgusting. I'd much rather go shopping, or out with my friends.
What would be the worst thing they could ever ask you to do?
Clean the streets. Really?
Do you think that's worse than having to clean public toilets?
Yes, there are drugs on the street. Like, cocaine.
All those bloody bankers, right? Dropping their cocaine all over the place?
Yeah, I guess.
In the few hours I spent with British kids, I discovered that maybe they aren't so bad after all. Here's to a future where the old people are cleaner than our filthy, shit-strewn streets.
WORDS: ELEKTRA KOTSONI
PHOTOS: JIM CLARKE