Star Caine joins Cameron in call for UK 'national service'
Published 09/04/2010 | 05:00
BRITISH Conservative Party plans for state-funded "national service" in the community for young people helped secure the Tories a celebrity endorsement yesterday .
But the plan was attacked as another uncosted spending pledge by opponents.
Oscar-winning actor Michael Caine joined David Cameron on stage to back his proposal to divert £50m (€57m) from anti-extremism funding for voluntary three-week summer courses for 16-year-olds.
Mr Caine confirmed that he would vote Conservative on May 6 and believed Mr Cameron would be a "great" prime minister, but he added that he was motivated by denying Labour -- who he backed in 1997 -- a third term.
The Tory leader set out the plans at the party's first major press conference since the election was called and then embarked on a third consecutive day of coast-to-coast campaigning, taking in Norwich and Plymouth.
Under the proposals, teenagers would get together for team-building activities before helping out in their local community and then devising and putting into operation their own project to help others.
Mr Cameron said teenagers now were as "passionate and idealistic" as ever and a failure to bring them into mainstream society was "the most outrageous, disgraceful, pointless waste of potential".
The non-military National Citizen service -- which he initially wanted to make compulsory -- would offer them a chance to take responsibility and to mix with people from different backgrounds, he said.
"In our society the closest thing to a rite of passage is getting drunk on your 18th birthday," said Mr Cameron.
"Of course, we have all done that. But I think we can do a lot more. We must give young people more to aspire to. More shape to their lives. More responsibility. More pride in themselves and what they can do.And we must all come together to do more about the national scandal of all this wasted promise."
He and Mr Caine later went on to a school in south-east London to visit youngsters who have taken part in Tory-backed pilot versions of the scheme -- as well as the team leaders, parents and mentors involved.
The actor, who grew up in a nearby poor area of south London, said he was speaking out in support as "a representative of all those youngsters that have been forgotten in this country".
The Tories, he said, were interested in "saving young people and giving them a chance in society". The Tories said the proposals had received the backing of The Prince's Trust and Duke of Edinburgh's Award, as well as boxer Amir Khan, athlete Kelly Holmes and rugby international Josh Lewsey.
The Scout Association also welcomed the plans and said it "looks forward to sharing its experience with schemes that seek to further youth participation and engagement".
But other parties accused the Tories of failing to spell out where the money would come from beyond the initial two years, and of penalising young people through other policies.
Schools Secretary Ed Balls said: "Another glitzy David Cameron launch can't hide the fact that this is another spending commitment from the Tories with the flakiest of funding solutions. They refuse to match Labour's school leavers' guarantee of a sixth form, college, training or apprenticeship place for 16 and 17 year olds. The Tories won't protect this area from the immediate cuts they need to find this year."
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's chief of staff, Danny Alexander, said: "Once again the Tories have made an enormous spending commitment without the foggiest idea of how they're going to pay for it.