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U.K. Conservatives want mandatory national service. Gen Z is cringing.

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LONDON — A proposal from Britain's Conservatives for every 18-year-old to do mandatory military or civilian service — should the party win this summer's election — appears to have sent Gen Z's cortisol levels spiking and its meme factories into overdrive.

Social media was filled with videos and jokes by young people lampooning the proposal and, in some cases, their own readiness to serve.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak framed the policy proposal, called National Service, as an opportunity for young people to "gain valuable skills, make our country more secure and build a stronger national culture."

Skills? This generation has loads of skills that may be applicable, some videos joked.

"If you can fix your parents' iPad, then you can fix an Apache helicopter," said the dramatic voice-over in one TikTok video that imagined how the military might market National Service to its unwilling conscripts, in a mock recruitment video.

"If you can rot in bed, then you can rot in a trench," the video continued, speaking of the practice of spending hours in bed during the day — often with snacks or an electronic device.

Some British political analysts and commentators said the policy proposal was clearly designed to appeal to an older generation and right-wing voters, as polls show Sunak faces an uphill battle against the Labour Party.


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This proposal will only alienate young voters, because it seems to play into stereotypes that they are "too lazy or too woke," predicted Mathew Matos Gillingwater, 22, whose TikTok — in the format of a "get ready with me" video showing off a free pair of cargo khakis on the front line during a hypothetical World War III — widely circulated online after the announcement over the weekend.

"I didn't get to finish my bronzer, though, because I literally started getting shot at," Matos Gillingwater said in the video. Waving a hand of manicured nails, Matos Gillingwater said: "Luckily, the French were on our side this time, so you know I had to get some of the French girlies to do my French tips, and they look amazing."

Matos Gillingwater, who made the video earlier this year after conscription was floated by the army chief, said in an interview that the proposal "is just pushing us further and further away."

"Does [Sunak] want us to vote for him?" Matos Gillingwater said, referring to young people. "Is he trying to get ousted?"

Matos Gillingwater points out a perceived inequity: "At the end of the day, all the older people saying we have to do this, they didn't have to do national service either."

It would be the first form of national service in Britain in more than six decades. Under the plan, only a small minority of 18-year-olds — reportedly 30,000 out of an estimated 700,000, the Associated Press reported — would spend a year full time in the military, in areas such as logistics.

Others would volunteer on weekends with charities or a community organization — such as at a hospital or with the police or fire service. It's also unclear how any of it would be compulsory, as one minister has clarified that there would be no threat of prison for those who refuse to serve in either the civilian or military services.

During World War II, Britain introduced military conscription for men and some women, and instituted 18 months of mandatory military service for men between 1947 and 1960. Britain has since had an all-volunteer military, which has gone significantly down in size.

Labour opposes the policy proposal as an expensive "gimmick."

In one official clip that has racked up more than 2 million views, the Labour Party compared Sunak's announcement to a royal address to feudal subjects by the out-of-touch tyrant Lord Farquaad from Shrek, as he proclaims: "Some of you may die. But it's a sacrifice I am willing to make."

Some of the videos took a darker turn. As Matos Gillingwater noted: "This kind of escalation is scary. If anything goes down, I don't want to have to go to war, of course."

Matos Gillingwater's video showed a "day in the life on the battlefield" and showcased how Gen Z might squeeze in a "fit check," usually reserved for content creators showing off their outfit before leaving the house, while dodging incoming bouts of gunfire.

Other people joked about creative ways of avoiding military duties: turning up to the recruitment office with a walking stick or "accidentally dropping the gun on my feet" on the second day.

According to polling firm YouGov, age is one of the "defining voting characteristics" that determine election outcomes in Britain — and the Labour Party is ranking ahead of the Conservatives among both younger and middle-aged people. A poll this month found just 8 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds who intend to vote say they will support the Conservatives.

"Britain today faces a future that is more dangerous and more divided. There is no doubt that our democratic values are under threat," Sunak said in announcing the proposal over the weekend.

"Thank you, but no thank you," responded one young content creator. "Rishi said that he's doing this to bring back the 'national spirit.' I'll tell you one way to bring the 'national spirit' back: Get rid of Rishi Sunak."

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