James Delingpole says that the movement’s newfound popularity has nothing to do with zorbing.
The figures speak for themselves. This week, the Scout Association of Britain has announced its biggest surge in membership – a 3.5 per cent year-on-year rise – in four decades. Since January last year it has welcomed 16,500 new recruits, taking membership to nearly 500,000. Not bad for a youth organisation which still upholds such near-forgotten values as duty, selflessness, discipline and loyalty to the monarch; and which still demands of the iPod generation that they should regularly do weird, wholly unfamiliar things like wear uniforms, go on long walks, survive without TV and use knives without actually trying to kill someone.
So just why is Scouting so popular? If you believe Wayne Bulpitt, the Scout Association’s UK chief commissioner, it’s mainly down to all the wacky, amazing adventure sports Scouts can do these days. There are badges for parascending, zorbing (rolling down a hill inside a plastic orb), abseiling, snowboarding and even dragon-boat racing. Says Bulpitt: “We’ve changed Scouting to ensure that what we offer is fun and full of adventure for young people and lots of teenagers have realised that Scouting is awesome.”
Perhaps so. I think we can all agree if that the Scout Association didn’t offer a badge for dragon-boat skills, the waiting list to join would be a fraction of its current 33,500. Nevertheless, Bulpitt is surely missing a couple of key points.
The first is that fully one fifth of those recruits have been filched from what might otherwise have been the membership of the poor old Girl Guides’ Association. Since the Scouts was opened to both sexes 20 years ago, its ranks have been swollen by 104,000 girls.
Sure, it no longer offers brimmer hats and cleft sticks (if you want those you have to join the hardcore breakaway unit, the BP Scouts) but its admission ceremony still requires you, on your honour, to do your best, to do your duty to God (or “my God” – the substitute phrase used by non-Christians) and to the Queen, and to keep the Scout law. You also have to stand on parade, salute the flag and do as you’re told – and if you don’t, you’re out.
Parents respond to this. They like the fact that the Scouts is one of the few places left where their kids are going to get proper discipline. They’re also less likely to take Scout leaders for granted than they do, say, their kids’ teachers, because they know they’re volunteers who could resign and disband the local pack at the drop of a hat if they didn’t get proper support.
Kids, meanwhile, warm to the structure, traditions, hierarchy, rigour and adventurousness which have all but vanished from school curricula in these days of Elf N Safety, “child-centred” learning, and “all shall have prizes” anti-elitism. The Scouts – for all its adoption of trendy modern adventure activities – remains at heart the same paramilitary outfit it was when Baden-Powell established it as a training ground for future rulers of the Empire. The Scouts is the organisation PC forgot: and that’s why we all so love it.
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