Nick Clegg is a hypocrite on internships but so are all….
Having had some experience as a political intern, I have been following the debate kicked-off around them by Nick Clegg with a considerable degree of interest. The fact that this debate is happening is unquestionably a good thing and whatever else you say I guess some credit must go to Clegg for starting it. Furthermore, a lot of what he says about the elitist and exclusive nature of the intern system is totally true. This is especially, but obviously not exclusively, the case in politics where breaking into it as a career is still very much determined by who, as opposed to what, you know and whose favour you can curry.
Before we get all party political, I also have to say that in my experience this is objectively true of all parties. I have seen nothing to dissuade me of that view and therefore we have to be careful; Labour has no right to claim the moral high-ground on this issue because it is neither better, nor particularly worse than any of the others. So, what are the key problems? Of course, the unpaid nature of internships is one of them. It does narrow the field of who can take on an internship to those with parents or another source of financial support which enables them to fulfil the role properly. The solution to this one is obvious; enforce at least the minimum wage (and ideally, a living wage) on those employers wanting to take-on interns.
A broader issue here is the fact that interns also need to be given proper employment rights. An element of protection would not just enhance the status of interns but cut against the exclusivity that is being riled against. Interns not only have to be willing to go without wages but also have to effectively gamble that their internship will lead somewhere, with none of the protection normal employees get and reassurances that even if it doesn‘t they are protected from exploitation. Obviously, this is not an acceptable situation. How many of you reading this would take on a job where you received no remuneration and no guarantees or protections of any kind? Not many I would wager but that is what interns, who are often committed and passionate about their chosen course, are forced to do. In this area, I have seen nothing from the government which suggests they are willing to tackle this and in this case we have to be quite clear that their proposals don’t go far enough. Internships also are not a recognised and supported route into employment out of unemployment and more needs to be done to make them so.
The charges of hypocrisy against Nick Clegg, on this occasion at least, can realistically be levelled fairly at all parties, none of whom are ‘pure’ on this issue. It seems to me that they are all quite willing to talk a good game but when it comes to making actual progress in their own practice less willing to do anything at all. The internship system could be a great facilitator of social mobility but as it stands it’s the reverse; a barrier to it and a guarantor of the position of self-perpetuating privileged elites.