Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why unpaid interns are bad for the Liberal Democrats

Something else I did not get time to write about last week was the news that the Liberal Democrats will not after all be paying interns who work for the party.

I say "after all" because Nick Clegg is on record as saying that in future internships would come with "real support to cover costs" in order to "give new people opportunities to participate in that kind of political activity". He also said they would "conform with minimum wage legislation as much as possible".

Money is short for the party, of course, but this is not some starry-eyed commitment Nick made when we were  still in opposition and life way easy. He made it only a year ago.

We could do with out another example of the Lib Dems promising something and then finding that we are unable to deliver it. But let's be clear why it is really wrong for the party not to pay interns.

I am old enough not to be as concerned as I should be about young people being exploited. In any case, the real problem with unpaid internships is that the only people who can take them up will come from families in London and the Home Counties who are wealthy enough to support them.

There is already a problem about Westminster being dominated by the products of private schools, Oxbridge and the South East. In fact, I sometimes suspect poor Nick is the least posh person in his own office.

We would all like the Liberal Democrats to be an exception to this trend - both to encourage social mobility and so that the party can draw on a wider pool of talent and more varied experience of life. But this is not going to happen unless we find a way of paying our interns.

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