The life of a Parliamentary intern

I started as an intern in Parliament earlier this year. I am unpaid, though my transport expenses are taken care of. I work a full time week, and as anyone who works in Parliament knows, that means far more than the usual 9 to 5. On the whole, I enjoy it. I like working at the heart of everything. So far, I have experienced many positives and many negatives, and I have detailed them below.

Firstly then, the good stuff. It is very good experience at doing a number of different things. I take meetings, manage my MPs diary, discuss policy, draft letters, handle all sorts of weird and wonderful telephone enquiries, and deal with well known people across politics and business. It’s a varied job, unpredictable, and at times immensely interesting. Hopefully it will help with a career in the long run, plus I’ve made plenty of contacts. I am treated well by my MP, and (most of the time) it’s just like being a regular member of staff.

The downsides. Well, I work a full time week, and yet I’m losing money. I know this sounds arrogant, but the work I do probably easily commands a 20k salary. Instead, every meal I pay for reminds me of how I am effectively paying them to work. It’s not fair, but there is no way around it. So long as the rules allow them to do this, they will. Working a full time job and yet having no disposable income really gets you down after a while, and it can be hard to see the long term perspective. It’s also a demanding role. I seem to spend some days running around everywhere. I get frustrated apologising all the time for my MP not showing up for something or forgetting to make that important constituency meeting. Some evenings I am absolutely knackered. I get up early, and I get home quite late. I do have a life outside of work, but truth is, I just want to come home and collapse with exhaustion most days.

I have an enormous amount of responsibility. Some days (usually at least 2 days a week) I am the only one in the office, and everything goes through me. It’s a big vote of confidence on one hand, but it’s also a huge burden. I am constantly expected to do things I have never done before without much guidance or help at all. I often take meetings where I know nothing about the person I’m meeting nor the subject matter. I nod and smile, and pretend to be the expert, but I feel like an idiot for not knowing what is going on. Truth is, it isn’t my fault - my MP will occasionally use me as a scape goat for meetings they decide not to take, or for dealing with people they want to avoid. I do genuinely like being given responsibility, but it boils down to this; if you throw someone in at the deep end, expecting them to work for free and take on a thousand tasks that they are doing for the first time, you cannot then complain when mistakes are made. That is the downside. On the whole, my MP is supportive - but there are times when I am given all the responsibility for a task, and yet I gain none of the credit for a success, yet all of the blame for a failure.

My advice for anyone thinking of becoming a parliamentary intern is to give it a go, but make sure you are aware of the following. Working without pay is ok for a while, but after 7 or 8 months it gets tough - very tough. You will be the workhorse, master of all trades. The guy who runs the office one minute, but the bloke who is just the intern and isn’t invited to the after-meeting drinks reception the next minute. It’s not all bad, and truth is, I can only honestly reflect on the experience in a few years when I can see whether it has helped me gain paid employment or not.

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Interns Anonymous

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