Archive for November, 2009



Quit your bellyaching

 Like many of our generation, I have taken the route of an internship with a Member of Parliament. There are some interesting responsibilities, press releases, case work etc. Then there are the usual pitfalls; the lack of direction in the office mainly. One of the key problems for interns is that those directly responsible for them often forget that the principle reason for you being there is to increase your skills. Often the lines are blurred between Bob, the unpaid intern who is here for the benefit of his career, learning essential skills for public affairs, and Bob, the office lackey who is here (almost literally) to sweep up after us. To a negligent supervisor, recently graduated university students often do seem to be there to do unpaid grunt work. When you’re on the receiving end of it, it is practically sickening.

 It can leave you with a feeling of intense resentment towards the world of public affairs and media, which thrives on this practise and often ostracises outsiders.

 Whilst undertaking this internship I have been reading The Triumph of the Political Class by Peter Oborne. I don’t think I could have picked a worse book to cement these feelings of bitterness.

 ”As they professionalized and grew more homogenous the Political and Media Classes began to restrict membership to the middle classes, and increasingly to each other’s sons and daughters. This was in large part because of the special pay structure of the Media/Political Class. Though stars in both arenas were capable of making very large sums of money indeed, new graduates are impoverished. A young researcher reporting to an MP, or a television producer starting out, are both extremely poorly paid. They are, however, expected to work in Central London, which is prohibitively expensive and only possible with subsidy from well heeled parents”

 The whole of the public affairs and media domain is made possible by backhanders, press leaks, favourable stories and a slimy mutability between actors serving themselves and their friends. Even my university’s careers page recommends the practise of ‘networking’ in order to progress in this arena. The story goes that Peter Mandelson got his big break in the world of politics by offering a cup of tea to a senior Labour figure who missed his train. Upon the Minister seeing Mandelsons’ poster of him on his bedroom wall, the young prince of darkness’s fate was sealed. Am I expected to hang around London with a hot coffee in my hand, waiting for a stray Milliband needing some refreshment to pluck me out of my provincial nightmare?

mandy

I wonder which lucky bastard bought this for him

 The underlying request amongst most users of interns anonymous is that these internships should be regulated with a statutory minimum pay. This might seem like the reasonable thing to do when so many of us are suffering at the hands of that amorphous tentacled monster in London. However, as media and public affairs have been professionalized, certain principles have slipped. Our constitution is gradually eroding and our reporting remains as unreliable as it was during the yellow press period of Hearst’s America. The prospect of increasing the regulatory powers of the state sector and paying interns in the media will only entrench these problems or create further negative consequences.

Continue reading ‘Quit your bellyaching’

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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