Archive for the 'Westminster' Category

I eat Interns for Breakfast

Social Breakfast is a great new website which promotes youth engagement with politicians and industry figures.

When we heard they were interviewing a Lib Dem candidate we just had to ask his views on unpaid interns. Nick Radford replied to our questions thus:

You can’t employ somebody who doesn’t get paid…We do have interns working on our campaign but…it’s not an employment situation.

There’s a valid concern that there are some people who employ interns and…the employer expects them to perform as an employee. If that’s the arrangement then it’s wrong.

He concludes:

[The] education system is not equipping young people with the skills that they need to be employed.

What do you think? You can check out the full interview over at the Social Breakfast website. Next up for the Social Breakfast team is Green MEP Caroline Lucas. We will be asking her about interns as well.

SURVEY UPDATE: 86 Parliamentary Interns have taken part so far!

The Jury is still out- some people have obviously had great experiences but some have developed a long lasting aversion to the political world…is it just about personality? Or do some MPs take the humiliation just that bit too far? We have included all previously collected results along with 23 extra responses.

Summary

-          55% of unpaid interns in Westminster are graduate job seekers

-          25% carry out tasks they are not comfortable with (but this can be a positive thing)

-          Only 36% had all their expenses covered.

-          60% developed new skills (but many regretted the money they had spent on this)

-          And the most positive thing- 84% believe the internship boosted their job prospects…although some ended up feeling put off:  

‘It’s hard to tell. Certainly, if I carried on within politics it might do. But having paid a couple of hundred pounds a month to go in to work and eat I am now cold towards politics as a career.’

Full results below.

Continue reading ‘SURVEY UPDATE: 86 Parliamentary Interns have taken part so far!’

Where do you draw the line?

Almost all MPs hire interns. Hundreds, probably thousands, go through Parliament each year. This is a fact we have highlighted on these pages many times over the past year.

We have heard from interns feeling exploited and abused and those who had great experiences and managed to progress from being an intern to a researcher or a caseworker.

We don’t often highlight particular adverts here… but occasionally… just occasionally… something stands out as beyond the pale.

Let me introduce you to David Lidington MP. He is looking for an intern.

Continue reading ‘Where do you draw the line?’

From intern to employee

It’s official folks: it can happen. 

I’ve made the transition from parliamentary intern to parliamentary researcher in just three and a half months.

A while back I wrote the piece “valuable but difficult: living on the biscuit collection”.  I was depressed and demoralised; I felt more like throwing the towel in than Daniel Hannam did when DC back-tracked on that “cast- iron” guarantee. 

But, I persevered. I had to - what was the alternative, to just give up on everything I had worked so hard for? No, I wasn’t giving up that easily and with every application that was rejected I became more determined that I would get there eventually, and I did. And you will too.

Here are my tips for making the most of your internship in parliament:

1.               Make peace

The sooner you accept the nature of the beast the better in my opinion. Interning is a necessary evil and you need to make peace with the fact that you will be doing this for the next six months to a year.

Continue reading ‘From intern to employee’

An entirely positive internship - despite being broke for the duration of it!

One of the modules of my MBA required me to do an internship. As a materialistic female with dreams of free cosmetics and the prospect of wearing shoulderpads and stillettoes when I finally graduated, I asked to be put forward for a marketing department in one of our better known, international cosmetic companies. The university, however, suggested I try a parliamentary internship and, to my horror, I was accepted by an MP. I spent two days a week for three months following a charismatic MP around the Westminster Village, watching him get interviewed, watching him debate and meeting some remarkable people, including Secretaries of State. I drank subsidised beer, learned about politics (of which I had previously known nothing) and made some lifelong friendships. On graduation, the MP offered me another internship within one of the organisations he chaired so that I would be able to look for a job “from a job”. As the interviews began, a paid job became available within this not for profit organisation and I spent over three years working there. I forgot about money and make-up, learned how to run an actual company, continued to network with Parliamentarians and industry leaders who valued my position and developed an interest in sustainability. I’ll never make millions, but my internship has put me firmly on the path of something interesting and with a strong network of my own. A number of us who began our careers in this company have created an alumni of interns and a vast number have gone on to great things, including a career in politics. I think an internship is great if you have no idea what you want, or are trying to break into a tough industry. They are a little unfair, I appreciate, and few can afford to be unpaid, but if you are able, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

An entirely positive experience - despite being broke for the duration of it!

Why public schools are likely to rule in 2010

Much talk at the moment of private schools and politics. With a huge proportion of David Cameron’s shadow cabinet old Etonians and half of the ‘A list’ independently educated, the social make-up of the next Government is likely to be very different (providing the Tories win).

So this got us thinking: is the cult of the intern a middle class/public school phenomena? What about a straw poll for readers of the site? Are you an intern and from a private school?

The Class of 2010 is a new report based on work by academics from Plymouth University. Their research suggests that relative to 1997, the number of new MPs from comprehensive schools will fall from 46% to about 30%.

The report’s authors talk about “a massive shift over the last 12 years towards the private and independent sector”, and also note that the share of new Labour MPs from private school backgrounds may double, from 7% in 1997 to 14%.

Continue reading ‘Why public schools are likely to rule in 2010′

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.

Intern Summit in Parliament

Last Monday over 100 interns, MPs and lobbyists gathered together to discuss the state of internships in Westminster. Interns Anonymous had a vested interest in the proceedings- we have supported Phil Willis and his attempts to clean up the Parliamentary system from the off, and were showing a clip of our documentary after the speakers.

Those giving speeches at the event included Speaker Bercow, Charles Clarke, David Willets and NUS President Wes Streeting. Dan Whittle, president of the parliamentary branch of Unite hosted the evening and also spoke. Audio clips of the evening are included below, but I will also offer some thoughts on the evening (albeit belatedly). [Technical problems with the audio clips... but they will be online eventually]

The most eagerly anticipated contribution came from Speaker Bercow, who chairs the Members’ Estimates Committee. The Committee will be looking at MPs expenses and pay, including staffing allowances and hopefully the question of interns pay too. Phil Willis made a formal request to the Committee to look at the issue of internships after this meeting.

Bercow himself demonstrated many of the negative traits mentioned during his speaker-campaign. He spoke for a long time, using convoluted sentences when only a few words were required. Most frustrating of all, he shied away from making a commitment to reform.

However, I can see why he does not want to pre-empt policy. He finished by saying: ‘This will not go away, it cannot be brushed under the carpet… I am listening’.

To get a figure of his stature at the event was certainly a coup. And Phil Willis and his team should be praised for engaging with him on the issue. It certainly fits into the wider parliamentary reform agenda.

David Willets acknowledged the dicey legal issues many MPs are dealing with in their recruitment of interns. Having admitted it’s a legal grey area… if he does have interns, I hope he pays them.

Phil Willis, who came out of the meeting head and shoulders above anyone else, said

“Interns are now an integral part in the staffing structure of our Parliament, it’s essential to kick-on and ensure that they not only receive the appropriate recognition for their contribution, but that the authorities develop a kite mark or minimum standard for internships to ensure that they get a really first class experience and appropriate reward.”

Be it minimum wage, or the guarantee of a great experience, I think this is an excellent place to start.

Truro & Falmouth Interns revisited

Truro & Falmouth Liberal Democrats are seeking interns to join Terrye Teverson’s General Election campaign team.

Wait a minute? That wouldn’t be the same Terrye Teverson who was exposed in the local press for advertising for an intern role which broke minimum wage laws was it? Just a few weeks ago? Yes it is!

Ahh! But she has learnt. From her advert:

Please note that this internship is a voluntary position.
No fixed hours or duties are therefore set.

If this is kept to then it does not break NMW laws. Other MPs and PPCs, please note.

Ed Fordham Update: the advert has been removed

From the Ham and High newspaper:

PROSPECTIVE Parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn Ed Fordham has removed an advert for an unpaid role in his campaign team following a challenge by a member of the public.

The advertised role involved arranging the Liberal Democrat candidate’s diary, dealing with media enquires, writing and planning press releases and working in the local campaign office, and stated the worker must be prepared to work flexible hours.

Wanted: one unpaid Intern… or should that be chauffeur!

ed-headThe election is nearing and local parties are beginning to get down to the difficult task of campaigning. That means plenty of volunteers need to be enlisted to help!

This also means a whole host of unpaid graduates are being recruited as ‘campaigns interns’. All parties are at fault for this. But have a look at Ed Fordham, Lib Dem PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn.

It’s a very winnable seat for the Lib Dems… but they don’t seem to be putting much money into the campaign as their FULL TIME AIDE / PRESS & MEDIA OFFICER will be an unpaid intern.

To quote the advert:

“Ed now needs someone dedicated to managing his diary and handling media enquiries”…

Sounds like a job to me…

But they will be only paid… “Modest travel and lunch expenses”. Modest! 50p for a loaf of bread from Tesco?

Duties would entail:

  • Arranging the candidate’s diary
  • Dealing with media enquires
  • Writing and planning press releases
  • Accompanying the candidate on the campaign trail
  • Working in the local campaign office

“and a driving licence would be a bonus.”

An intern Chauffeur! This is a new one.

It goes on… “Be prepared to work flexible hours to suit the pace of the campaign”. Ahh… so as an intern you wont be able to come and go as you please. If you get elected Mr Fordham.. will you vote to ditch minimum wage laws? You seem to be breaking them pretty clearly here.

Fordham’s office were contacted for comment but never replied. They have been told this is breaking National Minimum Wage laws, yet they are doing nothing about it… unlike this Lib Dem, who changed their policy after being outed in the local press.

Anyone write for a local paper in Hampstead and Kilburn?

Next Page »


Interns Anonymous

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