Try not to glaze over. The MPs’ expenses implosion has been death by a thousand receipts not just for the reputation of Parliament but for anybody interested in current political affairs. My brain is no longer able to compute nor care about the endless minutiae of their unintentional fraudulence, which, given the nature of the story, is the only manner in which it can be presented.
However, my minority but not unique position as an unemployed politics graduate leads me to suggest that something is missing from this coverage. It’s a small point but a sore one nonetheless, and it is that of internships. If you wish to work for an MP, your best bet is to toddle across to the website of the same name, www.w4mp.org. It is frequently updated with adverts for Parliamentary internships, salaried positions in think tanks and various other flora and fauna of the political ecosystem. Focussing on the three main parties, my problem is that, almost without exception, they offer no salary for interns. Now, I understand the idea that the currency of an intern’s salary is experience rather than hard cash, but MPs, as with their own expenses, have extended this idea beyond the realm of all logical proportion.
At the time of writing there are 172 jobs listed on www.w4mp.org, 25 of which are unpaid Parliamentary internships for the three main parties (Lib Dems: 3, Labour: 4, Tories: 18). The advert that prompted this post is no longer there (possibly due to my rather emotional email to the MP concerned). Grant Schapps (Con, Welwyn Hatfield, Shadow Housing Minister, maj. 5,946, favourite colour unknown) was advertising for a ‘gap year intern’. This was a poor attempt at concealing the fact that he thought it reasonable for someone to work for him for an entire year, full time, completely unpaid. Quite aside from the fact that I doubt this is remotely legal, how in the name of all that is holy does he think this looks in light of the expenses scandal? The ultimate irony is, of course, that he, like all the other slave driving MPs, could quite legitimately pay his intern at no actual cost to himself using the expenses system (or more appropriately, the staffing allowances system), but chooses not to.
They are misusing the concept of the internship entirely, using it as an excuse for modern day slave labour, which is particularly inappropriate at the moment. The combination of a woeful job market with the revelation that MPs are happy to claim for flat screen TVs, capital gains tax, counselling and cushions while not being prepared to pay the people that work for them – often the same graduates given no choice but to work for nothing because of said job market – is completely unpalatable and unacceptable. I know it has gone on since time immemorial, but slavery wasn’t exactly a flash in the pan either: this needs to stop, now.
It should not go unmentioned that many MPs very generously offer to pay their interns’ expenses. I wonder what the rules are governing their claims, and whether they were authored by the interns themselves? No, of course not. That would be ridiculous…
Image courtesy of John Morgan.