Cameron and Clegg clash over internships
Career opportunities should not be determined by “who your father’s friends are”, according to Nick Clegg.
The Deputy Prime Minister has recently rallied against the industry-wide practice of exploiting interns, who are sometimes retained for extended periods without salary, stating that unpaid internships excluded those from less privileged backgrounds who could not afford to work for free.
He said that the “sharp-elbowed and well-connected” middle classes were most to blame for monopolising internships, one of the key routes to the workplace for fresh graduates.
Furthermore, tensions have surfaced between party leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg over the former’s statement that he is “very relaxed” about providing work experience for personal acquaintances, having recently offered an internship opportunity to a neighbour’s son.
These comments have come in direct conflict with Mr Clegg’s avowed policies regarding social mobility, as he urged companies last month to award internships on a more transparent and meritocratic basis.
Currently, the central Lib Dem party accepts fifteen interns per year for a period that does not exceed three months, with all expenses paid. But it is also estimated that among the 450 interns in Parliament, 44% do not receive any form of remuneration.
Mr Clegg stated in the House of Commons: “From today all Liberal Democrat MPs will give real support to cover costs and to conform with minimum wage legislation as much as possible”. However, the party later clarified that minimum wage plans would not be happening this year, as the party is currently “looking for funding” to cover the expenses.
And Mr Clegg was himself accused of nepotism after confessing to having benefited from an internship with a Finnish bank arranged by his father, chairman of the United Trust Bank.
The Prime Minister, on the other hand, has freely admitted to receiving valuable help from friends and family at the beginning of his political career.
Political commentators have also expressed doubt over the social mobility scheme, considering the fact that Mr Clegg has helped to triple tuition fees after promising to abolish them.
With an average of seventy applicants for every graduate job, potential employees who have relevant work experience are placed at a distinct advantage. However, as Ben Lyons of Intern Aware points out: “It can cost up to £500 to intern for two weeks in London. Unpaid internships are not just unjust; many of them could be illegal”.