Its hard work, this politics malarkey – just ask John Leech. The Lib Dem MP for Withington placed four ads on W4MP on Monday advertising for a small army of interns to help him get through the day. The ads proclaimed just how hard the Lib Dem spokesman for Culture, Media and Sport works and stressed the strong role he plays in championing all of his constituents.
In fact, Mr Leech is such a strong champion of the good people of south Manchester that he wants four of them to work for between three months and a year on zero pay.
Leech, who makes a minimum of £65,738 per year as an MP, is advertising for a Campaigns Intern, Casework Intern, Research Intern and a Diary, Fundraising, Press and Communication Intern. Incredibly, the latter will be tasked with raising money for Leech to spend on communicating with constituents.
It also looks like Leech will not pay for travel or food expenses. This is despite that fact he himself claimed over £8600 on travel and subsistence during 2011/2012 (including several claims for just £1 to cover parking fees and over £150 on food in the Parliamentary canteen – which is already subsidised). It appears what is good for this particular goose is not good for his hard working ganders.
Given the massive student population in South Manchester, perhaps Leech is worried about his prospects in 2015. With his party’s treachery over tuition fees and their insistence of propping up an increasingly unpopular government, Leech’s 1,894 majority makes him vulnerable to a strong Labour candidate at the next general election.
Unpaid internships are a regrettable part of modern life, particularly in politics, and the arguments against them are well documented. They do have a number of benefits for the person doing it (I did one myself) but it often excludes those who simply cannot afford to work for extended periods with no pay. Leech is by no means the only offender but by effectively doubling the number of staff in his office he has taken it beyond what most other self-respecting MPs would find acceptable.
Despite all the rhetoric, it’s hard to know where the Lib Dems stand on social mobility. Nick Clegg said in April 2011: “From now on, people who are advertising for internships in Liberal Democrat offices or Liberal Democrat MP will have to make sure that applications are name and school blind and there’s proper remuneration so that we give new people opportunity to participate in [this] kind of political activity.”
But less than 12 months later, Clegg had a change of heart and hired numerous unpaid interns, again proving that his promises mean as much as the meat content sticker on a Findus lasagne.