In U.S. politics, interns get in the news usually via a sex scandal. In Britain the political news cycle is currently being driven by another kind of internship scandal: nepotism and the widespread practice of asking interns to work for free.
Nick Clegg, England's deputy prime minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats, admitted yesterday that he'd gotten an internship as a teenager through his father's connections. The timing couldn't have been worse: the government is rolling out a much-touted social-mobility initiative that aims to cut down on unpaid internships in the U.K. and open up more opportunities for lower-class students.
"As a teenager, yes, I did receive an internship, as, I suspect, did many people around the chamber," Clegg said in response to a question from another member of Parliament. "Good for you if you did not. All of us should be honest and acknowledge that the way that internships have been administered in the private sector, the public sector, political parties and – I discovered when we came into government – in Whitehall as well... left a lot to be desired. I was a recipient of that, as, I suspect, many others here were as well. That is what we need to change if we want to secure greater social mobility in the future."
Naturally, Clegg took a hit in the press over this, as did his party, the Liberal Democrats. "What a cheek!" screamed the Daily Mail, elsewhere taking the opportunity to criticize the government's "increasingly desperate social engineering contortions." The Sun smirked that Clegg shouldn't "knock" internships--"otherwise, we might never have heard of you." The Daily Telegraph offered its own critique: "Parents – including, it seems, Mr Clegg's – have always done what they can to help their offspring get on. They are not going to stop because the Government says it is 'unfair.'"
But amidst all the sturm und drang, a few defenders did come forth. Michael White at The Guardian pointed out that "most of us are guilty of some form of hypocrisy in the way we live and behave ... Just because Nick Clegg had a privileged upbringing doesn't mean he's not sincere about trying to spread the benefits."
And Ben Chu at The Independent wrote that "this hypocrite accusation doesn't stand up to much scrutiny ... It's true that by criticising informal internships Clegg is pulling up a ladder which he himself climbed. But he's pulling up a ladder that benefits a very narrow group of young people. And his intention is to lower down a series of ladders for children who don't have the advantages he enjoyed by sheer accident of birth."