Nick Clegg has lectured the PR industry about its exploitation of unpaid interns — yet Graduate Fog can exclusively reveal that his own party refuses to change its own behaviour and pay its own young staff a proper wage for their work.

Writing in PR Week – which declared that Clegg “champions” unpaid interns – the deputy prime minister said:

“The fact is, workplaces across Britain desperately need to be opened up, and PR is no exception. Too often it’s who you know – not what you know – that counts.”

In the article, Clegg encouraged ‘every company across the PR industry’ to sign up to his social mobility strategy ‘business compact’.

Yet Graduate Fog’s quick spot-check of the car-crash political jobs website w4mp.org revealed SIX advertisements for unpaid internhips working for the Liberal Democrats – all of which appeared to involve doing proper work that is of real value. The positions are:

– The Liberal Democrats internship scheme. The internship lasts more than four months, paying only travel expenses (zones 1-6) plus lunch expenses of £5 per day.

– A ‘parliamentary intern’ for Lib Dem Don Foster MP, paying “expenses for travel and food up to £260 pcm”

– Two internships with John Leech MP – one ‘research intern’ and one ‘campaign intern’. The salary for both is stated as “None – volunteer.” (The ads have been removed but we’ve pasted screen grabs below)

– A ‘campaign intern’ with the Cambridge Liberal Democrats. The salary is stated as “None, this is a voluntary position.”

– Several “constituency volunteers” for Portsmouth Liberal Democrats, lasting three months. Think these could be of any age? The ad specifically states: “Past volunteers have secured employment with MPs so this post would suit anyone seeking a career in politics.” The salary stated is: “Travel expenses can be given. Accommodation can be arranged if necessary.” (Again, see screen grabs below).

Despite Nick Clegg’s many, many, many, many, many, many, many failings, a large proportion of the Graduate Fog tribe have told us they genuinely believe he does understand this issue – and care about it. (Call it a sixth sense — we can smell a phoney a mile off. Yes, we’re sniffing you — David Willetts. At least David Cameron doesn’t even pretend he cares).

Our seemingly weird belief that Clegg ‘gets it’ remained even when it emerged around Easter that Clegg himself benefited from doing unpaid internships (remember all that “Clegg up” stuff?). The tabloids accused him of hypocrisy — but interns minded much less. Despising the injustice of unpaid internships and agreeing to do them because you have no choice are not mutually exclusive. Even the appearance of one of Clegg’s own former unpaid interns — Jonny Medland — didn’t shift our belief that he now understands why the practice is proving so damaging and wants to do something about it.

We do have criticisms, however. In particular, we fear his tendency to blame the “sharp-elbowed parents” for pushing their children to the front of the queue for opportunities (even if they are unpaid) threatens to shift the blame on to the wrong people. The employers are the villains here, not the parents. Like their children, many parents feel they have little choice but to engage with this inherently unjust system. It’s just a question of how long they can afford to back their child, before the money runs out.

Similarly, Clegg’s “It’s who you know, not what you know” argument could obscure the confuse the issue. While connections can be helpful, most interns agree that the major obstacle for those from less well-off families is the issue of PAY. And experts like the campaign group Internocracy say that once employers start paying their interns, they take greater care to hire the best person for the job (not someone’s friend or family member).

Graduate Fog feels that Nick Clegg has the potential to play an extremely useful role in challenging — and changing — the current internships system, which is unfair and unsustainable. He’s the Deputy Prime Minister, for God’s sake. But he can NOT do this while his own party continues to take part in the practice, exploiting those who can afford to work unpaid — and excluding those who can’t. However much Clegg believes what he is saying — and we still dare to hope that he does — nobody will take him seriously until his own party starts leading by example. Not even us.

*Does Clegg really care about unpaid interns?
Do you believe the Deputy PM ‘gets’ this issue – or is he only pretending to care? If you believe Clegg really does care, do you think he can continue to campaign on this issue while his own party continues to recruit for unpaid internships?

Screen grabs of John Leech’s unpaid internships:

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