A Conservative MP has angered graduates keen to build careers in politics by declaring that internships within parliament are a “non-story.” The row erupted when he was challenged for advertising a six-month unpaid internship by former deputy prime minister John Prescott on Twitter, who labelled him “Britain’s meanest MP.”

Graham Evans – MP for Weaver Vale in Cheshire – has been advertising for a “bright and hardworking” intern to sort his post, draft letters and research issues. The position lasts six-months and does not even offer travel or lunch expenses. Yet when questioned about it, Evans insisted the episode was a “complete non story” and said:

“It is common practice for MPs of all political parties to have volunteers helping out in their parliamentary offices. My office has a small number of full-time students come in to do ad hoc volunteering to gain experience of Parliament around their studies. This is an exciting opportunity for many young people and it is perfectly legitimate.”

The row erupted after the politician was challenged by Labour MP – and former deputy prime minister – John Prescott. Tweeting a link to the ad for Davis’s unpaid internship, Prescott wrote:

“Is this Britain’s meanest MP? Wants young person to work for him for six months for nothing – not even food and travel!”

Later, Prescott told the Mirror:

“At a time of record youth unemployment, is this their idea of job creation? They pay young people nothing while giving honours to bankers and party donors. It’s just the same old Tories.”

In recent months, Graduate Fog has reported on the scandal of the huge number of internships STILL being advertised by scores of politicians from all political parties, including cabinet minister (cabinet minister!!) Jeremy Hunt. This is despite agreement that youth unemployment is a huge problem in the UK today.

We continue to be irritated by politicians’ arrogant insistence that their own unpaid internships are somehow allowed, because of a ruling by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) which attempts to create a special loophole for parliamentary internships. In reality, legal sources tell us that the Ipsa ruling is highly unlikely to stand up against the Minimum Wage Law.

Whilst maintaining they care about social mobility and youth unemployment, politicians continue to run unpaid internships which exclude those who can’t afford to do them, exploit those who do them – and displace paid jobs for young people.

Any politician who claims to care about social mobility and / or youth unemployment should have no problem in condemning unpaid internships outright. Unpaid internships are not a solution to youth unemployment – they are a big part of the problem.

However, while we are always pleased when a high profile individual draws attention to this issue – as Mr Prescott has – it would be even more welcome if he could first direct some of his outrage towards his own colleagues in the Labour party who are guilty of exactly the same behaviour. If Labour are to take the moral high ground on this issue, they must make sure they have earned it.

Was John Prescott right to name and shame Graham Evans? If the Labour party was truly behind interns’ right to be paid, shouldn’t they ban unpaid internships within their own party first? Or are you just happy to see this issue being raised by high profile individuals, as it keeps the subject in the headlines?

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