The three leading candidates in the race to become the new Mayor of London on 3rd May claim to view youth unemployment as a priority — but how many have been relying on unpaid interns to promote their campaign for office in the last few months? Graduate Fog decided to investigate…


Says: “It’s a modern tragedy that so many of our young people are struggling to get a foothold in the jobs market and are drifting into crime.”
Unpaid internship adverts found: Six
Official response from his people: “We don’t have any interns on the campaign.”

The evidence:

BoJo racked up the largest number of unpaid internship ads we could find online, with an impressive score of six. One was for a “campaign assistant”, paying just travel and lunch expenses. Duties included “administration, data entry, analysis and day-to-day running of a busy office”. Candidates were assured that “both full-time and part-time applications will be considered” and that “This position will provide an excellent opportunity for candidates to further enhance their CVs and gain valuable political and office-based experience.” It would “suit a student, recent graduate of an individual who is looking to learn more about how Political campaigning works.”

The second was for “campaign intern” who “will roll up their sleeves and support the delivery of Boris’ re-election,” for just travel and lunch expenses. The intern would “assist with young people’s involvement in the Back Boris 2012 campaign” and “assist in a range of campaigning activities and liaise with campaign organisers at all levels.” Candidates are assured that “this is your chance to get involved at the very heart of the campaign.”

The third was for multiple ‘volunteers’ on the telephone canvassing team, and the others were for “campaign volunteers.” As these were sold as opportunities to “gain experience”, we can assume they are aimed at young jobseekers interested in starting a career in politics.

The response:

When we approached Johnson’s people about the adverts, they denied all knowledge, saying: “If you want an on the record response on the advert you will need to go to whoever took out the advert as it wasn’t us. It is not our advert. We are not advertising for interns. We also don’t have interns on the campaign.” This seemed weird, so we asked again — and this is the response we got: “As I said, you’ll need to contact the person who took out the advert as it wasn’t anything to do with the campaign. And we don’t have any interns on the campaign.” They declined to answer any further questions about the matter.


Says: “I introduced the London Living Wage because below that people are living in poverty.”
Unpaid internship adverts found: None
Official response from his people: “Our volunteers roles have been approved by Intern Aware.”

The evidence:

We found no evidence that Ken’s campaign has been using unpaid interns — which either means he doesn’t have any, or just that they’ve been much more careful than Boris and Brian’s campaigns in how they recruit them. An advert for “campaign volunteers” posted in November 2011 did not outline specific tasks or responsibilities and said the volunteers could choose their own hours. It did not appear to be targeted at young jobseekers any more than any other age group and it was stated that the advert had been approved by Graduate Fog’s friends at the campaign group Intern Aware. Travel and lunch expenses were offered.

The response:

Ken’s spokesperson told us: “We have volunteers who give their time on a voluntary basis to help the campaign. They are paid expenses for any receipted travel and lunch costs incurred. Our volunteer adverts and the way we work with volunteers are approved by internaware – the national campaign to end unpaid internships.” They declined to say how many of these ‘volunteers’ were under 25 and hoping to pursue a career in politics.


Says: “Unpaid internships are slave labour as far as I’m concerned, plain and simple”
Unpaid internships adverts found: Two
Official response from his people: “The Brian Paddick campaign does not have any interns.”

The evidence:

Oh dear, what happened here? We’re not quite sure. The first ad we found was for a ‘volunteer intern’, described as a “hands-on role in a fast moving political environment, one where you will be expected to pitch in and learn on the job the many skills needed for an effective ground campaign,” but paying only “travel within London and lunch expenses.” Applicants are warned that “Political campaigners keep erratic hours so flexibility and an easy going nature will make life easier and the campaign even more fun!” Still, applicants were at least assured “we absolutely understand that it may be necessary for you to work part time,” which is thoughtful of them…

The second was for multiple “phone canvassing volunteers”. The salary was stated as ‘None’ so presumably travel and lunch expenses weren’t even on offer. Candidates were told “You will be making calls from the new phone bank at the Ministry of Sound in the evenings leading up to the elections on Thursday 3rd May 2012.” As with Boris’ ads for ‘volunteers’, this was clearly aimed at young jobseekers, as it was sold as “an excellent opportunity to develop key skills.”

The response:

Initially, Paddick’s people said: “We don’t have any interns on the campaign.” When we showed them the ads concerned, they said: “Like all political campaigns, we welcome help from volunteers of all ages. These are supporters who give their time freely to help out with everything from phone canvassing to door knocking. Some of our phone bank volunteers have done two hours as a one-off, and some have returned on a regular basis.” Sgain, they declined to say how many of these ‘volunteers’ were under-25 and hoping to pursue a career in politics.


Political campaigns rely on volunteers – but are the many young people working on Boris, Ken and Brian’s election campaigns really doing it purely out of their passion for the cause? Frankly, we doubt it – we suspect they hope it will lead to paid work in the future. In which case, are the candidates guilty of taking advantage of desperate young jobseekers, in their quest for office?

All three men claim they see London’s youth unemployment crisis as a priority – but Boris and Brian have certainly ‘sold’ their volunteer roles as an opportunity to gain experience, suggesting they are targeting those at the start of their career. If these really are such a valuable opportunity, they should ask themselves whether it is fair that they are only open to those young people who can afford to work for them for free.

In addition, the legal status of these unpaid internships and volunteer positions remains clear to us. It is our understanding that none of the candidates would be covered by the ruling by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) which appears to allow MPs to have unpaid interns, as they are not MPs. Also, as far as we are aware, none of the campaigns is a registered charity, so they could not claim exemption from the minimum wage law on that count either. We gave all three candidates’ representatives the chance to clarify the matter but they declined.


Did you receive payment for your work? How many other interns were working on the campaign? Do you feel you were a genuine ‘volunteer’ – or were you doing it primarily for your CV? Would you have had access to the opportunity if you hadn’t been able to work for free? Should mayoral candidates pay their interns?

See the adverts for yourself:

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