Chris Fox writes – Internships: a small step in the right direction

The Liberal Democrats’ Chief Executive, Chris Fox, has written this post in reply to yesterday’s piece by Gus Baker from the Intern Aware campaign.

At a recent meeting of all party staff, the majority of people said they had begun their career as an intern. It was testament to dedication and commitment, but also proved that internships give people unrivalled access and experience of one of the country’s most highly competitive careers.
There is no denying that internships in both business and politics have for a long time hindered social mobility, promoting the culture of contacts over ability and often only benefiting those people wealthy enough to live without a wage. The use of interns, which on occasion, quite frankly borders on exploitation, has given rise to a culture that Westminster is only open to the rich and well-connected.
The Liberal Democrats do not have clean hands. As a party with very limited resources, but very dedicated supporters, we have too often taken advantage of ever-willing interns. We know this is not sustainable. As a party we have recognised we needed to adapt and improve. We have begun a process, but this is just a start.
Our new system, which is time-limited and with name and school-blind applications, will hopefully make a small but important step. We have set a time limit to prevent desk-blocking and increase opportunity. The name and school-blind applications are to ensure everyone can be selected on the merit of their application, not surname or alma mater. And not a single internship will be offered outside of this process.
Cowley Street has had to undergo some very drastic changes over the past 12 months. With the loss of Short Money we lost a number of hard working and dedicated staff. Simply put, the party is not in a position to offer any new full-time paid positions – interns or otherwise. But we do not want to close our doors completely and we definitely do not want to auction valuable experience to the highest bidder.
We recognise that finance is a key barrier and we continue to work on the creation of a bursary scheme for future applicants. This isn’t easy, and would welcome anyone wanting to support a scheme, to get in touch.
There is still a long way to go, but we believe this will be a positive step forward in transparency and for opening Westminster internships to a much wider group of applicants.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • So the bottom line is that you are still going ahead with unpaid internships this year despite Nick Clegg’s recent announcements on internships.

    I suggest everyone writes to Nick and the Presdeint, Tim Farron, and get this decision overturned. Alternatively how about we get a motion ready for conference condemning Chris Fox and Cowley Street (or whatever they call themselves now) for this disgraceful decision.

    We want our party to practice what it preaches and we want it to do that now not in a years time. Find the money. Mka it happy. Its what you get paid to do.

  • Steve Hitchens 2nd Jun '11 - 9:32pm

    Mr Fox,

    I would ask you to reconsider this decision. I’m sure money is tight (when isn’t it?) but its important we dont opne ourselves to charges of saying one thing and doing anohter. We’ve had enough of that lately! I really don’t see why you are so keen to give our opponents ammunition to use against us. Lib Dem activists work hard and its annoying when I see those at the centre scoring open goals like this.

    Its also deeply wrong. Only the rich can afford to spend 3 months working for free and living in London.
    I am minded to agree with David that this is something that would need to be brought up at conference if changes are not made now. Maybe Liberal Youth can put a motion together???

  • So let’s imagine the planning meeting at Party HQ…..

    Get the leader to tell the world how limiting unpaid internships are on those from a poorer background. While we’re at it let’s get him to point how how wrong it is for the privileged to use their influence to get family members internships…..

    All good stuff, broadly supported from inside and outside the party.

    However, let’s not bother to plan properly for the shouts of hypocrisy when he has to admit he benefited from such influence (and hardly came from a background where an unpaid internship couldn’t be supported). And as a finale, we’ll offer a bunch of internships behind blind CV’s that mean we won’t be able to see which young people we choose (they’re still limited of course by whether they can afford to live and work for free in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but hey no one will pick up on that will they??).

    What a professional outfit, stunning PR skills. Frankly sack everyone working at HQ and pay the interns to run the show they might have a more joined up approach….

    I’m not his biggest fan but Clegg was right to highlight these issues and was not at all hypocritical, after all he would effectively be making it harder to help his own children out in the future. But he now looks like a hypocrite and will be hammered in the Commons because no one thought to think ahead about what would happen come the end of the university term.

    Chalk this up for another PR defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

  • “At a recent meeting of all party staff, the majority of people said they had begun their career as an intern.”

    Define intern. DId I start my party career as an intern on various by-election campaigns or as a volunteer helper who just walked through the door?

    We are an organisation where the vast majority of our work is done by volunteers and that isn’t going to change at any point in the near future. If you pay interns then they are staff not volunteers.

  • How on earth does making the process blind help? That’s the sort of self justifying nonsense you hear from private schools who know full well that it’s just a sop – the same self selecting people will be the only ones able to apply, helped by parents money. The genie is out of the bottle on this one – the party should surely be taking the lead and then pressurising the others to follow – not wriggling to maintain the status quo.

  • Simon McGrath 3rd Jun '11 - 6:55am

    So for internships we are selecting on a school blind basis

    But for University entrance we want the exact opposite. Why not allow Oxbrdige to select purely on a school blind basis as well?

  • If you can’t pay interns – how about trying to find a way at least to get them cheap/free accommodation in London?

  • David, Twickenham 3rd Jun '11 - 10:20am

    Always wary of following Labour’s example, but they moved most Party functions to the North East. Maybe we could do likewise – to another deserving region, perhaps.

    that would sort out the wannabees from the committed.

  • What a load of nonsense. If I can’t afford to be an intern (which I can’t) I can’t afford to be an intern. Hywel rightly asks when does a volunteer become an intern? Many activists would say that helping the party costs them money.

    Are interns the big issue worrying the public ? no! it just made Nick Clegg look a pratt and these adverts have made that worse. Interns ought to be repackaged as the big society in action. What about work experience ?

    I would like to deny that internships have for a long time hindered social mobility. Where is the evidence ?
    Poor parenting hinders social mobility, poverty hinder social mobility, the poverty trap hinders social mobility,
    extremes of wealth hinder social mobility, inherited wealth hinders social mobility, but internships? does it really make the top 10 ?

    where are the figures on the number of interns ???

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Jun '11 - 1:53pm


    Are interns the big issue worrying the public ? no! it just made Nick Clegg look a pratt and these adverts have made that worse. Interns ought to be repackaged as the big society in action. What about work experience ?

    Interns may not be worrying the public as a direct issue, but the public clearly are worried by feeling that MPs are some alien class of people who do not understand what life for an average person is like. If a contributing factor to this is that a period of time as an intern greatly helps push one forward into eventually becoming an MP, and interns are drawn from a very narrow and unrepresentative band of people, then it is an issue the public are worrying about, indirectly.

    The line here is similar to that which was used in the referendum on AV, and is and will be used against us on other issues of constitutional reform. We are derided for going on about these things, and told that the public are not interested in them, and indeed the public can be whipped up against us using this line “look, these Liberal Democrats just go on about obscure issue in which you have no interest”. However, the knock-on effect o these issues is something in which the public have a great deal of interest. We have to show the public why that is and make that link. We have to show how what might seem an obscure issue actually has a big knock-on effect. So, for example, we need to show how much our current electoral system leads to politicians seeming so out of touch and people so frustrated because they seem to have so little influence over them.

    The staggering incompetence of the “Yes” campaign is shown by their failure to make this link. Sure, they used lines like AV “making your MP work harder” and the like, but in failing to explain how AV would do this, those lines did not work, they just sounded like the usual platitudes which politicians utter when they are trying to get your vote. The incompetence of the “Yes” campaign comes from the fact it was run by PR-people and ad-men, whose job it is to sell products, sometimes by trickery. Real political campaigning should be about educating people, not just selling things to them, so it is somewhat different.

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