THE BLOG

Time to Open Up Politics

07/08/2015 16:58 BST | Updated 07/08/2016 10:59 BST

Have you ever dreamed of working in politics but never had the chance? If so, this could be the opportunity you've been looking for.

As someone who didn't enter Parliament via a traditional route, I've always believed in the importance of opening up the Westminster world to those who wouldn't normally be able to find a way in.

We do better as a country when everyone has a fair crack of the whip and the chance to make the most of their potential. But we know that too often there are barriers that block too many people from getting a foot on the career ladder.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission shone an uncomfortable light on this recently with research showing that the hopes of many talented people aspiring to work in some of Britain's top jobs are being thwarted.

Just as that's true for those hoping to carve out a career in the media, the judiciary, legal professions or the creative industries, it can also be true in politics.

More women and ethnic minority MPs were elected at the 2015 General Election than ever before, but the House of Commons is still a long way from looking, feeling and sounding like the country it is there to represent.

That not only applies to parliamentarians - it often applies to the opportunities to work in politics behind the scenes too.

Traditionally, if you wanted a chance to work in Parliament then the best you could hope for was some work experience with an MP lasting only a few weeks. Anyone hoping for a longer internship would have to work unpaid or rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad.

That immediately rules out huge swathes of people who just didn't have that kind of money or couldn't afford to stay in London. And our political culture is poorer as a result.

Any organisation that draws repeatedly from the same pool of people risks creating a stagnant culture. We need people with different life experiences, who can help ensure that those working in politics reflect the wider electorate - bringing with them different insights and fresh perspectives.

I refuse to believe that good ideas can only come from people who've studied at a handful of universities. Or that the creativity, drive and commitment we need is only taught in certain schools or instilled by working in politics alone. I don't want to devalue those experiences, just widen the paths of opportunity and draw on the rich pool of untapped talent.

That is why I'm proud to be championing the Speaker's Parliamentary Scheme.

The Scheme provides 9-month paid internships for ten recruits in MPs' parliamentary offices in Westminster. It is aimed at people who are interested in politics but wouldn't usually be able to access such an opportunity.

Delivered in partnership with the Creative Society, the Scheme allows successful candidates to work with MPs from across the House from Monday to Thursday. They spend their Fridays rotating through departments in the Commons, gaining an insight into how legislation is passed and how Parliament functions.

Originally championed by Hazel Blears, Eric Ollerenshaw and Jo Swinson, the Scheme has already helped spark a notable culture change in Parliament. It has helped banish the culture of unpaid internships and brought many people into political jobs that previously could never get a foot in the door. The most recent cohort included a single parent, a part-time carer and someone who was previously working in a call centre.

People who've taken part in the Speakers' Placement Scheme consistently describe the experience as 'life changing'.

As a proud supporter of the Scheme over recent years, I've been privileged to see the fantastic contribution that its graduates have made. Many now have permanent jobs with MPs. Others are working within Parliament itself.

In the words of one graduate: "The scheme gave me confidence in myself and my abilities. I realised I had a right to be there working in Parliament and that my views mattered and I could make a difference."

Do you think that could be you? Then now is your chance to apply.

I'm sure this year's cohort will go on to do great things. I hope when they reach the later stages of their working life, they can look around them and see a political world that isn't so different from the real one we all live in.

You can apply to take part in this year's Speakers' Parliamentary Placement Scheme until 12 midday on Friday 21 August. Successful applicants will start their role in October 2015. Find out more and apply here.

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central