Last week was the National Union of Students Annual National Conference where, amongst a great many other things, I and my colleagues were held accountable by the people who last year elected us*. That accountability is important, the opportunity for those that you work for and represent to scrutinise you and make you answer for your actions. One of my manifesto commitments last year was to push politicians to end the blight of unpaid internships. Nick Clegg made a similar commitment - to eradicate unpaid internships from his party and to open access to internships across the board but he's has fundamentally failed to live up to that pledge.
We've seen warm words over and over again but no action at all on internships. Liberal Democrat MPs still regularly advertise unpaid positions (as, it should be noted, do Labour and Conservative MPs), the party recently admitted that their interns will not receive a salary and HMRC has yet to take decisive action against employers that exploit grey areas in Employment Law to hire unpaid interns. Let's be clear 'proper remuneration' as Mr Clegg promised, is not a travel card and a sandwich, it is at least the national living wage. Despite their protestations to the contrary this is another betrayal of Clegg's responsibility to young people, and NUS and the TUC believe, a breach of the law that requires at least a national minimum wage paid to all workers.
Employment law is a complex process, yet the Lib Dems appear to be fobbing off claims that these internships are illegal by stating that "there will be no contract to work set hours or undertake set tasks." So what will these interns actually be doing if they do not have set tasks? Making tea? What excellent experience and development for them! I'm sure that those 1 million young people not in training or employment, are at this moment scouring websites looking at the many wonderful opportunities to work set tasks at set hours, in the hope of earning not a penny. But we can rest assured, the Lib Dems say they are "planning to bring forward proposals" which would look into paying interns. No deadline on that yet.
Furthermore, not only is Nick Clegg abdicating his responsibility to young people but he's refusing to be held accountable to students. He didn't reply to an invitation to our national conference, which was next to his constituency in Sheffield, until the conference had started. Unsurprisingly he declined. Of course, he would have had at best a sceptical reception considering his last address to us was to implore us to vote for him as his was the only party looking out for young people but that was no excuse for him to hide behind his Diary Secretary.
This lack of accountability isn't unique to Mr Clegg, his coalition partners are equally guilty. Our Come Clean campaign, which is calling on the government to come clean on the reforms to higher education highlights just one example of the government's lack of willingness to be held to account on just about everything.
We're not asking for much. Simply the parliamentary scrutiny huge changes to our education system deserve. They are, after all, likely to be as significant as the dissembling of the NHS that brought the government to a standstill whilst the Coalition forced it through but we won't know without proper parliamentary scrutiny. After all Cameron was clear in his pledge before the election to give parliamentary legislation more scrutiny in the house. The NHS reforms passed, and they shouldn't have, but at least the public knows what they mean and will hold those that voted for them at the next election.
Elected officials cannot escape being held accountable forever and I would be surprised if, given his recent record, Mr Clegg's party think that the voters of Sheffield Hallam will give him another chance come the next election.
*in case you wondered I was happily re-elected!
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