It sounds strange to most people, but there are people out there who are seriously into their politics. I count myself as one of them. I cannot fail to be intrigued by the gladiatorial battles of the British political system. From the latest parliamentary skirmishes over the dispatch box to the clashes in the committee rooms over the fine points of legislation, I am hooked.
This obsession was cemented through studying politics at A-level. It started with the British political system and, I am not ashamed to say, it was fascinating. I went out and purchased tome after tome on all things political and devoured anything I could get my hands on about my new fixation.
Earning a degree in the subject was the next logical step. Debates with people who shared my passion were never dull and researching for presentations and papers was academic bliss. I was eventually able to specialise in British politics and spend hours trawling through journals writing my dissertation. A career in politics writing speeches and helping to formulate policy was all I was interested in. I was confident that my hard work and enthusiasm would secure me my dream job. How wrong I was.
Like the majority of my peers, I have had to fund my own way through the education system. It was either work and save for university or not go. There simply was not the option of gaining valuable work experience by giving my time away for free. If I was not studying I was working. I thought, why shouldn't real world experience and hard work be enough to land that caseworker or researcher job?
Most MPs advertise for jobs through a website called W4MP. They usually have a number of criteria that a candidate must satisfy in addition to 'desirable' attributes that, allegedly, are not essential. I confidently applied for junior caseworker and researcher positions believing my qualifications, experience and dedication would make me a desirable candidate for one of these roles. This illusion was swiftly shattered as one rejection email followed another, that is if they even bothered to notify me that I had not made the cut. My confidence was shaken but I persevered. Yet still the rejections kept coming. One word in particular stood out in all this correspondence from parliamentarians: experience, or rather my lack of it.
I eventually secured an interview with an MP on the eve of accepting a private sector job. I was one of the final two candidates and then the 'e' word reared its head again. A year later I now have twelve months experience in the private sector that matches perfectly with every part of the job descriptions posted by MPs, except for one thing; previous parliamentary experience. Unbelievably, I still find myself trapped in that classic 'catch 22' situation and I know I am far from the only one. Across the entire political spectrum young politically minded people like myself are punished for not being able to fund an unpaid parliamentary internship.
The solution is surprisingly clear and simple. Either interns are paid a fair wage for the hard and dedicated work they enthusiastically provide, or previous experience cannot be expected of fresh-faced young graduates. Young people like myself are priced out of parliament by an expectation that we should be required to give ourselves up for nothing for at least half a year. Those of us from more modest backgrounds, without the ability to fund an extended period of unpaid work, find ourselves locked out of what is fast becoming a bastion of the privileged and out of touch political elite. It is therefore unbelievable that IPSA, the body responsible for the remuneration of MPs, would suggest paying MPs more whilst continuing to recommend what is effectively slave labour, through the promotion of unpaid internships. That's why I've started a petition on Change.org calling for IPSA to make sure interns get paid.
Opening up paid internships, or graduate schemes, to those who cannot afford to work for free would not only benefit those of us who want to work there. It would also serve to increase the diversity of the mother of all parliaments, reflecting the image of modern day Britain, and further improve the representation of the British public. With political engagement and participation at already miserably low levels, particularly amongst my own generation, we should do everything possible to try and re-engage the population. The answers are clear, the advantages obvious. So, if you are listening Sir Ian and Speaker Bercow, why not do the right and logical thing; pay the interns.