Like many of our generation, I have taken the route of an internship with a Member of Parliament. There are some interesting responsibilities, press releases, case work etc. Then there are the usual pitfalls; the lack of direction in the office mainly. One of the key problems for interns is that those directly responsible for them often forget that the principle reason for you being there is to increase your skills. Often the lines are blurred between Bob, the unpaid intern who is here for the benefit of his career, learning essential skills for public affairs, and Bob, the office lackey who is here (almost literally) to sweep up after us. To a negligent supervisor, recently graduated university students often do seem to be there to do unpaid grunt work. When you’re on the receiving end of it, it is practically sickening.
It can leave you with a feeling of intense resentment towards the world of public affairs and media, which thrives on this practise and often ostracises outsiders.
Whilst undertaking this internship I have been reading The Triumph of the Political Class by Peter Oborne. I don’t think I could have picked a worse book to cement these feelings of bitterness.
“As they professionalized and grew more homogenous the Political and Media Classes began to restrict membership to the middle classes, and increasingly to each other’s sons and daughters. This was in large part because of the special pay structure of the Media/Political Class. Though stars in both arenas were capable of making very large sums of money indeed, new graduates are impoverished. A young researcher reporting to an MP, or a television producer starting out, are both extremely poorly paid. They are, however, expected to work in Central London, which is prohibitively expensive and only possible with subsidy from well heeled parents”
The whole of the public affairs and media domain is made possible by backhanders, press leaks, favourable stories and a slimy mutability between actors serving themselves and their friends. Even my university’s careers page recommends the practise of ‘networking’ in order to progress in this arena. The story goes that Peter Mandelson got his big break in the world of politics by offering a cup of tea to a senior Labour figure who missed his train. Upon the Minister seeing Mandelsons’ poster of him on his bedroom wall, the young prince of darkness’s fate was sealed. Am I expected to hang around London with a hot coffee in my hand, waiting for a stray Milliband needing some refreshment to pluck me out of my provincial nightmare?
The underlying request amongst most users of interns anonymous is that these internships should be regulated with a statutory minimum pay. This might seem like the reasonable thing to do when so many of us are suffering at the hands of that amorphous tentacled monster in London. However, as media and public affairs have been professionalized, certain principles have slipped. Our constitution is gradually eroding and our reporting remains as unreliable as it was during the yellow press period of Hearst’s America. The prospect of increasing the regulatory powers of the state sector and paying interns in the media will only entrench these problems or create further negative consequences.
I think one of the key problems of this intern generation is that we’re seeking for these organisations, companies and governments to pluck us out of our situation and place us at the peak of their power. For some reason we expect the process of pouring coffee and sending emails for buffoons to be beneficial for us and for that to lead to greatness. Of course it’s possible that this minion service we are subjecting ourselves to can be rewarded. However, there is something distinctly unhealthy about requiring umbrella groups to reward us in this way. In order to match the loyalty of this familial cabal set for promotion within London’s inner circle, we lose the ability to produce anything of value ourselves. How many people of our generation can actually say they have created something with their bare hands? I think the idea of being self-reliant and creating something with integrity is lost on most of us. I think before we complain about the meagre existence of internships, we need to reflect on what way each of us has attempted to create our own opportunities, our own products or our own campaigns.