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'Working class' internship scheme begins in Westminster

09 November 11 14:26
Houses of Parliament
By Victoria King
Political reporter, BBC News

A grandfather from a Midlands pit village and a former refugee from Liberia are among those chosen for a new Westminster internship scheme.

The Speaker's Parliamentary Placements initiative is designed to open up access to politics to people from poorer or disadvantaged backgrounds.

The interns will spend a year working for an MP and will receive a salary.

Members of all three main parties, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, are taking part.

Earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he wanted to ban unpaid, unofficial internships in Westminster.

Critics say they are unfair to those who cannot afford to work for free or who do not have the personal connections to access them.

New career

More than 250 people applied to take part in the Speaker's Parliamentary Placements scheme and the chosen 10 will begin their work next week.

They come from across the country, including Stoke, Glasgow, Salford, Liverpool and London, and are varied in age and background. Several have young children.

One intern, Alan Kean, is a grandfather from the Midlands, who left school without any qualifications. He has held a range of manual and administrative jobs, as well as working as a trade unionist.

"At 54, I have decided to pursue a career rather than having a series of jobs," he said.

"My participation in this scheme will hopefully provide the skills to pursue a career in the political field and inspire other people from a similar background to apply in the future."

Another of those taking part is Abdul Turay, who grew up in war-torn Liberia and came to the UK aged 17.

He has since completed a Masters Degree in Conflict, Security and Development at the University of Bradford.

"Being involved in politics would be an opportunity to be able to speak and represent the voiceless and most vulnerable people in our society," he said.

"It is way to make a different no matter how big or small."

Labour MP Hazel Blears, who set up the scheme, said she wanted it to recruit people from traditional working class backgrounds.

Private backing

"One third of applicants came through the JobCentre, which is great because it shows we're reaching ordinary people, " she told the BBC News website.

"It's amazing, the courage they're showing. This is such a huge thing - coming to London, deciding to change their lives.

"We'll be trying get each of them a big project to work on during their time and hopefully they'll get to see some real progress on it.

"One of the girls is really passionate about diverting kids away from drugs and crime so we'll be looking to get her involved with work on family intervention."

The interns will be paid a pro-rata salary £17,500. That money has come in part from private sector partners, including supermarket Morrisons, law firm Clifford Chance, and insurance companies Axa and Aviva.

Among the MPs taking part are Mr Miliband, Simon Danczuk and Siobhan McDonagh for Labour, Jo Swinson and Mike Crockart for the Lib Dems, and Helen Grant, Esther McVey and Amber Rudd for the Conservatives.

Gus Baker, from campaign group Intern Aware, said: "Unpaid Parliamentary internships mean that the tiny minority who can afford to work for free in their 20s will be the MPs of tomorrow.

"Hazel Blears' scheme is an exciting first step to change this situation. However, there is still much more to do.

"The political parties must show that they are serious about ending the Westminster Old Boys' Club and must commit ending closed-door unpaid internships. If they continue to stall we risk a political class composed of the wealthy and well-connected."

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