We suggested on Monday that Nick Clegg could be a teeny bit hypocritical for laying into “sharp-elbowed” and “well-connected” youngsters who used family and friends to get ahead in their chosen professional field.
Not only had Clegg himself done precisely this (his neighbour Lord Carrington got him a job with Leon Brittan) but his own record vis-a-vis Lib Dem internships has also been patchy. Only “from today” would they always be remunerated (meaning expenses, not a salary), he declared.
Now it emerges – via a Times story (page 16) – that there is a fresh hypocrisy angle to the issue. That is, the government axed a scheme to provide paid internships last week, only five days before the Clegg announcement. The Graduate Internship Scheme had begun in February 2010, creating 8,060 paid internships in seven priority sectors through paying the Higher Education Funding Council.
Presumably it was closed for deficit reduction reasons but the timing is very poor.
Clegg is in some ways an admirable politician, taking endless stick for taking the responsible choice; that is, entering coalition with the party which got the most votes last summer. (This Steve Richards article in the Independent is worth a read). It does seem unfair that he should be permanently associated with tuition fees when other Tory cabinet ministers are virtually unscathed by that policy. (He puts forward his side of the story in this New Statesman interview with Jemima Khan).
But this is not the first time that I’ve noticed a whiff of hypocrisy about the deputy prime minister. The other was last summer, when he promised to crack down on “tax cheats” - who he classified as those which either avoided or evaded taxes. This was just days after the government had hired Sir Philip Green to be an adviser on waste; the irony was palpable given that Sir Philip’s company, Arcadia, is registered as owned by his wife Tina, who is resident in the tax haven of Monaco.
UPDATE: For purposes of transparency I should say that I often have young people on short work experience stints and don’t pay them (although I have been known to buy lunches). The difference is that I don’t make speeches slamming “unpaid internships”.