The FT recently wrote in a profile of the deputy prime minister, describing him as the son of a City banker, raised in the “prosperous rolling hills” of the Chilterns and expensively educated. As it noted:
At Cambridge University he joined the Conservative association and his early career was tracked by Lord Carrington, a former Tory foreign secretary (and next-door neighbour) who recommended him for a job in Brussels with another Tory grandee, Leon Brittan, the EU trade commissioner.
Now, however, Clegg wants to pull up the drawbridge. Today he will say that interships have been the preserve of the “sharp-elbowed and well connected”:
“A country that is socially mobile bases opportunity on your ability and drive, not on who your father’s friends are”.
Clegg may argue that he has seen the system from within and is therefore well-placed to suggest that it is rotten. Yet he has not found any kind of magic bullet.
Instead the coalition’s new report on the subject is not only a direct repeat of Alan Milburn’s social mobility report in the last Parliament; it has also failed to prescribe any radical solutions to the issue – other than urging people to give internships to a broader spectrum of youngsters. As Milburn told the FT: “The easy thing to do is write strategies and white papers – the hardest thing to do is get change.”
UPDATE: Guido points out that the Lib Dems are offering unpaid internships, despite Clegg’s determination to end the practice. (Yesterday one coalition aide was briefing that HMRC could be sent into companies to investigate this kind of activity.)
I’ve just spoken to the Lib Dem press office in Cowley Street who say that they do pay expenses (meals and travel) for their rolling internship. They also hope to set up a bursary scheme but they are still seeking funding for it; it won’t happen in 2011.
Separately Clegg has been forced to slap down Oliver Letwin, his Tory cabinet colleague, for remarks – published at the weekend – about not wanting “people from Sheffield able to afford cheap holidays.”
Letwin (pictured) had made the remarks to Boris Johnson while arguing against the building of more airports. Now Clegg has warned Letwin he will face a hostile reception from the people of Sheffield over the remarks.
The Deputy Prime Minister, who is MP for Sheffield Hallam, told Sky News today: “I suggest to him that he probably wants to tread with care when he comes to visit a city that I love…He has now, I think, overnight become the most controversial politician in Sheffield.”
This last point, unfortunately for Clegg, may be wishful thinking.
I’ve just emerged from Clegg’s appearance at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons. Two key moments:
a] The Lib Dem leader said that “from today” his party would ensure appropriate remuneration (still expenses, not pay) for internships. Aides say there was previously a scattergun approach. Why is this only happening now?
b] Clegg was asked about the Evening Standard’s splash about how his father engineered his original work experience with a Finnish bank. He replied that yes, as a teenager, he did receive this opportunity: “As did a number of people around this House.”