Westminster embarks on a new approach to Parliamentary interns

 

One is a 25-year-old who escaped to Britain as a refugee from Liberia at 17 after being caught up in his country’s civil war.

Another left school after GCSEs to work as joiner in Lanarkshire before being made redundant nine months ago. Two others are in their 50s and saw the advert in their local job centres.

This week they all embarked on new careers as Parliamentary interns - part of the first serious attempt by the Westminster establishment to increase the diversity of people entering public life.

For the next nine months each of the ten new interns will work for MPs ranging from Ed Miliband to Hazel Blears on the Labour side to Conservative MPs, Ester McVey and Amber Rudd.

They will help with MPs postbags, carry out research, write speeches and even help with constituent’s problems

But unlike the hundreds of other interns who populate Westminster each year this group will be different.

For a start they will be paid (£15,000 a year) and have been chosen not for their qualifications but their interest in politics and the fact that without the scheme they would never get onto even first base of the slippery pole.

They have been put up in social housing – so they can afford to live in London and at the end of the scheme will be given help and advise on how to capitalise on the experience either in politics or elsewhere.

So far it has all been a slightly unreal experience. Last Wednesday they sat in the House of Commons chamber to listen to the former Ms Blears name check them at Prime Ministers Questions. They even got of promise from David Cameron to try and meet them in Downing Street.

Then they went off to have to tea with the Speaker John Bercow in his official apartment.

Two of them took great delight in spotting the veteran Labour firebrand Dennis Skinner doing a Sodoku puzzle on the Commons terrace.

During their time in Westminster they will meet ministers, work in Government departments and get to see the innermost working of the Parliamentary system. They will all have photo passes which allow them freedom to roam where most members of the public would never normally go.

Not all may end up going into politics – but the plan is to give them the chance if they want to.

The Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme   was launched last year by Ms Blears – who carried out research that found that while in 1970 only three per cent of MPs had had previous experience working in Parliament by the last election that had risen by 24 per cent.

She raised over £400,000 from private companies to fund the scheme and then helped interview not just the applicants – but also the MPs who wanted to take part in the scheme.

Abdul Turay, who fled Liberia when he was 16, with no formal education having been caught up in the country’s war said he was particularly struck while have lunch to see Mr Cameron walk past just a few yards away.

“In my country the Prime Minister would go no-where without a truck of military people with gun,” he said.

“I have seen what politics is like when things get bad. That was part of the reason why I applied to take part.”

Most were amazed by the reaction of family and friends when they told them they had been accepted into the scheme.

“It’s just not something that people where I come from would think about doing. It’s not sort of ‘that’s not for people like us’,” said James Wallace who spent nine months on the dole after being made redundant at the age of 22 having worked since school as a joiner.

“When I went to the job centre they tried to put me into jobs that paid the minimum wage and weren’t ever going to go anywhere. There weren’t any opportunities – and then I saw this.

“I thought it’s no good complaining about the Government and politics…why not try and take the opportunity and make a difference.”

Alan Kean, 54, was brought up in a mining village and left school at 15 with no qualifications.

He said that after 39 years of doing jobs rather than having a career – he jumped at the chance.

“Normally someone like me would never be considered to work in Parliament. I’d be too old, without connections, and the resources to work for nothing. That’s why this is so remarkable – I never thought I’d get the chance.

Ms Blears, the daughter of a maintenance fitter, was the first member of her family to go to university before entering Parliament in 1997, she was not sure the path was as open today.

“When I got here I became increasingly aware that many of the people around me had gone to the same universities, worked in Parliament for an MP or as a Special Adviser or had been fast tracked through the system.

“They may have been good at their jobs – but it’s not really representative democracy – and that’s what we’re trying to change.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk