The pros and cons of a US internship

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The Independent Online

The post-graduation plans of the Prime Minister's eldest son were likely to attract attention, almost whatever course he chose. But the news that he is to become an intern in the US Congress, first with a Republican committee of the House of Representatives, then on the Democrats' side, has already become a talking point.

The post-graduation plans of the Prime Minister's eldest son were likely to attract attention, almost whatever course he chose. But the news that he is to become an intern in the US Congress, first with a Republican committee of the House of Representatives, then on the Democrats' side, has already become a talking point.

Internships in any major branch of the Washington power structure are highly sought after. The brilliance of a CV is rarely the sole, or even main, qualification: who you know is at least as significant. In Euan Blair's case, it is reported that both formal and informal channels were used, including the British embassy.

It would be easy to cry "nepotism" under such circumstances and denounce the privileged path that the Prime Minister's position has clearly helped to open up for his son. And there is an undoubted contradiction between the principles the Labour Party espouses, even in its New Labour clothes, and the privilege that has come Euan Blair's way. Equality of opportunity this is not.

At the same time, however, contacts and networking are facts of modern life. And there are few parents who do not try to do the best by their children. The Blairs, like many parents - Labour MPs among them - exercised their right of choice over schools for their children. It would be demanding a great deal to expect them not to assist their son with his career plans.

Charges of privilege apart, however, there are two different points to be made. The first is that Euan's internship, like many such spells of work experience on both sides of the Atlantic, will be unpaid. Without inquiring too closely where the money will come from, we would note the drawbacks of this system, which is becoming more prevalent here. Unpaid internships all too often restrict entry to those who not only know the right people, but can afford not to be paid. This tends to favour those who are already advantaged and, unless carefully monitored, restricts opportunities for those outside this charmed circle.

The second is the choice of destination. Euan, of course, is an adult and should be completely free to decide what he wants to do next and where he wants to do it. It will be liberating for him to leave Britain for a while, and the curiosity of our media, and he is to be congratulated for seeking a new experience.

At the same time, we cannot help feeling that it is a pity that he, like many in the Prime Minister's circle, will enter the world of work more familiar with American ways than those of our European neighbours. Those who aspire to leadership in this country - whether in politics, business or the professions - would surely benefit from first-hand experience of both.

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