Left in knots over labour hypocrisy

This week Political Scrapbook was once again caught red-handed advertising for unpaid interns. And it's not alone on the Left

Please Sir, I want some more
Alex Wickham, UK Politics Editor
On 4 January 2013 11:32

Take a wrong turn down a seedy side street in deepest, darkest Holborn one winter’s evening, slip past the pickpockets, vagrants, and ladies of the night, and you may have the misfortune of stumbling upon the oft-deserted offices of Political Scrapbook.

Just a stone’s throw from the Charles Dickens Museum, the modern day Mr. Bumble that edits Britain’s increasingly lethargic ‘number two’ left-wing blog ostensibly sits with his feet up as a team of desperate youngsters slave away on the lookout for tips-offs, or more likely the latest phone call from Labour HQ.

Joking aside, Scrapbook’s bleak house epitomises a worrying problem in contemporary left-wing politics. Their union overlords might decry it, the TUC might denounce it, but the hypocritical exploitation of unpaid interns that flies in the face of their mantra of social justice is denying a generation of young up-and-comers the chance to shine.

This week Scrapbook was once again caught red-handed advertising for unpaid interns. Its hypocrisy knows no bounds. In attempting to deflect from the controversy, Scrapbook and its friends on the left attempted to lob accusations against right-wing organisations for doing the very same. But there’s a difference: organisations they named never pretended to campaign for ‘fairer pay’ or a national minimum wage. In fact, even outlets like The Commentator, which is opposed to a minimum wage on a free-market basis, has paid its interns more than Scrapbook promised.

And it isn’t just Political Scrapbook – the ‘big boys’ are at it too.

Over Christmas, the ‘progressive’ New Statesman was revealed to have auctioned off internships for £1,250 a pop at a charity ball, with approximately one third of their staff working unpaid at any one time. Staggers owner Mike Danson is worth around £310 million, yet he refuses to pay his interns. What a paragon of left-wing equality of opportunity virtue he is.

Then we have Left Foot Forward, the ‘progressive’ blog that is, at this very moment, advertising for a £22,000-a-year assistant editor alongside, that’s right, an unpaid volunteer.

This goes right to the top. Last year £20 million-a-year Tony Blair was forced to fork out for his interns after being threatened with an HMRC investigation, while Labour MPs such as Chuka Umunna have had to quietly come round.

Let’s clarify again though, these aren’t beleaguered or fledgling charities – they are business operations, or in Blair’s case, the private office of a millionaire politician.

There is also the intriguing question of Labour HQ itself. I have asked the Party’s press team time and time again this week and over the last few months whether or not they use unpaid interns. It remains an allegation they refuse to deny.

Intern Aware, led by Gus Baker and Ben Lyons, campaigns for companies to pay their interns. While the free-marketeer in me does not see the answer in legislation (the state has no right to interfere) that does not mean pressure should not be placed upon those who refuse to give their young staff a wage. These are not charities or small educational organisations that offer genuine volunteer work or may not be able to pay; they are money-hemorrhaging political vanity projects taking advantage of the young and desperate.

Unpaid internships may well hold back those who might not enjoy the privilege of their peers, those with ambition and potential, those who want to get on.

At a time when left-wingers are endlessly carping on about the minimum wage, London living wage, and intern exploitation, outlets like Political Scrapbook, the New Statesman, and Left Foot Forward should think twice before waxing lyrical over morality.

They should not be allowed to get away with it – paying their interns would be the first step in acknowledging their hypocrisy and making amends.

Alex Wickham is The Commentator's UK Political Editor and a reporter at the Guido Fawkes website. He tweets at @WikiGuido

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