A plea to journalists: don’t troll your interns

What is it with journalists having a go at interns lately? Brendan O’Neill did it in August for The Spectator, with an imbecilic ‘Why interns don’t deserve pay’ piece, and Ed Cumming has told interns in The Telegraph today that they “should stop complaining and work for free”.

Cumming, who studied English at Clare College, Cambridge, writes of aspiring student journalists: “There are no lengths to which I will not go to keep those prodigious little Oxbridge s**** off my turf”.

He also wrote for Varsity, a Cambridge student newspaper, but is nonetheless derogatory about interns “who drone on all week about their fine work for the satirical university paper”.

So it seems there is more than a little self-loathing going on here. It’s clear that Cumming, along with O’Neill, are trolling. But it takes some chutzpah to slam precisely the sort of intern that Cumming, by his own confession, was just a few years ago.

Once an intern is performing tasks that a paid staffer would otherwise have to do then he or she deserves to be paid. It is that simple, both morally and legally.

It’s difficult to find anything resembling a coherent argument for why interns should be grateful to work for free. Instead there are plenty of dubious assertions.

Take this. “I am always staggered by the number of interns who come to the Telegraph apparently with the expectation that at the end of the week they’ll be given a column with a fat salary and that will be that.”

That’s not true. Most newspaper interns, especially those who are new to the business, arrive with a shy and deferential attitude to their temporary colleagues. Big newsrooms are scary places and journalists, at first sight, are either fiercely intelligent or just plain fierce. Interns, few of whom are able to demand payment, do not demand columns.

If they do “go home at 4pm without suggesting an article”, then maybe that is because they lack initiative. As a serial intern myself I’ve met plenty of young people – typically the ones who have been set up on the internship by a close friend or relative – who don’t have the faintest clue.

In most cases however interns just don’t feel welcome in the office. That’s generally not the fault of journalists. They’re usually mad busy, especially as the peak intern season coincides with the summer break – when staff take their summer holidays leaving more work for the remaining staff to hoover up.

Of course the fact that there is more to do over the holiday season should represent an opportunity for interns to step in and prove themselves. But when aspiring journalists read the sort of derogatory drivel that Cumming posted today, they can be forgiven for hiding meekly in the corner.

“I will always employ my daughter”, says Nadine Dorries. That’s precisely the problem

When IPSA, the expenses watchdog, three years ago proposed banning relatives of MPs from salaried employment in their offices there was – despite strong public support – a backlash from MPs.

Concerns about workshy wives supposedly cashing in at taxpayer expense were overshadowed, at the time, by the tough new expenses regime that was introduced.

In dignified fashion the Guido Fawkes blog yesterday attempted to re-ignite outrage by ‘revealing’ the MPs slimy enough to “shag their secretaries”, a headline which mischievously over promoted the frankly less exciting content in the article. But the figures, reported in today’s papers, don’t lie. A rising parliamentary expenses bill has seen an increase in the number of MPs employing relatives in their office – from 145 to 155.

The issue is an easy one on which to fence-sit. Yes, there’s something of a prima facie dodginess about turning an office of state into a family fiefdom as well as topping up the family income with an overpaid administrative job. Would Mrs Bone, we must wonder, really receive up to £50,000 in the private sector for her efforts as Mr Bone’s office manager.

On the other hand who other than a spouse or close relation could manage an MP better, knowing not just the details of the MP’s diary, but his or her’s quirks and personal characteristics too?

It’s an argument Nadine Dorries, who robustly defended her daughter Jennifer being on the office payroll to the tune of £30 – 35,000, made.

“I have employed my daughter since I became an MP – and always will”, Dorries declared on twitter. That’s sweet, for sure, and there’s every reason to believe that Jennifer is indeed brilliant and hardworking.

But what if one day she, um, isn’t? Turns up to work late, takes an extra hour off for lunch, steals the office stationary – that sort of thing.

If Dorries would, at that stage, fire a non-familial staffer, shouldn’t she be prepared to do the same with precious Jennifer? Even if she never has to pull the trigger, there’s clearly something wrong with one employee being immune to the sort of sanctions that could potentially befall others in the office.

Questions must also be asked about how fair and open the recruitment process for secretarial and administrative jobs in MPs’ offices really is. Most advertisements for such work now come emblazoned with the proud statement ‘We are an equal opportunity employer’ – a good thing, of course. But if parliamentarians abide by strict employment rules protecting and promoting candidates from certain ethnic or social backgrounds, they shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against candidates of a different surname either.

What is Tony Blair up to?

The interventions by the former prime minister have been so persistent in the last 10 days – a column in The Times, then The Sunday Times, and an appearance on Radio 4 this morning – as to be conspicuous.

Why is Blair throwing himself about the ring like this? He’s healthy, wealthy and, by virtue of his absences more than his interventions, is turning into more of an ‘elder statesman’ figure rather than the divisive leader he left office as in 2007.

The answer, I think, is that Blair has intervened because of both calculation and conviction. He’s a sincere interventionist, locking him into a rich tradition of liberal internationalism. But he also knows that if he can help the interventionists win the argument about Syria – an argument that is being made in moralistic terms – then the decision to intervene in Iraq may be looked on more favourably in generations hence.

Iraq wasn’t presented as a liberal project at the time; it was a straightforward case of facing down a threat to national security, a threat, it later emerged, that never existed. But if the internationalist principle prevails over Syria, then Iraq might – Blair hopes – fit into a similar narrative when historians write up the period in years hence.