Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Nick Clegg is a hypocrite

Today newspapers up and down the country are labelling Nick Clegg a hypocrite. This is because his new campaign to improve social mobility (a concept where people rise and fall on their own merit rather than anything else) is attacking unpaid internships and nepotism. Only it turns out that Clegg himself got his first job through his father pulling strings! And that's not all. He also went to an exclusive private school and did his degree at Cambridge! This shows that, when he criticises the system that enables people like him to get an unfair advantage, he's actually being a hypocrite of the worst kind.

Er, no actually.

As you may know, I'm not Nick Clegg's biggest fan. However, on this case he's actually doing the decent thing for once. At the moment MPs from all the major political parties rely on unpaid interns to run their offices. The only way for most people to get a foot in the financial sector is by doing an unpaid internship. And of course, these internships are mainly in London. And since the employers only cover basic travel expenses (and lunch if the intern is lucky) then the only people who can afford to do them are middle class young people living in London.

So when someone like Nick Clegg - having seen the benefits of nepotism and 'who you know rather than what you know' - decides to try and put a stop to it then he should be applauded. Who better to stop it than someone who's experienced this unfair advantages first hand?

Let me tell you a little secret. I'm middle class. And I went to a private school in Hampshire. And I'm at a very good university. And I've never worked a day in my life.

Sure, my father might have been from a working class background, and I may have only been able to attend that private school in Hampshire because I was a foundationer and I may well have got into university on my own merits. But none of that changes the fact that I have been very privileged growing up. I've had opportunities that most people my age never will. And I've seen first hand how my friends got ahead through relatives pulling strings. For example, one of my course mates got a placement at McLaren simply because her father knew someone at the company. Sure, she had to demonstrate skill and pass an interview to get the job, but for most people there would never have been the chance of the interview. And, as a result of string pulling and a bit of hard work on her part, she now has a guaranteed job waiting for her when she leaves university.

So does this mean that I can't want to see a fairer society? Does this mean that I'm forbidden from wanting things like top quality schools for everyone, or from wanting a living wage? Of course it bloody doesn't.

Most people don't see that networking and nepotism that goes on. I've seen a bit of it and Nick Clegg's seen a lot of it. His desire to try and remedy the situation is a well overdue step in the right direction and I applaud him for it. I just wish he'd shown the same determination when it came to tuition fees.

So why is it that so many people seem to think it makes him a hypocrite? Well, in reality, they don't. They're just using it as an easy thing to attack him with. Labour and the left wing press are using it for political point scoring and the right wing press are using it to try and scupper measures to improve social mobility.

And who are the real hypocrites here? People like Clegg who benefit from the system and want to make it fairer? Or is it really the people who also went to Oxbridge, who also got where they are because of who they know, who get paid thousands of pounds to write pontificating articles about how the government should do more than the poor, who lead the Labour party and quite happily talk about a living wage and a fairer society? Clegg benefited from privilege and is trying to change it. People like Ed Milliband benefited from privilege and talk about trying to change it but attack Clegg as soon as he tries to do it. They are the real hypocrites here, not Nick Clegg.

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