When I was first elected I hadn't reckoned on becoming an employer too, of a small team of staff and the occasional slave labour (aka interns). I started off with very good intentions. I wanted to take on bright kids from poorer backgrounds who had made it to uni against the odds; who hadn't been to private school or Oxbridge or had family connections in the media or politics; who didn't have anyone to pull strings for them. People who just needed someone to give them a break.
But actually, it didn't turn out to be that easy. If such people were out there, I found it hard to find them. I ended up taking on a succession of interns who had been to public school, or were from Surrey, or were called Toby, or played classical instruments... (revealing my prejudices here, I know). Who were, by and large, very good.
So where were the kind of kids I was looking for? Partly it goes back to the issue we were discussing before; such kids are far less likely to go to university, and so there simply aren't as many of them around. And even if they do pretty well academically, once they get out into the 'real world' their horizons are limited by a whole range of factors: who they know; what their family expects; what they see as achievable ambitions. And sometimes by a desire not to become the type of person they met at uni (ref. 'Common People' and 'Misshapes' and other works of genius by Jarvis Cocker).
So how do we get round this? One of the obstacles in their way is that these days it's almost not enough to have a degree. Most of the applicants who send CVs my way now have Masters degrees. They've done gap years, travelling the world and working in orphanages in Africa and on environmental projects in Central America. They've had 'interesting' summer jobs, in the media or in politics or at NGOs. (A definite plus sign in my book is having worked at a restaurant called something like 'the Golden Egg' or in the kitchen at Littlewoods or in a packing-factory, all of which I did as a teenager. And by the way, working as an unpaid researcher for George Osborne or campaigning for the Tory candidate in the Crewe & Nantwich by-election... call me fussy, but that's a definite no. True stories, those.)
And then of course, there's the issue of money. I know most students leave university with debts these days, but it's amazing how many can scrape together the funds to work as unpaid interns for 6 months, adding valuable experience to their CV. Of course it helps if they can still live at home, and have parents who are willing to support them. But what about those who can't do this? The Government - by which I mean David Lammy at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and Liam Byrne at the Cabinet Office with his Social Mobility White Paper, and Alan Milburn who has been charged with looking at fair access to the professions - are looking at ways to support young people break through this glass ceiling. And it's not enough simply to make these opportunities available - we need actively to seek out young people who might benefit, but who would never think of applying.
I think we in Parliament should set an example, with our own internship scheme and bursaries. How about adding 10p onto the price of every pint of beer or glass of wine sold in the Strangers and all the other Palace of Westminster bars, to pay for it?