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Abroad interns affected by British elections

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, April 12, 2005

OXFORD, England – British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s announcement of re-election April 5, with the election to be held May 5, has complicated the Parliamentary internships of Notre Dame London students this term, according to current interns and the internship administrators. While Parlia-ment has been dissolved and interns can no longer work as normal at Westminster, some students said they will have the opportunity to participate in election campaigning for their respective Members of Parliament (MPs).

Election procedures

British election procedures require the Parliament to be dissolved in the period between an election announcement and election day, in order to “avoid the use of official offices to influence the campaign and its outcome,” according to associate professor of political science Anthony Messina, who specializes in Western European and British politics.

The Prime Minister, in consultation with the ruling monarch, may call an election whenever he or she feels it would be beneficial during the course of their term. Because Parliament must be dissolved in the interim period, Messina said elections are often held shortly after they are declared, usually within four to six weeks.

“Since during the campaign Parliament is ‘suspended,’ it is more or less imperative to seat a new Parliament as soon as possible so that the business of government can move

forward,” he said.

Notre Dame interns

The election, therefore, has meant Notre Dame interns cannot work in their regular Westminster offices. Depending upon what district their MP represents, some students said they will have the opportunity to travel to their MP’s constituency to observe and/or assist with the campaigning, while others will not be able to do so and effectively face a curtailed Parliamentary internship.

Junior John Tira, a finance and political science major, said he prefers not to think of his internship as having been shortened but rather said it “has evolved into a different form.”

Tira said he will accept his MP’s invitation to travel to Derbyshire to intern there “at least once during the election.” He also said that he is excited at the opportunity to witness an election first-hand and to participate in the campaigning process.

“I believe that by interning this semester I am privileged to experience an event that most of Notre Dame’s Parliamentary interns were not … Overall, it is an interesting and very much different political experience than any U.S. federal election can be, due to the nature of UK politics,” he said.

Junior history and political science major Sarah Sibley said she also plans to travel to her MP’s constituency (Crosby, near Liverpool) and looks forward to the experience.

“All of my active duties and projects in the Westminster office ended in late March in anticipation of the election. However, I will be flying up to Liverpool in May to help campaigning for a couple of days preceding the election,” she said. “Apparently, I will be riding a giant blue election bus with a megaphone while holding out tree branches for the constituents to grab, or some crazy election campaigning like that.”

Sibley said that class commitments will prevent her from spending more than “a couple of days before the election” helping to campaign.

Despite the shortened internship, Sibley feels lucky to have been able to witness a British election during her time abroad.

“While I wish that my internship had lasted until I left in May, it is also incredibly exciting to be part of a political campaign, even if it is only for a short period of time,” she said. “I get to learn about the fundamentals of electoral politics and political campaigning through this election on a level that other interns perhaps did not.”

While some interns seem satisfied in their experiences, others, like junior Will Kurtz, said they are disappointed about the shortening of their internships. Kurtz said an inability to get a security clearance pass has limited the tasks he has been able to do and the access he has been afforded.

“The combination of the election and not getting my security pass has made it difficult for me to get any time with my MP or to get to really experience Parliament like those [interns] from other semesters. Unlike the [intern] before me, I wasn’t able to go to meetings, observe my MP in action, etc.,” he said.

Kurtz also said that his ability to campaign is relatively unknown at this point, and that, although he will probably be able to assist on some level with the campaigning, he believes that he is in the minority of Notre Dame MP interns this term who will be able to do so because of the distance from London to their constituencies.

“I would like to help out on the campaign, although I will admit I would be one of the few students actually working after the election has been called because most work for MPs whose constituencies are too far away for them to travel to them easily or often. I might get to do work, or I might get to just observe, it’s not really certain,” he said.

“My MP has basically told me that he’s too busy to deal with me. I have no idea what I’ll be doing, other than observing the campaign, and maybe going to speeches and meetings,” he said.

Marlena Mangan, a junior who was abroad in Fall 2004 and worked as an MP intern, said she believes that both the normal-length internship and the shortened-internship with the possibility of campaigning in and at least witnessing an election are beneficial.

“I am glad I had the full semester,” she said. “However, if I had the opportunity to work in the election process, I’m sure that would have been great and interesting as well. The thing about the internship is that everyone has a unique experience, so I would imagine that this semester is no different in that regard; it is just a bit more unique.”

Calling of the Election

Both interns and administrators said that the calling of the election was no surprise. It was widely discussed in the British media and by British citizens, and interns were informed of the possibility during the London Program’s interviews for the internship positions and at other times throughout the year.

Cornelius O’Boyle, an associate director of the London Program who resides in London and handles the internship development, said that all interns met yesterday to discuss possibilities for maximizing their involvement in the election process. Furthermore, he said that the actual internship is not the only involvement that London students have with British politics; the internship also requires an academic class and a workshop.

“The general election certainly does not mark the end of their engagement with British politics. All our interns are enrolled in a formal academic class designed exclusively for

Parliamentary interns, which provides them with the theoretical framework for their understanding of a Parliamentary system of democracy,” he said. “The class also provides a workshop environment in which interns can share with each other their personal experiences, with the guidance and support of a professor of political sciences on hand.”

O’Boyle said the class will help interns become more knowledgeable about British politics as they live through the excitement of a British general election.

He also said he hopes interns view the experience of witnessing an election as a positive and unique opportunity.

“We would encourage all our Parliamentary interns to view the current situation as a unique opportunity to deepen their understanding of British politics. Only rarely do Notre Dame students get such a fascinating opportunity to inspect the democratic processes of a foreign country in such intimate detail,” he said.

Terri Bays, an associate director of the London Program at Notre Dame, said that she understands how some interns may be disappointed with a shortened internship in comparison with students from other years. However, she hopes students will see the potential benefits of viewing and campaigning for a British election.

“First … I understand the disappointment experienced by those whose internships are cut short. Second, a significant aspect of political life in a democracy is having one’s projects disrupted by the electoral process,” she said. “Finally, it must be said that the opportunity to observe, close-up, a completely different electoral process is invaluable, and because of this the students in London this semester are to be envied rather than pitied.”

Editor’s note: This article was primarily reported in Oxford, England, and primarily written in Dallas, Texas.