There's a great article by Hugo Rifkind at the moment in The Times (which sadly I can't link to due the paywall at that site) about internship culture, in which he cites the case where said internships at a number of particularly prestigious institutions have recently been sold for up to £3,500 at a fundraising Conservative Party Black and White Ball, as if they were antiques in an auction. Rifkind's point is that internship culture has become so ingrained and specifically designed for the wealthy, that the Conservatives think this is completely normal despite employing Alan Miburn as something called a "social mobility czar".
I'm pretty sure at one point internships generally involved a few weeks work, but not much more, and certainly to be fair "work experience" - which seems to be becoming increasingly distinct from "internships" - still are often not usually a lot longer than three weeks or so. On the other hand, it's now the norm for "internships" to last three months or even longer. Even worse, a lot of companies as far as I can tell simply won't even consider you if you haven't did an internship there. The desired effect, as Rifkind rightly points out, seems to be a shunning of any bright students who don't happen to have the financial clout and/or wealthy parents who also happen to have essential contacts in the right place. "Internships" seem to have gone from a valuable way of getting on-hand experience to being compulsory in order to get any decent job, leading those without the financial wherewithal or contacts isolated in a hopeless Catch-22 situation, regardless of any innate talent or how bright they were as a student. It's not what you know; it's who you know and whether you can afford it. While I would never pretend that the political culture is the same, in some ways this kind of cronyism isn't that different from the political culture which many disenchanted Arabs are protesting against in North Africa and the Middle East. British work culture may not be that extreme, but it's still no meritocracy.