Lord Levy's 'persecution'

Millions have been spent on chasing e-mails ... but then Lord Levy like Dame Shirley Porter before h

Never underestimate the pressures on a politician's stomach, the higher the greasy pole you climb the higher the calorific content of the diners you are invited to.

So it was that I attended the Annual Dinner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews at the Radisson Portman Hotel.

The great and the good of British Jewry had assembled to hear the next prime minister, Gordon Brown, tell them what a wonderful community they were, how he appreciated their hard work, would fight anti-Semitism and was a life-long friend of Israel. In fact exactly the same things David Cameron told them at last years dinner and the Chief Rabbi duly lead the standing ovation.

There is something incredibly charismatic about Sir Jonathan Sachs, never mind his first rate preaching and common sense contributions to "Thought for the Day" that makes me as a Christian lament the abject failure of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, with his unkempt beard and general wishy-washiness, to provide any spiritual leadership to our Country.

Oh and never underestimate the genuine affection that Lord Levy is held in by the Jewish community.

He sat at the top table with an air of nobility that has nothing to do with his title. Indeed if the organs of the state continue with their current persecution I suspect he will acquire sainthood in the not to distant future.

It seems to me a strange use of police resources that whilst a gang of armed robbers is holding up members of the Orthodox Jewish community in their North London homes, millions have been spent chasing e-mails and other political tittle-tattle: but then Lord Levy like Dame Shirley Porter before him is Jewish.

Whilst the chancellor and his wife stayed to the end of the dinner, the Israeli Ambassador Zvi Hefetz could not get away early enough. To the general relief of British Jewry he is soon returning to Israel with his poor grasp of English, having failed to present Israel's case last summer during the Lebanon war, reluctant as he was to break his holiday in Italy.

A few days later I was in Israel myself as the official report into the failures of the government and armed forces in last summer's Lebanon War was published.

At yet another dinner I sat next to the French wife of the British Ambassador to Israel, Tom Phillips (should British Ambassadors be allowed foreign wives they used not to be allowed foreign cars) and the Ambassador gave Prime Minister Olmert two months but seemed genuinely terrified at the prospect of the return of Benjamin Netanyahu. Having been on the streets of Tel Aviv on the day of the "Olmert must go" rally I can assure the Foreign Office Netanyahu will be back.

Most politicians in Israel are retired military officers, indeed even the Councillor in charge of parking in Tel Aviv is an ex-Major General but Olmert is not: hence a certain prejudice against him.

There is something to be said for the no-nonsense approach of military figures who transfer into politics. If I were Gordon Brown I would be arranging dinner with the chiefs of staff at the Ministry of Defence very soon!

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.