The political journey of Gordon Brown

Chris Harvie on the many faces of the Prime Minister.

This is an opportune moment, following Gordon Brown's momentous statement earlier today, to revisit my Books Interview with Christopher Harvie, MSP for the Scottish National Party and author of Broonland: the Last Days of Gordon Brown.

Your book Broonland traces the political trajectory of Gordon Brown. You first met him in the mid-1970s, didn't you?
He worked part-time for the Open University and I worked in the history department. But I really got to know him in autumn 1978, when I moved to the Institute for Advanced Studies at Edinburgh University. Brown and I came together when we were running the Lothian Labour campaign for a Yes vote in the 1979 referendum on the Scotland Act. He emerged from that campaign with very great credit, whereas the rest of the Labour Party was nowhere. I suspect that out of that came a degree of disillusionment on his part with the party. The guys who worked hardest were the Communists - the NUM vice-president Mick McGahey, people like that. The Communists were dogmatic, but they were honest! These are the people that Lawrence Daly [the Scottish miners' leader at whose funeral last year Brown read the eulogy] came from. And don't forget that quite a few contributions to The Red Paper on Scotland, edited by Brown, came from the Communist Party. Brown had a degree of trust in these guys that he didn't have either in the machine politicians of west central Scotland or in the Trots.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

 

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Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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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.