Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Seumas Milne writes that Gordon Brown's belated assault on neoliberalism may have come too late to save his premiership:

If Labour goes down to defeat next year, it will not be the result of the slow, cautious social democratic moves the government has finally taken in the aftermath of the crisis. It will be because it failed to take so many of them in the previous 11 years - preferring instead the Faustian pact New Labour made with the Murdochs of the financial and corporate ascendancy.

In the Times, Tristram Hunt says that the Supreme Court is not an American import but an original English ideal:

[I]t marks the welcome return of an idea that first emerged in Britain in the mid-18th century: the separation of powers. And it was the Americans who stole the idea from us, thanks to the writings of an inquisitive French philosopher ... what really impressed Montesquieu was English freedom. In contrast to the fearful royal absolutism of Louis XV's France, the English enjoyed the right to worship, trade and speak their minds. And this was the direct product, Montesquieu thought, of the English constitution's separation of powers.

In the American Prospect, Tim Fernholz says that the Democrats won't suffer a repeat of their disastrous 1994 midterm election results:

[C]ongressional Republicans are still less popular than Democrats and have yet to offer any kind of platform for another shot at running the show. Worse, they are leaderless: By the end of 1993, Republican Whip Newt Gingrich and his team had already brought ethics charges against a speaker of the House that lead to his resignation, and widely publicized the House banking scandal. Today, the Republican Party remains divided and lacks the ability to attract centrist voters, while the Democrats continue to be a relatively unified majority party, with the capacity to stay that way.

In the Independent, Mark Donne calls on David Miliband to halt secretive military aid to Colombia:

The Labour government has long supported the Uribe administration, both diplomatically and militarily, and personal ties are strong. Colombia's former defence minister Juan Manuel Santos - who resigned in May and whose arrest has been ordered by an Ecuadorian court after air strikes on Ecuador - co-authored a book called The Third Way For Colombia with one Tony Blair. Under Santos'swatch, the killings of civilians and trade unionists by the security forces increased.

In the Times, Bill Emmott argues that if the Irish approve the Lisbon Treaty the Conservatives must not seek to renegotiate it:

[T}o provoke a row over a boring institutional treaty, which virtually everyone else has already agreed to, would be folly, grand scale. Indeed, if Messrs Cameron and Hague do hang on to Lisbon as one of their battles, it would raise serious doubts about their fitness for government.

George Eaton is political 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.