There will be no Lib Dem U-turn on boundary changes

The offer of state funding (or anything else) will not induce Clegg to change his stance.

Without the introduction of the proposed boundary changes, there's almost no chance of the Conservatives winning a majority at the next election - the party would need a lead of around seven points on a uniform swing. With the changes, however, it would need one of just four. So it's no surprise that some Tories are still hopeful that they can persuade the Lib Dems to renege on their opposition to the reforms. 

Today's FT reports that the Conservatives are planning a "cash-for-seats" offer under which the Liberal Democrats would approve the new boundaries in return for the introduction of state funding for political parties. So woeful is the Lib Dems' financial situation that the Tories believe Nick Clegg will have no choice but to withdraw his veto. "They are basically out of money," one minister tells the paper, while another adds: "There is a plot". That the Lib Dems' finances are increasingly strained is beyond doubt. As Rafael noted in August, the party's entry into government has seen it deprived of the "short money" made available by the state to opposition parties (something that will cost it £9m over the course of the parliament), while the loss of a quarter of its membership in 2011 helped result in a deficit of £299,964 last year.

But even with this in mind, it's hard to see the offer of state funding (or anything else) inducing Clegg to change his stance. In August, after the abandonment of House of Lords reform, he said:

Coalition works on mutual respect; it is a reciprocal arrangement, a two-way street. So I have told the Prime Minister that when, in due course, parliament votes on boundary changes for the 2015 election I will be instructing my party to oppose them.

In September, when rumours of a deal first surfaced, he declared: "Nothing will change my mind on that." His stance was overwhelmingly endorsed in a motion at the party's conference last month. For these reasons, Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore was almost certainly right when he told the Today programme this morning that there is "no prospect of any kind of deal like that." A "cash-for-seats" agreement would only confirm Clegg's reputation as a turncoat, while making his party look irredeemably grubby.

Last month, whilst apologising for breaking his pledge not to support an increase in tuition fees, Clegg declared: "I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it." And the pledge to vote against the boundary changes is one that will be kept.

Nick Clegg has previously stated that "nothing" will persuade him to drop his opposition to the propsoed boundary changes. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.