Vince Cable, 69, thinks the "worship of youth" by political parties may be over

Whatever could the subtext be?

In an interview with the Financial Times today, Vince Cable made some intriguing comments about the future of the Liberal Democrats. Asked whether he would ever run for the leadership of the party, he said:

I don’t exclude it – who knows what might happen in the future.

He also said:

The worship of youth has diminished – perhaps generally – in recent years.

and hit back at attempts to portray him as far too left-wing, criticising the "macho right" of the Tories:

When I made my statement on executive remuneration and responsible capitalism, I had some of those backbenchers jumping saying this is socialism or Marxism, they just completely don’t get it.

So, to recap, Vince Cable is not ruling out leading the Lib Dems, doesn't think he's too old to do so at 69, and is keen to talk about how he speaks out on City pay and capitalism, but isn't a frothing left-winger.

Of course, none of this means he is anything less than totally supportive of Nick Clegg, who is

doing a good job and is standing up to the pressures.                                               

PS. The FT interview is well worth a read in full, if you have a subscription. There's a touching section on his two marriages and his love of "strong women:

Olympia, who died of cancer in 2001, was the first of two strong women in Cable’s life. “She would let me watch Match of the Day if I did the ironing at the same time,” the minister jokes. Rachel, the second, keeps horses in the New Forest. Today Cable wears two wedding bands on his finger.

Cable also likes working with strong women. Four out of five of Cable’s private secretaries are female, and when he recently held a meeting to discuss curbs on excessive pay in Britain’s male-dominated boardrooms, four out of the six advisers in the room were women. Cable says he does not have a deliberate policy of employing female staff, but adds: “I’ve always been comfortable working with women and I’ve had two happy marriages. Draw what conclusions you like from that.”

Vince Cable. Photo: Getty Images

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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.