Romney wins by a whisker in Iowa

Republican frontrunner beats Rick Santorum by just eight votes in first primary.

After a farcical night in Iowa, with some votes lost and others miscounted, Mitt Romney has been declared the winner of the first Republican primary. The former Massachusetts governor received 30,015 votes, with Rick Santorum just eight behind on 30,007. The proportional allocation rules mean that both candidates, plus third-placed Ron Paul, will get the same number of delegates (seven each, with two for Newt Gingrich and two for Rick Perry) but, as he both hoped and expected, Romney gets to call himself "the winner".

Attention will now move to New Hampshire, where Romney has a huge lead in the polls but his status as the frontrunner means he is vulnerable to attack from all sides. In particular, the Romney camp will be troubled by the speed with which Santorum, with a fraction of his rival's resources, closed the gap in the polls. As this Buzzfeed chart shows, Romnney's campaign spent $156 per vote, while Santorum spent just $21 per vote.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry is retreating to his governor's mansion in Texas to ponder "whether there is a path forward for myself in this race." We won't know for certain until tomorrow but it sounds very much as if he will drop out.

Below is the result in full.

Mitt Romney 30,015 votes (24.6%)

Rick Santorum 30,007 (24.5%)

Ron Paul 26,219 (21.4%)

Newt Gingrich 16,251 (13.3%)

Rick Perry 12,604 (10.3%)

Michele Bachmann 6,073 (5.0%)

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.