Commons Confidential

Mata Hattie's mutiny

I for one didn't think she had it in her. But the Talibrown mutters that Harriet Harperson was the cabinet end of A Very Rubbish Coup. The word in Westminster is that Gordon Broon's disloyal deputy admitted that her long chats with Patsy Hewitt over the holidays were about more than their old days at the National Council for Civil Liberties. She was, I hear, poised to play the role of Mata Hattie, until a loss of nerve turned "the snow plot" to slush.

Weeping under the £134.50 pair of lamps he bought at our expense is Michael Gove. The Tory educashun spokesman was forced to give up his £65,000 column for the Times when David Cameron ordered frontbenchers to ditch outside earners. When Ken Clarke was asked how he got away with making his BBC jazz programme in January, the rogue chuckled that he had slipped under the wire by making it last year.

A disgruntled insurrectionist whispered that Hattie resents Premier Broon's unwillingness to pull out his finger to land Mr Harperson, Jack "the Knife" Dromey, a safe parliamentary seat. Local flak has unsettled plans to parachute the union baron into Leyton. Scurrilous MPs whisper that Tessa Jowell, a family friend, is willing to lay down Dulwich, a constituency neighbouring Hattie's Peckham patch. Lady Jowell certainly has a ring to it.

Witches feared ducking stools and politicians worry about Mumsnet. In pursuit of votes, the PM's human shield, Sarah Brown, is to endure the questions of yoghurt-knitters and political plants. Yummy Mummy Sammy Cameron was due to appear with her insignificant other until Tory spinners began to fear abuse over her £995 Smythson handbags.

Labour boasts many amateur actors but only one true thespian, the Oscar-winning Glenda Jackson. The Rada-trained MP has a Shakespearean command of the English language. Asked her view of the plotters by a whip, she was more Merry Wives of Windsor than Henry V. "They're a bunch of arseholes," was Queen Glenda's considered view.

The rarefied surroundings of the Cholmondeley Room in the House of Lords made an incongruous venue for the Electoral Reform Society's New Year bash. Perhaps the all-party CND group should check whether Aldermaston is available.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

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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.