Sunday polls still in hung parliament territory

Two Sunday newspaper polls put the Conservatives on 37 per cent.

It wasn't long ago that 40 per cent was seen as the must-hit target for the Conservatives, for psychological if not electoral reasons. So it is a mark of how the polls have narrowed since the turn of the year that the Tories will embrace two Sunday newspaper polls that have them on 37 points.

A BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday puts Labour on 30 per cent, a 7-point Conservative lead, while the YouGov daily tracker, published in the Sunday Times, puts the gap between the two parties at 5 points. Both polling organisations have been showing smaller Tory leads in recent weeks -- notably a YouGov/Sun survey that put the difference between the parties at just 2 points earlier this week.

According to UK Polling Report's Uniform National Swing counter, the Tories remain 41 seats away from an overall majority. The inadequacies of applying a national swing are well known. Yet while it is commonly thought that Lord Ashcroft's efforts in the marginals will mean the Conservatives can offset their electoral disadvantage, other factors may play against the party -- Lib Dem incumbency and tactical voting, to name two.

UPDATE: An ICM poll for the News of the World -- that's the newly Tory-supporting NoW -- puts the Conservatives on 39 points, up 1 on the previous week and 8 points ahead of Labour.

The Lib Dems remain on 19 per cent.

The poll also suggests that one in four people were less likely to vote Labour following last Wednesday's Budget, compared to 9 per cent who said they were more likely.

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Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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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.