Could the Tories miss out by just 5,357 votes?

The 16 constituencies that will deprive David Cameron of an overall majority.

Another day, another raft of opinion polls -- but how to interpret them? We know that applying a uniform national swing is unsatisfactory, as it takes no account of concentrated canvassing in marginals, regional issues, or the incumbency factor, likely to help popular sitting MPs regardless of the relative unpopularity of their party.

Yet, only the very occasional survey polls opinion on a constituency-by-constituency basis, and even then only in key marginals.

In an attempt to make more sense of national numbers as they apply across the country's 650 constituencies, Resolver Systems has developed a forecasting model that looks to make more of "where votes come from".

For example, Liberal Democrat voters in 2005 who say they are switching to another party are much more likely to vote for the Conservatives than they are not to vote at all. However, people who voted for parties that were not one of the "big three" are much more likely to stay home than they are to vote for the Conservatives. (The modellng is more complex than that, but that's the gist.)

16 seats that could deprive Cameron of his majority

 

Applying this method to the most recent Guardian/ICM poll (crucially ICM is one of the few polling firms to ask a question about past voting behaviour), the predicted outcome of the election would leave the Tories up by 100 seats but still 16 short of an overall majority.

The constituencies that would have deprived the Tories of power are listed above. The tiny majorities in all 16 amount to 5,357 -- in other words, the number of votes between a hung parliament and an overall majority.

It's worth noting that Populus has begun asking the "previous voting" question and Daniel Finkelstein and his Fink Tank team at the Times are attempting to do something similar. Yesterday, based on the latest Times/Populus poll, they predicted the Tories would be seven seats short of power.

We'll be returning to the Resolver numbers between now and election day.

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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.