Cameron plans his own back-room deal with the DUP

But Ken Clarke warns: “It’s not the way to run a modern sophisticated society.”

David Cameron is fond of denouncing the "secret back-room deals" that he claims electoral reform would encourage. But, if we're to believe today's Telegraph, a back-room deal with the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party is exactly what Cameron is planning in the event of a hung parliament.

The Conservatives have already established a formal alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party, but after a recent opinion poll in the Belfast Telegraph suggested that the party will struggle to win more than a couple of seats (it has no MPs at present) the Tories have been forced to look elsewhere.

The DUP, currently the fourth largest party in the Commons, could be expected to deliver an extra nine or ten seats for Cameron. But there will be a price and the DUP is demanding that, at the very least, the Tories cancel £200m worth of cuts to Northern Ireland's public sector.

One Tory who, with typical frankness, has already expressed his dismay at the possibility of such a back-room deal is Ken Clarke. In an interview with politics.co.uk he said: "What we're plainly headed for would be a great deal of squabbling, with small parties given disproportionate influence, trying to manoeuvre advantages for themselves before they allow a Conservative government to get on with the job."

He added:

If I have to sit and talk to three or four other groups . . . in the end you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman, but it's not the way to run a modern sophisticated society [our emphasis].

That Cameron may finally be reduced to doing just that again exposes the falseness of the Tory leader's claim that the first-past-the-post system guarantees "strong government".

But more seriously, if Cameron gets into bed with the DUP as well as the Ulster Unionists, how can he ever hope to act as an honest broker in Northern Ireland?

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Facebook.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.