The Lib Dems will fight the Tories at the next election

Simon Hughes continues his dissenting role, saying that the coalition is “a business arrangement”.

Simon Hughes has confirmed that the Liberal Democrats will fight against the Tories at the next election.

Ending speculation that the two coalition parties would enter into a non-aggression pact or field joint candidates, the deputy leader of the party confirmed: "We will fight the next election in every seat." Insisting the alliance with the Conservatives was "temporary", he said:

It's a business arrangement. It's not a marriage and it's for one term. And at the end of that term . . . you fight the election on your own. We will do it, surprise surprise, because we want to win more seats, we want to have more influence, and we want to be in government ideally on our own.

He pointed out that an electoral pact is not allowed by the party's constitution, which pledges to field candidates in every seat in the UK.

Hughes has established himself as the bulldog defender of the Lib Dems' unique identity. Early this month, he expressed consternation at David Cameron's proposals for ending lifetime tenancy in council houses:

The Prime Minister is entitled to float any idea he likes but we have to be clear it is not a Liberal Democrat policy, it is not a coalition policy, it is not in the election manifesto of either party, it was not in the coalition agreement.

After the Budget was announced in June, he pointed out that the Lib Dems could "hypothetically" still request changes:

Where we could improve fairness and make for a fairer Britain, then we will come forward with amendments to do that, because that's what makes the difference, as we will in the spending review which will follow in the months ahead.

There are several issues here. First is the difficulty that fielding separate candidates will pose for the Lib Dems. Polls show that the party's support has slumped to just 16 per cent, and it will be very easy for Labour to tell voters that a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for the Tories. They are likely to take a hammering at the next election, particularly given their limited funds.

Second is Hughes's position within the party. He has set himself up as the defender of the party's left, which is particularly significant, given his role as deputy leader. Could he be positioning himself to become a leader in the event of a party split?

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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.