Why Yes2AV lags so far behind

If No to AV wins next week – as the latest <em>NS</em> poll says it will – the Yes camp will have on

I came across an extremely rare occurrence on Facebook last night: a good advert in support of the Alternative Vote. It was simple, to the point, and actually made me want to vote for AV. Look at it:

Yes2AV's only decent advert

It makes you smile and it gets across one of the main benefits of AV – that first-past-the-post often disregards the majority of people's views.

Now watch this:

Actually, don't. It is two and a half minutes of awfulness which fails to convey a single clear point why AV is preferable to FPTP. In it, a bunch of hectoring Lib Dem voters (well, they look like Lib Dem voters), goes around annoying MPs with megaphones to convey the message that AV will, err, make MPs work harder, sort of. Or something.

The success of the advert can be judged by the paltry number of views it has received – a mere 30,000 on YouTube. The "Let's AV a beer" image, meanwhile, has been seen 120,000 times on the image-sharing website Imgur alone.

So, is it any wonder that Yes2AV lags 14 points behind the No camp in the latest New Statesman/ICD poll, released today?

No to AV has run a dirty, negative campaign that has at times played very fast and loose with the facts, and has also displayed moments of extremely poor taste. It has, however, been a very effective campaign.

When I blogged about Yes2AV's flip-flopping over Benjamin Zephaniah's face on its election literature, the No press team sent over four different versions of the leaflet within seconds of me asking for it; when I tried to get pictures of No to AV's infamous "Vote No, or the baby gets it!" poster from the Yes camp, they didn't have them. No to AV made the most of every opportunity, unlike the Yes camp.

As a supporter of electoral reform, what is most frustrating about the Yes camp's failure to make an effective case is that the British people want electoral reform – or at least they did. Last summer, 78 per cent of people supported replacing FPTP with a system that "reflects more accurately the proportion of votes cast for each party". AV is not a proportional system, but it is – in my view, and as the "Let's AV a beer" poster makes clear – a fairer one. Yes2AV had a potential constituency.

The British people are willing to listen on electoral reform, but Yes2AV has wholly failed to make itself heard. If – as looks almost inevitable – Yes2AV loses next week, it will have only itself to blame.

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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.