Ding Dong: a puerile joke has been turned into an act of defiance

I have five thoughts on the row about the BBC playing an anti-Thatcher song.

Deep breath. I hold these truths to be self-evident:

1. Associating "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead" with the death of Thatcher is crass. I won't be buying the single. Calling a female politician a witch doesn't particularly impress me, either.

2. By putting the story on their front page, the Mail and Telegraph have turned buying the song from a puerile joke into an act of defiance, and massively increased sales. (Hey, don't just listen to me: tell 'em, Nigel Farage. "If you suppress things then you make them popular, so play the bloody thing. If you ban it it will be number one for weeks.")

3. The BBC should not censor the chart show based around the whims of the newspapers, left or right wing. It has an editorial code, and breaches of this should be the only reason not to play a song on the chart show. Similarly, the BBC shouldn't editorialise around the song. It is what it is.

4. References to the "taxpayer funded" BBC should alert you that the speaker really wishes that the BBC didn't exist in its current form. The taxpayers (licence fee payers) funding the BBC have no collective wish about the playing of the song. Some will be against it; some will be for it. Some, like me, will wish the entire chart show was replaced with more topical comedy panel shows and Stephen Fry documentaries about the etymology of English. No one listens to us. The only "vote" anyone gets in this is what single they buy. 

5. No one over the age of 25 ever listens to the chart show. Do you have any idea what's number one right now? (Apparently it's "Need U (100 per cent)" by Duke Dumont featuring Ame.) At least this weekend, today's youngsters will be listening to some Proper Music. We could introduce a whole generation to the delight of musical theatre. Imagine! 

The Wizard of Oz. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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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.