Watch: Godfrey Bloom mocks disabled student, asks "are you Richard III?" during debate

The former UKIP MEP resorts to ableism during a debate at the Oxford Union.

Last week (23 January) the Oxford Union hosted a debate - motion: "This House Believes postwar Britain has seen too much immigration" - between Lord Singh, Nadhim Zahawi MP and author Monica Ali on one side, and Douglas Murray and former UKIP (now independent) MEP Godfrey Bloom on the other. 

David Browne, a student, took the the microphone to make a statement opposed to the motion, but before he could begin he was interrupted by Bloom making a point of order to ask "are you Richard III or not" (a clear reference to Browne's disability). Browne, unfazed, replied with a quote from Margaret Thatcher: "I am always quite flattered when people insist on personal attacks on their opponents because it just demonstrates they have run out of arguments."

(It's also worth pointing out how many people laughed at Bloom's "joke", because from the way the incident's been reported elsewhere it might seem like he wasn't playing to an audience happy to lap up that kind of ableist crap.)

The incident so appalled Douglas Murray that he blogged afterwards to call it "a gruesome moment – ghastly, disgraceful and deeply telling of Mr Bloom". Somehow, considering this is a man whose response to being asked about his party's lack of members from ethnic minorities is to hit the journalist who asked the question, it seems unlikely Bloom will feel much remorse. 

I'm a mole, innit.

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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.