The Tories hit a record poll low as UKIP hits a record high

With Cameron's party on 27% and Farage's on 17%, the gap between them is now smaller than the gap between Labour and the Tories.

In the week since the local elections, the Tory party has appeared anything but calm in its response to the UKIP surge. MPs have demanded an early EU referendum to give David Cameron a "mandate" to renegotiate Britain's membership (a referendum on a referendum, in other words), Jacob Rees-Mogg has called for a full-blown coalition, with Nigel Farage as Deputy Prime Minister (presumably after he's gone to the trouble of actually winning a seat) and Cameron has hurriedly brought Nadine Dorries back into the Conservative fold after rumours that she was on the verge of defecting to the Farageists.

Unfortunately for the Tories, then, today's YouGov poll will do little to calm their nerves. It puts them on a record low of 27 per cent (their worst rating not just since the election, but ever) and UKIP on a record high of 17 per cent, with 25 per cent of 2010 Conservative voters (excluding don't knows and wouldn't votes) telling the pollster that they would vote for the purple peril. The gap between the Tories and UKIP - ten points - is now smaller than the gap between them and Labour - 11 points. Labour's rating of 38 per cent is it worst since February 2012 but the even smaller Conservative share means Miliband would still win a majority of 108 on a uniform swing.

For Cameron, the risk between now and the election is that such polls will prompt Tory MPs to begin forming their own pacts with UKIP. While Farage has consistently said that Cameron is an insurmountable obstacle to a national arrangement, he has long made it clear that he is willing to consider local deals. As he told the Spectator last May, "What I do know is there are Conservative Associations up and down the country who think this could be a way forward… So all I would say to you is that in terms of co-operation or deals or anything in the future, firstly it’s some way off but secondly, I can see that there are associations thinking along the lines that if they approach us. Would I entertain and contemplate such ideas? Of course I would."

A string of mini UKIP-Tory pacts would force Cameron to choose whether to disown the candidates in question (triggering a Conservative split) or be seen to give in to Farage. With UKIP likely to enjoy another surge after next year's European elections, the dilemma will not go away. While Farage's party will still be lucky to win even one MP in 2015, it has the potential to prevent the Tories winning many more. At the last general election, with a UKIP vote share of just 3 per cent, there were 20 constituencies in which the UKIP vote exceeded the Labour majority (one shouldn't make the error of assuming that all those who supported the party would have backed the Tories in its absence, but many would have done). If UKIP starts to look as if it could determine whether the Tories remain the single largest party (an overall majority, always unlikely, now looks impossible), then the pressure for a rapprochement of the right will become overwhelming.

David Cameron speaks at a press conference at the EU headquarters on February 8, 2013 in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of 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.