Commons Confidential: Dave’s sausage offensive

Kevin Maguire's weekly column.

Our posh-boy premier let slip that he counts the number of Old Etonians in the Commons Press Gallery. The quota is down one since the Times’s political editor Roland Watson, a contemporary of Dave’s, shuffled off to become foreign editor. Call Me Dave greeted Watson’s successor, Francis Elliott – who co-wrote a very readable biography of the Tory toff – with a telling: “Ah, that’s one less Etonian in Westminster.” The PM must hope the public doesn’t vote for one fewer in No 10.

The latest edition of Kingston and Surbiton Voice, the Lib Dem constituency rag of the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, includes three photographs of a man called Derek Osbourne. Two are next to Davey’s Westminster View column; the third, taken outside a school, is below a snap of Davey with Nick Clegg. Osbourne resigned in mid-June as Lib Dem leader of Kingston Council after his arrest on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. Deadlines are a nightmare, as this journalist knows, but the Kingston Lib Dumbs miscalculated by gambling nobody would notice rather than pulping the paper.

Ed Miliband’s zillionaire supporter Andrew Rosenfeld, a property tycoon worth an estimated £100m, is a sponsor with his union friends of the “People Unite” anti-austerity bus tours. Rosenfeld –who, since he abandoned the Tory cause, gets under Cameron’s skin – intended to travel on one of the buses. I trust Rosenfeld instructed his chauffeur to drop him off around the corner so he could walk to the start.

 A Tory snout  whispers that Con MPs are thin on the ground at Cameron’s backbencher barbecues. Downing Street invitations aren’t the draw they once were as Dave works his way down the rota. “Cameron’s outreach programme will fail,” giggled the congenital rebel, “if he can’t serve us a grilled sausage.”

Lord Mandy adding his tuppenceworth to Labour’s Falkirk selection shenanigans was further evidence the ignoble lord never forgives those who do him a favour, particularly the trade unions that fixed Hartlepool for a then Peter Mandelson.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Editor's note: This article was amended at 17:00 on 9 July, 2013. 

Apparently Conservative MPs are thin on the ground at Dave's backbencher barbecues. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

Getty
Show Hide image

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.