Blunkett makes it clear there will be no return for Labour "greybeards"

The former home secretary says it was "made clear earlier in the year that the oldies wouldn't be coming back". Miliband wants to promote the new generation.

One of the regular pieces of advice offered to Ed Miliband is to recruit some "greybeards" to his shadow cabinet - Alan Johnson, Alistair Darling, Jack Straw and others - to add heft and experience to Labour's frontbench. But as David Blunkett stated on the Today programme this morning, that's not a path Miliband is going to pursue. He said it was "made clear earlier in the year that the oldies wouldn't be coming back". Rather than leading a shadow cabinet dominated by figures from the last Labour government, Miliband wants to promote "the new generation" he spoke of in his first conference speech. 

Blunkett added that he and other former ministers would have to find "new ways of being able to contribute", noting Alistair Darling's chairmanship of Better Together and the review he is leading for the party on local oversight of schools (another example is Andrew Adonis's review of growth policies). He suggested that the much-criticised shadow cabinet would benefit from his wisdom: "What we could do better is probably us joining up with younger, enthusiastic, energetic, upcoming people so that we can give them a bit of advice if they are prepared to listen to us."

Asked whether Miliband "has got what it takes", Blunkett gave a more equivocal answer than the leadership will have wanted, stating: "I think Mr Miliband has demonstrated on a number of occasions that he can do it but he won’t be able to do it alone and nor should he. Clem Attlee wasn’t the most vibrant, in public terms, opponent. He was a fantastic leader of the Labour Party". 

His comments reminded me of Caroline Flint's observation at the weekend that leaders don't have to be personally popular to win elections. Both are right. In the final poll before the 1979 election, for instance, Jim Callaghan enjoyed a 19-point lead over Margaret Thatcher as "the best prime minister" but that didn't stop the Conservatives winning a majority of 44 seats. Similarly, in the 1970 election, Harold Wilson's personal lead over Ted Heath (a 51% approval rating compared to one of 28% for Heath) didn't prevent Labour suffering a decisive defeat. 

But Labour figures should avoid giving the impression that the party could win in spite of Miliband, rather than because of him. If his own MPs seem to lack faith in his abilities, they can't expect the public to warm to him. 

Former home secretary and Labour MP David Blunkett campaigns in the Park Hill Area of Sheffield during the general election. 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.