Michael Fabricant poses with the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate during the Eastleigh by-election in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Michael Fabricant sacked as Tory vice chairman

Outspoken Tory dismissed for opposing HS2 and tweeting "about time" in response to Maria Miller's resignation.

In a fitting end to today's omnishambles, Michael Fabricant has just announced that he's been sacked as Conservative vice chairman. The always outspoken MP for Lichfield was dismissed for vowing to rebel against HS2 and for tweeting "about time" in response to Maria Miller's resignation. 

Here's how he announced the news on Twitter.

Earlier today, he wrote: "Maria Miller has resigned. Well, about time." He later added:  "Note to self: If ever a minister again, be like Mark Harper. If in trouble, resign quickly and in a dignified manner."

Rather than his fairly innocuous comments on Miller (although "about time" does suggest that Cameron was too slow to act), I suspect that his opposition to HS2 was the main reason No. 10 decided he had to go. With a significant number of Conservative backbenchers opposed to the project, Cameron couldn't afford to show any hint of weakness. Allowing Fabricant to rebel against HS2 and remain in his post would have been an incitement for others to do the same.

Fabricant, meanwhile, is deriding his sacking as a "knee-jerk decision". 

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.