David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband stand together as Prince Charles launches a new youth campaign at Buckingham Palace. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The 2015 election could revive the electoral reform debate

Labour could win fewer votes but more seats than the Tories and Ukip could win more votes than the Lib Dems but no seats.

One consequence of the Tories moving ahead of Labour for the first time since March 2012 is that MPs of all parties are beginning to discuss the possibility that the Conservatives could win the most votes in 2015 while Labour wins the most seats. Such an outcome is made possible by the first-past-the-post system. While the Tories pile up wasted votes in high turnout areas, Labour efficiently pockets city constituencies where fewer take part. 

On a uniform swing, Lord Ashcroft's poll (which puts the Tories on 34 per cent and Labour on 32 per cent) would leave Labour with 14 more seats (307 to 293) than the Conservatives. David Cameron requires a lead of around four points before his party moves ahead. 

Were Labour to win more seats with fewer votes (as last happened in February 1974 and in reverse in 1951), the Tories would have no grounds for complaint. They have resisted every attempt to reform the system, most recently in the case of the AV referendum. (The failed boundary changes would have reduced but far from eliminated Labour's advantage.) But the outcome would be widely seen as perverse and undemocratic. Alongside this, it is possible that Ukip (a pro-reform party) could receive more votes than the Lib Dems but win no seats. 

All of this would have the effect of reviving the debate over electoral reform, which has laid dormant since the defeat of AV in 2011. The Lib Dems and Ukip would be in a strong position to push for a referendum on proportional representation (although I'm told that PR for local government is a more likely coalition red line) and the flaws of a system designed for an era when the two main parties won 96 per cent of the vote between them will have been exposed as never before. 

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.