Education Secretary Michael Gove speaks at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Gove says Clarkson should not be sacked for using the N-word

Education Secretary says "He's been clear in his apology and I think we should leave matter there".

After initially denying that he used the word "nigger" while reciting "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" during Top Gear filming ("I did not use the N-word. Never use it. The Mirror has gone way too far this time", he tweeted), Jeremy Clarkson is now "begging" for "forgiveness". And one person prepared to offer it is Michael Gove. Asked on Good Morning Britain whether Clarkson should be sacked, he replied: 

No, I don't think so. As I understand Jeremy Clarkson has apologised, the word in question is horrendous and shouldn't be used. It seems to me this was a word he never intended to mutter, never intended to broadcast, he's been clear in his apology and I think we should leave matter there.

He added: "The use of this type of this type of language is unacceptable and it's right that anyone who uses language like this, even in error, should apologise."

Here's Clarkson's full statement: 

Ordinarily I don't respond to newspaper allegations but on this occasion I feel I must make an exception. A couple of years ago I recorded an item for Top Gear in which I quote the rhyme 'eeny, meeny, miny, moe'. Of course, I was well aware that in the best-known version of this rhyme there is a racist expression that I was extremely keen to avoid. The full rushes show that I did three takes. In two, I mumbled where the offensive word would normally occur and in the third I replaced it altogether with the word teacher. Now when I viewed this footage several weeks later I realised that in one of the mumbled versions if you listen very carefully with the sound turned right up it did appear that I'd actually used the word I was trying to obscure. I was mortified by this, horrified. It is a word I loathe and I did everything in my power to make sure that that version did not appear in the programme that was transmitted.

I have here the note that was sent at the time to the production office and it says: 'I didn't use the N-word here but I've just listened through my headphones and it sounds like I did. Is there another take that we could use?'

Please be assured I did everything in my power to not use that word, as I'm sitting here begging your forgiveness for the fact my efforts obviously weren't quite good enough, thank you.

For now, his fate remains unclear. He tells today's Sun that he's spoken to BBC director general Tony Hall and that it's "a worrying time". But does anyone doubt that a lesser figure than Clarkson would already be clearing their desk? 

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.