Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference in Perth on 21 March 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Labour's bombardment of the Lib Dems shows it is going all out for a majority

Rather than preparing for another hung parliament, Labour is focused on "crushing" Clegg's party. 

Until recently, it was not uncommon for senior Labour figures to openly speculate about the possibility of working with the Lib Dems in a future coalition. In my interview with him earlier this year, Ed Balls memorably revealed that Nick Clegg was no longer a barrier to an agreement between the two parties and said of the Deputy PM: "I understand totally why Nick Clegg made the decision that he made to go into coalition with the Conservatives at the time. I may not have liked it at the time, but I understood it. I also understood totally his decision to support a credible deficit reduction plan, because it was necessary in 2010. I think the decision to accelerate deficit reduction, compared to the plans they inherited – which was clearly not what Vince Cable wanted – I think that was a mistake . . . I can disagree with Nick Clegg on some of the things he did but I’ve no reason to doubt his integrity."

Balls went on to attack the Lib Dems for their support for early spending cuts, the reduction in the top rate of tax and the bedroom tax, but his intervention irked those such as Harriet Harman who advocate a strategy of all-out war against Clegg's party.

In Labour circles they distinguish between those who want to "crush" the Lib Dems and those who want to "accommodate" them. Heavily influenced by Andrew Adonis's 5 Days in May, in which the Labour peer and former transport secretary warns his party that it must be better prepared for another hung parliament, some MPs are wary of of an unambiguously hostile approach to Clegg's party. But with a year to go until the general election, it is now clear that the "crushers" have won. 

Rather than love-bombing the Lib Dems, Labour has today simply been bombing them. It was Harman who led the charge, declaring that "The Lib Dems are a party of broken promises. Nick Clegg says they're different from the Tories, but the truth is they've backed David Cameron all the way.

"From trebling tuition fees when they promised to abolish them, increasing VAT when they promised not to, backing the bedroom tax, cutting tax for millionaires and undermining the NHS, the Lib Dems are not a constraint on the Tories - they are their willing helpers." Her words were followed by an infographic of a Lib Dem lottery card inviting users to "scratch the surface to reveal the truth". 

The attacks are, among other things, a sign that Labour is going all out for a majority. Were the party doubtful of victory, it would, with another hung parliament in mind, be adopting a far less hostile stance. 

If Labour is to triumph, the most important task will be retaining the large group of voters it has won from Clegg's party (think of it as Miliband's firewall). With around 25 per cent of 2010 Lib Dems currently supporting Labour, the party can't risk going soft on Clegg and handing them "permission" to return. In addition to those seats that Labour can hope to win directly from the Lib Dems, strategists point out that in 86 of the party's 87 Tory targets, the Lib Dem vote share in 2010 was larger than the Conservatives majority. In 37, it is more than twice as large. Even if Clegg's party partially recovers before 2015, Labour stands to make sweeping gains. 

It is the Lib Dem collapse combined with the Ukip surge that means Labour can hope to achieve the rare feat of winning a majority after just one term in opposition. The party's bombardment of Clegg and co. is further evidence that Miliband is determined to do so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.