Nigel Farage at a pub on May 23, 2014 in Benfleet. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Ukip has won the European elections

Labour narrowly beats Tories.

3:38am update: After an interminable wait for the London result, owing to the farcical peformance of Tower Hamlets council (which ended up postponing its count until Tuesday), the final numbers are finally in:

Ukip 27.5 per cent - 24 seats (up 11)

Labour 25.4 per cent - 20 seats (up 7)

Conservative 24.0 per cent - 19 seats (down 7)

Green Party 7.9 per cent - 3 seats (up 1)

Lib Dems 6.9 per cent - 1 seat (down 10)

SNP 2 seats (N/C)

Plaid Cymru 1 seat (N/C)

Nigel Farage has got his "earthquake". Just two regional results are in from the European elections, but Labour has privately conceded defeat. The swing to the Farageists in the north-east and the east of England is too great for any other outcome to be conceivable.

A Labour source told me that all signs pointed to a Ukip victory, "a result we've been expecting for months", in a contest in which the nationalist right is thriving. In France, the National Front has won the contest and in Denmark the anti-immigrant People's Party topped the poll. While Labour has become the first main opposition party not to win the European elections since 1984, party sources are emphasising that the Tories are on course to finish third in a national contest for the first time in history and that David Cameron will become the first Conservative leader since John Major not to win the European elections.

They also rightly point out that the contest is a historically poor guide to general election results. In 1989, the Greens finished third with 15 per cent of the vote but won just 0.5 per cent at the national contest three years later. In 1999, William Hague's Tories triumphed but went down to a landslide defeat against Labour in 2001. Ukip polled 16 per cent in 2004 and 17 per cent in 2009 but failed to exceed three per cent in the subsequent general elections. In an age of euroscepticism, a pro-European party  like Labour was always bound to struggle to withstand the purple wave.

Ukip's triumph was hardly unexpected (indeed, it would have been seen as a failure for Farage if his party had finished second), but it is worth reflecting how remarkable it is that a party that has no MPs, runs no councils and that won just 3 per cent of the vote at the last general election, topped the poll. Not since 1910 has a party other than Labour and the Tories finished first in a national contest. Farage will rightly enjoy his moment in the sun. The question now is whether he can sustain Ukip's momentum by winning seats at the general election.

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.