Alan Johnson speaks at the Labour conference in 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Alan Johnson should return to the shadow cabinet, says Mary Creagh

Shadow transport secretary says former cabinet minister has "a huge contribution still to make to politics".

After David Cameron's Night of the Long Knives, Ed Miliband is likely to take the chance to freshen his top team before the general election. As I've previously reported, Miliband may use his final reshuffle to achieve gender parity in the shadow cabinet, fulfilling a pledge he made during the Labour leadership election. At present, women make up 44 per cent of the his team, putting him within touching distance of his target. By contrast, even after Cameron's recent reshuffle, just 25 per cent of the cabinet are female. Lucy Powell, the shadow childcare minister, and Luciana Berger, the shadow public health minister, are two of those tipped for promotion by party insiders. 

But while Miliband has long championed "the new generation" (31 per cent of his shadow cabinet are 2010ers), others in Labour are urging him to bring back "big beasts" from the past, with Alan Johnson the most popular choice. Tom Watson, Len McCluskey and John Prescott have all called for the former home secretary to return to the shadow cabinet. 

Now, in an interview with the NS, Mary Creagh has added her voice to those backing a Johnson comeback. She told me: 

I would love Alan to come back into the shadow cabinet. I think he’s fantastic ... He's got a huge contribution still to make to politics. 

She added: "But I also want him to keep writing his books, because they’re fantastic too. I read This Boy; I thought it was wonderful, I cried when I read when it, it was just so incredibly moving. You understand where Alan comes from in a completely different way, but it was also a beautiful tribute to the west London working class life that he had. 

"He showed a different world and a different approach, and a different model of fatherhood. But also the generosity of the people around them, giving them a box of groceries because they never quite had enough food.

"So would I want to see Alan come back? Yeh, definitely. I think Alan’s got a huge contribution still to make to politics."

But for someone to come back, someone else has to make way. Ahead of Miliband's reshuffle, then (expected after Labour's conference), some of Creagh's shadow cabinet colleagues face a nervous wait. 

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.