Ed Miliband speaks to supporters at Redbridge on May 1, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour nine points ahead in new poll of Tory marginals

The party would win all 10 of the target seats polled. 

One of the transparent calculations behind Boris Johnson's decision to return to parliament is the possibility (or even probability) that the Tories will be defeated in 2015. With nine months remaining until the general election, a new Survation poll of 13 Conservative marginals (10 Labour targets, three Lib Dem) confirms the party's unpromising position. It puts Labour on 41 per cent (up 10 points since 2010), the Tories on 31 per cent (down eight), Ukip on 17 per cent (up 14) and the Lib Dems on just 4 per cent (down 17), a swing of nine per cent to Labour since the last election. 

On a uniform swing, these figures would see Labour win all 10 of its target seats (Amber Valley, Warwickshire North, Broxtowe, Lancaster and Fleetwood, Brighton Kemptown, Lincoln, Morecambe and Lunesdale, Sherwood, Thurrock, Cannock Case) and more than 100 Tory-held marginals nationwide. By contrast, the Lib Dems would fail to win any of their target seats (Camborne and Redruth, Truro and Falmouth, West Dorset) after a swing of four points towards the Tories. 

It's important to remember, though, that this is a snapshot, not a prediction. In October 2009, a marginals poll suggested the Tories would win a majority of 70. Just seven months later, they didn't win one at all. But thanks to the defection of Lib Dem voters to Labour and the defection of Tory voters to Ukip, the opposition is in a strong position to be the largest party. The swing achieved by Labour in the marginals (9 per cent) is greater than the national average (5.5 per cent), supporting Labour's claim that it is "winning voters where it matters". 

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.