Tory MP Mark Reckless announces his defection to Ukip at the party's conference in Doncaster. Photograph: Sky News.
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Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip

Rochester and Strood MP says the Conservative leadership "aren't serious about the change that I think this country needs."

Just when the Tories seemed poised to take advantage of Labour's flat conference, they throw it all away again. At Ukip's gathering in Doncaster, Mark Reckless has just announced on stage that he's become the second Conservative MP, following Douglas Carswell, to defect to Nigel Farage's party. Like Carswell, he has also resigned from parliament and triggered a by-election in his Rochester and Strood constituency. 

This is, to put it mildly, terrible for David Cameron and ensures that the focus at the Conservative conference (which opens in Manchester tomorrow) will be on the right's divisions, rather than any new policy announcements. There had been rumours for several days of two Tories defecting, and CCHQ will be terrified that there may be more to come (not least if Ukip triumphs in the two forthcoming by-elections). 

Reckless, who voted against military action in Iraq yesterday (in line with Ukip's position), told his audience: "Today, I am leaving the Conservative Party and joining Ukip. These decisions are never easy, mine certainly has not been. Many have been the sleepless nights when I have talked it over with my wife, and thought about the future of our children. But it is a decision I make from optimism, a decision that is born of belief that Britain can be better and of my knowledge of how the Westminster parties hold us back, but also of my belief in the fresh start that Ukip offers. 

"We all know the problem of British politics, that people feel disconnected from Westminster. But disconnected is too mild a word; people feel ignored, taken for granted, over-taxed, over-regulated, ripped off and lied to. And they have reason to, because, with some honourable exceptions, MPs too often are not local representatives but agents of a political class. Instead of championing their constituents' interests in Westminster, too often they champion their party's interests in their constituencies.

"We have even evolved a particular language to describe the way in which MPs betray their constituents, they are called brave, or mature, or pragmatic, or realistic, but all those words are euphemisms for one thing, which is to break their promises to their constituents. Well, I remember the promises I made to my constituents in Rochester and Strood at the last election, and I intend to keep them. I promised we would cut immigration, I promise we would cut the deficit so we could cut taxes, I promised we would decentralise power, not least over housing numbers, I promise we would have a more open and accountable politics, and I promised, above all, that we would help get our country out of the European Union. 

"And shall I tell you something, I've found that it's impossible to keep those promises as a Conservative, and that is why I'm joining Ukip." 

He added: "The problem is those at the top of the Conservative Party, they are not on our side, they aren't serious about the change that I think this country needs."

As well as being an obvious gift to Labour, as any defection is, Reckless's move will also help its efforts to "Toryfy" Ukip, which has begun to make advances in Labour territory. With two Conservative MPs on board, it becomes harder for Farage to reject the charge that his party is "Torier than the Tories". In response, Labour's Michael Dugher said: "This is a hammer blow to David Cameron's already weakened authority. On the eve of his conference we again see that Conservatives' confidence in Cameron is plummeting. David Cameron has always pandered to his right, and even they are now deserting him.

"This also underlines that UKIP are a party of Tory people, Tory policies and Tory money. It is clearer than ever that only Labour has a plan to make everyday working people across the country better off."

Last year, Reckless blamed his defeat to Labour in 2005 on Ukip, writing: "Yes, my majority was twice as big as top Ukip vote anywhere in country, but I lost in 2005 (by 213) cos Ukip stood + got c.1500." Expect that to be true for 20+ Conservatives in 2015. 

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.