Nigel Farage during the Rochester by-election, which Tory defector Mark Reckless won for Ukip. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage struggling and Clegg in danger of losing seat, Ashcroft poll shows

Ukip are five points behind the Tories in Thanet South with the Lib Dems just three points ahead of Labour in Sheffield Hallam. 

Of all the constituency polls Lord Ashcroft has published in recent months (May2015 has collected them all here), today's is the most fascinating. In addition to polling 11 Lib Dem-Tory marginals, Ashcroft looked at the state of play in three noteworthy seats: Ed Miliband's Doncaster North, Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam and Nigel Farage's target of Thanet South. 

He found Miliband 12 points ahead in his seat (compared to 26 in 2010) with Ukip in second on 28 per cent and the Tories in third on 23 per cent. As Farage's party have been quick to point out, this means that they could defeat the Labour leader if Conservative supporters vote tactically for them. Cameron is fond of warning "Vote Farage, get Miliband" but in Doncaster at least, Ukip can warn "Vote Tory, get Miliband". 

But while the Labour leader has little reason to fear losing his seat (12 points is a comfortable lead), the same cannot be said of Clegg. Ashcroft's poll found him just three points ahead of Labour in Sheffield, a margin too close for comfort. Clegg's seat, in which he had a lead of 19,096 over Miliband's party in 2010, is not one of the 106 seats targeted by the opposition at the election, but with the race this tight, plenty of MPs will be offering their help. Tom Watson tweeted: "Clearing my diary and heading to Sheffield". Defeating Clegg in Sheffield would, after all, be the easiest way for Labour to avoid having to mark with him in the likely event of another hung parliament. This said, given that he's ahead even before any swing-back effect, Clegg will almost certainly retain his seat. 

Unusually, Ashcroft also has some grim news for Ukip. The party is five points behind the Tories in Thanet South (34-29), where Farage is standing, with Labour just three behind. The Ukip leader is likely to devote more attention to the seat next year (which he has been charged with neglecting) but that he's behind at this stage, before any late swing-back, suggests he may fail to join Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless on the Commons' benches. 

More broadly, the poll shows the Lib Dem vote holding up well against the Tories, with the Conservatives on course to win just two of the 11 seats surveyed. As Harry recently noted on May 2015, and as I've written before, this suggests that existing Lib Dem MPs are benefiting from an incumbency effect and that Labour are likely to gain most from the collapse of the party's national vote. Given that the Tories need to make significant gains from the Lib Dems (they are in second place in 37 of the party's 56 seats) to compensate for their likely losses to Labour, it is Ed Miliband who has most reason to smile today. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.