Myleene Klass clashed with Ed Miliband over the mansion tax. Photo: Getty
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Why Ed Miliband's bizarre mansion tax feud with Myleene Klass works in Labour's favour

A former popstar's attack on the Labour leader's tax proposals could help him out.

Last night on ITV's The Agenda, an intriguing new genre of the political panel format was invented: minor early-noughties celebrities scolding party leaders. Unsurprisingly, it went well with the internet, and soon articles popped up everywhere suggesting that Myleene Klass – star of stage and screen (Hear'Say and M&S adverts) – had "owned", or gone "full Paxman" on, Ed Miliband over his proposal for a mansion tax.

Here's what she had to say:

For me, it's so disturbing – the name in its own right: 'mansion tax'. Immediately you conjure up an image of these Barbie-esque houses, but in London, which is where 80 per cent of the people who will be paying this tax actually live, have you seen what that amount of money can get you? It's like a garage.

When you do look at the people who will be suffering this tax, it's true a lot of them are grannies who have had these houses in their families for a long, long time. 

The people who are the super-super rich buying their houses for £140m, this is not necessarily going to affect them because they’ve got their tax rebates and amazing accountants. It’s going to be the little grannies who have lived in those houses for years and years.

For all her passion, and the fact that it is mordibly wonderful to watch one-time Popstars contestants having a go at nonplussed politicos, this row could work in Miliband's favour. 

Not only has Klass' suggestion that £2m will only land you a "garage" in London received a great deal of mockery but the mansion tax is an undeniably popular policy. YouGov recently found that it is supported by 72 per cent of people. As well as this, a majority of people want more money spent on the NHS, which is what Miliband's mansion tax would pay for. This row will do more to bring an already overwhelmingly popular policy proposal to the attention of voters than embarrass Miliband.

Also he did a Hear'Say pun:

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at 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.