A Labour Party worker canvasses for votes in Battersea on January 31, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's manifesto: who's writing it and what happens next

There is concern within the party at the failure to agree a date for the crucial Clause V meeting. 

In advance of the start of the short campaign on 30 March, all parties are working on completing their election manifestos. The Conservatives', overseen by Jo Johnson MP (Boris's younger brother), is said to be nearly finished, while David Laws is refining the Lib Dems'. Ukip, meanwhile, recently replaced its manifesto chief Tim Aker with Suzanne Evans after he failed to meet an agreed deadline. 

What of Labour? Unlike in 2010, when its manifesto was written by Ed Miliband, the party has not publicly announced an official author. But I can reveal the key figures involved in the document. The text is being written by academic Jonathan Rutherford, an adviser to Jon Cruddas, and Marc Stears, Miliband's chief speechwriter and a friend from his Oxford days. The three politicians at the heart of the process are Jon Cruddas, the head of the party's policy review, Angela Eagle, who is leading internal consultation, and Jon Trickett, who is leading external consultation. Torsten Bell, Labour's director of policy and rebuttal, is handling the technical policy detail. 

As well as the usual debate over which policies make the cut, one issue that remains to be resolved is when the party will hold its Clause V meeting: the event at which the NEC, the shadow cabinet and other stakeholders agree the contents of the manifesto (one source described it to me as "a parliament of Labour"). The meeting is usually held within 72 hours of a general election being called, but the innovation of a fixed-term parliament means the election date (7 May) has long been known.

Despite this, a date has yet to be agreed for the party to meet. There is fear among some that this reflects a desire for the centre to maintain maximum control over the process, making it easier to exclude radical proposals. Were a date to be agreed now, the trade unions and others would, in the words of one source, know the point at which to "pile in". There is concern that measures such as worker representation on remuneration committees have yet to be confirmed as final policy. How this argument is resolved could yet determine whether Labour's manifesto is as "radical" as billed. 

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.