"Is he the stripper?" Photo: Getty
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Partying with Paddy Ashdown, Ed's Labour HQ rules, and a literally rubbish Tory

Plus young Tory exploits with the Northern Ireland Secretary's red box.

One suspects that Theresa Villiers will be unhappy to discover what a bunch of Tory youths did with one of her ministerial red boxes. Come to think of it, the Northern Ireland Secretary might be in trouble, too – aren’t ministers supposed to take care of them? A snout whispered that a mob from the youth group Conservative Future found the box at Villiers’s Chipping Barnet Conservative Association offices following a talk by Peter Lilley MP. Unable to open the case, the excitable Boris minors took it to the nearby Ye Olde Monken Holt pub and posed for photographs on social media before thinking better of it and deleting the snaps. My informant saw one picture of a young Tory holding the box aloft. The next generation of Cons is as stupidly arrogant as the old.

 

Nick Clegg’s election chief, Paddy Ashdown, revels in his Action Man image but the former Royal Marine met his match on a train to London after the 2 April TV debate. Outgunned and outnumbered, the Lib Dem peer was forced to surrender to a Yorkshire hen party in fancy dress. On this occasion, a radar-lugged snout was settling down to hear Ashdown discussing campaign strategy on his phone when the carriage filled up with shrieking lasses. Captain Paddy hastily terminated the call with a giggly: “Save me! Save me!”
 

“Get it sorted!” is Ed Miliband’s most used phrase when on visits to Labour Party HQ on Brewer’s Green, barely a shout away from Westminster. Staff are instructed to keep his battle bus stocked with Pret A Manger sandwiches. You can take the socialist out of Hampstead . . . I’m told his favourite is the BLT. There’s a “no photos” edict.
 

Back on the train, Captain Paddy looked on open-mouthed as the Yorkshire hen party drank Cava for breakfast and noisily told lewd stories. “Just imagine what they’ll be like by the time they get to London,” a rueful Ashdown muttered to his companion. “This is going to be the journey from hell.”
 

The Tory wannabe and barrister Anna Firth isn’t the sharpest tool in the election campaign kit. Decamping to Labour-held Erith and Thamesmead after failing to secure her party’s nomination for the November 2014 Rochester by-election, Firth has made litter her big issue. She posted fewer pictures of rubbish, though, after rivals noted that most were taken in the constituency’s Bexley wards – where Tories run the council and are responsible for street cleaning.

One of the hens eventually recognised Ashdown. A glass of Cava was thrust into his hand. Selfies were taken. “Is he the stripper?” one asked. Cue more cheering. Paddy Pantsdown kept his trousers on. He looked terrified.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Anniversary Issue 2015

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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.