An increasingly rare sight. Photo: Getty
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Whatever happened to the election posters in our windows?

You could always tell it was election time from the posters in people's windows. Where have they vanished to?

There was a time – not so long ago – when you knew there was an election in the air because house and flat windows were suddenly adorned with posters – red, blue and yellow – telling the passer-by that this house was voting Labour/Conservative/Liberal (as was).

But here we are amidst the ‘most exciting election campaign ever’ and there’s not a window poster to be seen. I live in a marginal constituency, and I work in another, and despite my best efforts to date, I have seen none.

It’s a pity; not just because the posters added to the general excitement (and made for very useful TV pictures to illustrate which party might be winning on the doorstep)) but because it was always fascinating to discover that that slightly stuck-up lady down the road was in fact a socialist and that the nice bloke on the other side of the road was a Tory.

It was also great for morale if you were a party worker, either delivering leaflets or knocking on doors, to see a street festooned with window posters advertising your candidate.

But those days appear to have gone. It’s been a gradual trend over the past few elections which now seems to have reached some sort of apotheosis.

But why? Is it because we have all migrated online and we’re still busy putting up posters but these are now done online on Twitter Facebook or elsewhere?

Or is it because we are all now so privatised, and perhaps wary, and think it’s better to keep our political opinions to ourselves?

Or is it because, despite the excitement of the politicians, pundits and activists – this election has left the general population unmoved? And could it be that I speak to soon, that after the leaders’ debates campaign fever will really take a grip and our streets will once more become a sea of red, blue, yellow, green and purple?

Maybe, or maybe not; and if it’s the latter it's a tad worrying. For if this campaign, clearly the most unpredictable in living memory, doesn’t stir the blood of the average voter, then political disillusionment is even more profound than any of us might have thought and our democracy is in deep trouble.

So come on, it’s time to come out, open that envelope from your party of choice and show the world your political colours.

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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.