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Crush the saboteurs: the Daily Mail just says what Theresa May is thinking

The PM's suggestion that the enemies of Brexit have to be defeated at the polls corrodes democracy.

There's only one story in town - Theresa May's decision to call a snap election. From the the Star's "Snap Crackle and Pop" to the FT's "May calls snap election in bid to strengthen hand in Brexit talks", there's only one frontpage today.

There's also only one paper that anyone's talking about: the Mail. "Crush the Saboteurs" is their splash. MPs from across the political spectrum have condemned it. In a rare intervention against the newspaper she is frequently in lockstep with, Theresa May has criticised it too, saying that it "absolutely" does not represent her views, and that dissent is an important part of democracy.

Er, hang about. Not to defend the Mail but their splash can't even be described as the subtext of May's address kicking of the contest yesterday - it's just the text. She started her campaign talking about how Brexit was under threat because of those wreckers in Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. That's simply not true - on Brexit issues, thanks to the bulk of her own party, the Irish Unionists and the six Labour Brexiteers who reliably vote with the government. And, of course, the large group of Labour MPs who will vote for the deal come what may in order to avoid the ire of their Leave-voting constituents.

The PM is struggling to get her way, but on domestic issues. On grammar schools, on national insurance contributions, you name it, she can't do it. On every issue other than Brexit, there is a disgruntled faction of the Tory party bigger than her majority. That's the real reason why we're 50 days away from a general election.

Understandably, Theresa May didn't want to kick off her campaign talking about her own impotence. It makes political sense to claim that there are enemies abroad who have to be defeated at the polls. But if we're going to talk about rhetoric that corrodes democracy, we should start at the steps of Downing Street, and not at the offices of the Mail.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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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.