Monday 31 July 2017

Why the Tories Fear University

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time as a student. But one thing was almost entirely missing. Well, for the first two years anyway. And that was politics. In the 90s being a student still had connotations of radical politics and my hope was meeting people who'd also had their minds opened by the bastardised Marxism fed to A-Level sociology students. Unfortunately, it was not to be. By chance I shared a floor with a Nietzschean anarchist who introduced me to Class War and revolutionary politics, but that's for another time. Mostly, overwhelmingly, student life was a politics-free zone - and things barely got moving when, in the summer before my final year, His Royal Blairness announced the introduction of tuition fees for the 98/99 intake and the abolition of the grant. No mass politicisation was touched off, no great turn to the left, no spectacle of mass revulsion like that greeting the Liberal Democrats' complicity in the tripling of tuition fees. It was the nearest to meek acceptance a regressive policy has ever met in my time in politics.

Things do change, and so I was tickled to read Tom Welsh moaning in the Telegraph about higher education. The title says it all: "The Left will continue its resurgence so long as too many go to university". You can almost read the script without actually reading it. That universities are red bases, or "factories for Corbynites" because of the "intellectual Stalinism" of the faculty, 80% of whom voted for "leftwing parties" at the general election. Tom never pauses to ask why so many academics gave the Tories a wide berth, but when you're in telling-it-how-it-is mode there isn't much scope for learning things afresh. Universities are schools of revolution because they're full of "safe spaces" and "no platforming" where "free market capitalists aren't safe" - a situation that, in all my years in and out of HE as a student and a staff member I've never encountered outside of a Nick Cohen article.

His solution? More marketisation, of course. As there are not enough graduate jobs to go around (though, social science graduates have the best employment prospects of all), more choice, an incentivised fee structure and the introduction of more for-profit providers will encourage students to make more responsible decisions and break with the left domination of the institutions. Though Tom, not being the brightest of boys, doesn't realise that if the for-profits were to take off they would quickly find themselves staffed by and large by existing expertise. You know, those awful lefties encouraging students to think critically and using things like evidence to inform their position-taking.

Tom illustrates the bind right wing thinking is in when it comes to education. As the defenders of class privilege and champions of business-first determinism, they know they need educated people. This is especially true in the age of immaterial labour, where the big profits and key markets rely on the buying and selling of knowledge, information, and services. For capital to thrive it needs more people in an from the universities to drive innovation. The problem is the more knowledge they have, the more dependent capital is on them for this knowledge, and the less likely they will be hoodwinked by the usual bullshit methods the right use to try and corral support for their politics. If numbers accessing further and higher education are lessened, the easier it is to keep a lid on things but the less competitive businesses as a whole become. Already the refusal of British business to invest and instead employing more and more people on insecure contracts is driving down productivity and making British goods uncompetitive on world markets. If Tom's fantasy of a smaller university sector came to pass, even then the cat is out of the bag. The socialised worker is here to stay. The problems the Conservatives have aren't going to disappear because fewer people are heading to university.

A proper conundrum for right wingers then. Ensure a more competitive future for British capital but at the price of increasing the growing class power of the knowledge worker, or sacrifice profits to better preside over a declining state of affairs. To find the house journal of the Tory party advocating this position is no shocker, considering the decadent state they find themselves in. In classical Marxist fashion, they are proving to be a fetter on development. It's up to us in the Labour Party and labour movement to champion education and the wave of the future.

Sunday 30 July 2017

Racism and Capitalist Exploitation

Consider Marx's theory of exploitation.

The accumulation of capital doesn't magically happen. It has to be advanced to set up the infrastructure of a business to make goods or provide services to a perceived market. And to start the ball rolling, any firm needs people. Trying to make a living from scratch typically begins with the labour of the owner and/or a few others and it spirals from there. Each employee receives a wage or salary in return for the time they spend under the employer's direction producing goods and services, maintaining the operation and so on. On the face of it it presents as a fair and free exchange. The employee freely chooses to rent out their capacity to work for a certain amount of time in return for money. Both parties to the transaction get what they want. Nevertheless this masks an exploitative relationship. The appearance of equivalence hides from view the ultimate source of sustained capital accumulation: surplus labour and surplus value. For illustration's sake, assuming a 22 day month working 9-5 shifts which our worker is paid £1,500 before tax and national insurance. Over that time they generate products or services with the nominal value of £10,500. From the employee's perspective it takes three-and-a-bit days to make enough to cover their monthly wage, and therefore the remaining 18-odd days are entirely superfluous. This labour is surplus labour, and when the goods and services are sold the value in them is realised and accrues to the employer. This is surplus value over and above that paid to the agent (the worker) responsible for the production of that commodity. The firm meets payments due, advance a bit more for investment next time, and whatever is left over is profit (which itself can be entirely reinvested or whatever).

This depends on the disciplining of workers. Despite the hidden character of exploitation, it necessitates constant struggle on the part of both parties to the relationship. To realise the surplus value congealed in their commodities, capitals (businesses) have to compete among themselves. They cannot control the environment they operate in (assuming they're neither a monopoly or part of a cartel), and are compelled on pain of extinction to extract every last sous from production. It can do this by increasing the gap of money advanced to labour power and the (latent) value they generate through speed ups, lengthening the working day, cutting wages, and introducing new technology to boost production. This lowers the cost of production and can, in turn, realise profits by offering better/cheaper goods at prices their competition would find difficult to meet. Labour, because it is a thinking, feeling, fleshy being will resist attempts to make them stay at work for longer, to devalue their wages, and to replace them with automated systems. Workers have a clear interest in ensuring their wage is able to reproduce them as a material and social being, and workers have an interest and a tendency to resist attempts by management to implement hands-on supervision and a thousand and one other petty tyrannies. At base, class struggle at the point of production is a question of power, of between management's right to manage the production of surplus labour and subsequent extraction of surplus value and workers' pushing back against the employers' work time control of their bodies.

Here then is a simplified sketch of exploitation in a capitalist economy. Note that surplus labour and surplus value are dependent on the class struggle, and that it never goes away - even if workers aren't joining trade unions in large numbers, striking, marching, etc. Class struggle therefore is internal to the basic processes of how capitalism works. Bearing that in mind and intervening in an ongoing debate, Richard Seymour asks whether race is constitutive of capital and capitalism in the same way. This looks at work by David Roediger and Elizabeth Esch who argue it is (well, as far as capitalism in the United States is concerned) and David Harvey and the late Ellen Meiksins Wood who say not. As Richard notes, Wood (and Harvey) aren't trying to erase the importance of race and acknowledge the central place it has and continues to have in the division of labour in the US. What is at dispute is a conceptual matter. Wood argues that race makes class exploitation possible by dividing up the workforce along lines of ethnicity and therefore obscuring the class processes at work. Roediger's differences rest on the obvious persistence of race and racism in what is an advanced capitalist country, that race is evidently conducive to capitalism as is, and that racial difference is showing little sign of withering away. Au contraire it is reproduced across firms and sectors, suggesting something more than the historic legacy of slavery is at work.

Richard's reading goes deeper. Set out in its purest form, exploitation and the circuit of capital only has room for class. However, Marx warned us about mistaking the things of logic for the logic of things, and that applies to his own abstractions and concepts. Capitalism just doesn't exist like this in the social world - the persistence of race and, of course, the sexual division of labour in the home are constitutive of the relationship as well. Someone has to produce and raise successive generations of proletarians. Someone has to do the shitty jobs and act as a racialised reserve army to be deployed by employers to discipline wage demands and to undermine the emergence of collective strength (a point well understood by Engels). For Wood, Richard argues that she inadvertently read exploitation here in a flat, economistic manner. She goes further and argues that racial hierarchies are ultimately rooted in civic status, of how the sovereign power (the state) conceives and confers the rights and status of its citizens - and yet despite formal equality in the US following the abolition of slavery and segregation, the racial hierarchies persist. Therefore Richard concludes, "that the capitalist system not only needs hierarchies in the working class, but that it needs them to have the sort of regularity, predictability and ideological legitimacy that comes with ascriptive essentialism. In other words, one could argue that, if not race, then capitalism needs race-like ascriptive hierarchies."

I am in complete agreement with Richard's position. Consider how a new mode of exploitation is becoming increasingly central to capitalism: the appropriation of immaterial labour, of the collective knowledge (or common, as Hardt and Negri call it) that is produced and reproduced by the networked brains of the 21st century proletarian: the socialised worker. Rather than providing the tools and knowledge for production at a particular site (the workplace), capital is increasingly dependent on the attributes a worker brings to the job that have been acquired and are reproduced outside the work relation. Production here is social production, or biopolitical production, and the outcomes are knowledge, information, services, social relationships, and modes of being/subjectivity. This applies as much to the provider of professional services as it does the Uber driver. The extraction of surplus labour and surplus value is increasingly visible in all these cases. How then is race constitutive of this emerging model of exploitation? It's there in the hierarchies. What you might call the working class end of immaterial labour finds racialised minorities working in disproportionate numbers. The more privileged the position, however, the whiter the racial composition goes. Therefore cognitive capital in not colour blind and it reproduces and arranges the hierarchies inherited from previous compositions of capital. Despite the neoliberal promise of entrepreneurship and individuality, it remains the case that not all are equal before capital.

It's here I want to complicate matters. While the US is the paradigmatic case, racial hierarchies are packaged up with capital wherever the latter is found. Even in ethnically homogeneous places like Japan, racism can be found toward Koreans, mixed raced citizens, visitors, and directed outwards to foreigners. Indeed, Japanese citizenship is defined in explicitly racial terms by its constitution. In the absence of a racial hierarchy then, Japanese capital makes efforts to construct one. There is considerable variation then between countries owing to their histories and position in the global pecking order, but what I'm interested in is the role race plays in constituting British capital and class relationships.

There are two things that are worth nothing. There is the imperial legacy. The wealth of Britain lies on its being the former global hegemon, slouching atop the global order and spreadeagled across continents to the extent the sun never set on its corpulent form. It is well-established the capital that poured into the factories of the industrial revolution was in large part thanks to the slave trade, and Britain's power post-abolition thanks to being the first among colonial powers. Unlike the US in which slavery was internal and integral to the state, British slavery and imperial plunder organised the division of labour on a global scale. While entirely constituent of capital of the period, its spatial manifestation was largely external to British society. Largely, however, doesn't mean entirely - as the experience of Irish migrant workers in the 19th century testifies. Since the eclipse of colonialism, the racial division of labour has proliferated in Britain as successive waves of migrants have come here. Capital could dump colonialism, but it couldn't lose the utility of racial hierarchies it seems. And it persists: race gaps in education, health, unemployment, pay, and job status are there and have in recent years been augmented by the arrival of workers from Eastern Europe. There is more than just the hangover of empire racism and the scapegoating of the Tory press going on.

The second point of interest is what you might call institutionalised anti-racism. Racial hierarchies are in rude health while the set of ideas and, for want of a better phrase, values that justify them are not. Racial abuse is against the law and the espousal of racist ideas is a passport to cultural purgatory - as Kevin Myers is finding out. They often possess an appearance of an overhang from a different time. Meanwhile the institutions of the state and most medium-to-large businesses have a battery of anti-racist, anti-discriminatory policies that often require staff to undergo diversity awareness and equalities training. Any account of the constituting/intertwining relation of race and capital in Britain has to get to grips with this. This entails meeting and investigating a set of propositions.

1. A thin layer of liberal virtue that has the consequence of misdirecting attention away from the persistent importance of race to British capital.

2. A shift in the dynamics of racism and racial hierarchies from a concern with the capacities of bodies to the qualities of the subject, of the increasing concern with biopolitical production. Hence the shift in racism away from skin colour and racial typing to culturalism. See for example Islamophobia, the racism that dresses itself up as an (often liberal) concern with the supposed incompatibility between Islam and Western culture.

3. A culturalist repositioning of British national identity around a broad range of liberal-ish values. To be anti-British is not to oppose the works of the British state but rather to espouse views that cut against inclusion and tolerance and indulge imperial bigotry. It's how UKIP are largely deemed un-British in establishment circles, for instance. This state of affairs has been partly driven by government policy and its championing of a multiculturalism from above.

4. A multi-racialisation of capital. Post-war migrant communities set up businesses, some of which have become not inconsiderable enterprises. Additionally, the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s and the big bang in the City of London not only cemented London as a key nexus in global capital transactions, but was able to attract huge flows of foreign investment to the point where key industrial enterprises and pieces of infrastructure have owners domiciled overseas. While much of this is from other metropolitan countries, capital from former colonies and protectorates has, from the standpoint of workers living in Britain, more or less merged with British capital. This could provide another driver for anti-racism from above.

5. A consequence of anti-racist struggles and class struggle. As the post-war settlement with its welfare state, NHS and social wage was conditioned by the then strengthening of the labour movement, can't the progress of anti-racism through the institutions and wider culture be an outcome of the weight of action from below by black and minority ethnicities and their allies? Of course they can be and are, but as with all movements that push up from below victories are institutionalised and assimilated into the apparatus of population management.

6. The effects of official anti-racism with its diversity quotas and recognition of difference allows for a certain degree of social mobility. Nevertheless it leaves the hierarchy of race untouched. Racism and anti-racism is officially conceived as less than structural, never mind anything to do with the processes basic to capitalist exploitation. By remaining silent, anti-racism de-problematises issues of racial justice, providing succour to the view that injustice itself is an outcome of individual choices made over anything systematic. And this brings us back to 1.

It seems to me that an analysis of race and capitalist exploitation, of understanding how the former is interior to the latter is a question not just of history but how capital as a social relation shapes and is shaped by anti-racist struggle and how it incorporates it, the changing composition of capital, the reconfiguration of how it goes about securing surplus labour and generating surplus value, and shifts in strategies of control. One thing however is clear. While capitalism without race and racism is theoretically possible, conceiving such an entity means treating capitalism entirely as an abstract construct. In reality its existence is confined to liberal dreams and on-paper schemes.

Saturday 29 July 2017

Moby - Go

This evening finds me penning a pondersome screed in response to Richard Seymour's piece on class, race and capitalism looking at, well, those things. As the eyelids droop with the promise of sleep, I'm surrendering to its embrace. Just so the cupboard isn't bare, here's one of the greatest house records ever written.

Friday 28 July 2017

Local Council By-Elections July 2017

This month 22,935 votes were cast over 19 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Five council seats changed hands in total. For comparison with June's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- July 16

* There was one by-election in Scotland
** There were no by-elections in Wales
*** There were one Independent clash
**** Others this month consisted of the North East Party (80 votes)

The turn around in Labour's electoral fortunes have impacted down at the local level for the second month running. This is the first time Labour have come away with a net gain in number of councillors since February, and only the fourth month since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader to have come out with more councillors than what Labour went into it with. The times they are a-changin'. I could get used to writing up the results without a rain cloud darkening proceedings.

As expected the Tory vote is holding up reasonably well. Expect an occasional spike in fortunes but otherwise the drip, drip, drip of slow decline. The LibDems have managed to pull things back to the figures they were consistently polling before the election, but I doubt they'll be able to transform them into many stunning victories in the short to medium term - provided Brexit doesn't spell disaster for the fortunes of the two main parties. But UKIP and the Greens, good grief. They've almost evaporated. It's hard right now to see where salvation for either is going to come from.

Thursday 27 July 2017

Capitalism and Social Media

Every so often, Facebook users get weird reminders. Over the last few months I've had happy memories replayed to me about the time I posted such-and-such a status update, or gave a blog a bit of a plug. It also told me I've been on Facebook for 10 years. Now, I'm not an avid user and it's only these last couple of months I've properly woken up to it as a campaigning and dissemination tool, but it and Twitter are pretty much integrated into my everyday. And so it is for millions, hundreds of millions of people. In fact, Facebook has not long celebrated its two billionth user. Social media has certainly come a long way since I signed up. People now, particularly in the metropolitan countries, have a far greater range and numbers of friends and acquaintances than was previously the case - the debates about the quality of these connections need not concern us here. Social media has passed from fad to infrastructure on which relationships, and not a few businesses, are totally dependent.

Sociology has long had an interest in cultures of the internet and what computer mediated communication means for social interaction, presentation of self, and the display and reception of gender, ethnicity, sexuality and so on. The political economy of social media, the character of the corporations, their business models, and how they fit wider developments in the character of capitalism hasn't received quite as much attention. Therefore Nick Srnicek's small book, Platform Capitalism, is important because it does the job of situating social media in recent trends and what it means for the development of capitalism stubbornly stuck in crisis.

For Nick, we need to examine the origins of the digital economy out of the syncopated sputtering of Western economies following the crisis of the 1970s. This period saw the dominant position occupied by the US diminish in the face of competition from Japan and West Germany, and exacerbated by glutted markets and growing inflation off the back of the oil shocks and the Vietnam War. As the crisis threatened to grow over into one of profitability, American firms (and others) responded in two ways: by importing management methods from Japan and reorganising production and moving to leaner models with fewer 'just in case' redundancies. Simultaneously, the second strand involved the crushing of the labour movement. Where this was accomplished (chiefly America and Britain) it prepared the ground for enforced flexibility of work, the export of jobs, and the universalisation of precarity. These crude class war measures, which also allowed for the privatisation of state-owned infrastructure and the extension of transactional relationships (and therefore, the market) to greater areas of social life, resolved - at least for a time - the crisis tendencies of 1970s capitalism. However, capital's restoration of profit levels by grabbing a greater share of the wealth generated by labour has a whole set of problems of its own.

As we entered the 1990s the internet was opening up as a new commercial opportunity. The hype of the time conceptualised it as cyberspace, a frictionless domain where relationships - and therefore trade - could proliferate unhindered. Just like the frontier of the Old West, if you found yourself a sweet spot in the land rush you could make a pile. As the internet broke into popular consciousness its infrastructure was built by speculative capital flooding in. Newcomers entered the field to try and define - then corner - markets and existing firms were forced into providing web-based service lest a competitor jump in and grab their slice of the pie. This was the period of the search engine wars, competition between web-based email services, of listserv and chatroom (and later instant messaging) providers, online retailing. Whoever won out in these emerging markets had the potential for monopoly profits written in their source codes and algorithms. Such investment surged during the 1998 Asian/Russian crisis that brought the so-called tiger economies of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore to a sudden stop - and were encouraged to do so by Alan Greenspan, then of the Federal Reserve. The bubble eventually burst and many tech companies were driven to the wall, but what was left was an infrastructure, a clutch of surviving firms in monopoly spots, a public growing habituated to the internet and, crucially, investors more wise and less taken with hype.

The main problem survivors encountered was coming up with business models that could generate profit. While retailers had retail and could make money sans a shop front, it was less obvious how search engines or instant messaging could provide a return. Advertising seemed like an obvious answer, and so it proved to be. It was data that was key to sustainability. It's long been recognised by retail that capturing information about your customers can inform marketing and greater sales. For instance, the proliferation of reward card schemes in supermarkets during the 1990s enabled companies to build up profiles of their customers on the basis of their purchases, to target advertise, and send them bespoke special offers. Applying this logic to the internet, if your business is dependent on advertising revenue then you need to know who you are advertising to. This is why data is key: the more they know about people using their service, the more targeted adspace can be sold. The question then is how to get internet users to use your services? The genius of what came to be social media sites is you provide a space for people to do pretty much what they want. As Nick notes,
At the most general level, platforms are digital infrastructures that enable two or more groups to interact. They therefore position themselves as intermediaries that bring together different users: customers, advertisers, service providers, producers, suppliers, and even physical objects. More often than not, these platforms also come with a series of tools that enable their users to build their own products, services, and marketplaces. (p.43)
Users generate data. Videos, status updates, tweets, conversations are all tracked and stored by their host sites to build up a picture, as per loyalty card schemes, and this is used for the basis for selling advertising. The more data, the greater the scope of targeted ads and the possibility of more profit for the platform. There is now a clear impetus for firms to get as many people as possible using their infrastructures. Social media is therefore free at the point of use, easy to navigate, provides a simple (and familiar) web presence for businesses, and within certain limits allows the user to utilise the space as they see fit. Whether sharing the latest tunes heard down the shopping centre or screeds on immaterial labour and Corbynism, it's all so much data for the platform to gather, to refine, and to make money off.

Nick identifies five basic types of platform. The aforementioned collection of big data sets used to sell advertising space, cloud platforms that rent out computing power and software off-the-shelf and gathers data from their use, industrial platforms that produce software enabling internet connections and automated systems and, yes, also gathers data from use, product platforms that transform goods into rent-able services - think Netflix, and lastly lean platforms profiting from reducing costs for others. For example, our Ubers, Airbnbs, and Deliveroos. In practice many firms are combinations of two or more of these ideal types. For Uber to hook up drivers and customers, it depends on cloud computing and software rented from elsewhere. It is lean because the only asset it really owns is its data sets.

With the drive to expand, each of the platforms have a tendency toward monopoly. Therefore the natural model isn't one of market equilibrium: megaprofits are possible only if a market is completely cornered. That often is not enough: the drive for more data leads platforms into new markets. See how Google has expanded beyond search into other social media platforms and industrial applications (AI, automated vehicles, robotics), or how others try and make themselves into a closed ecosystem. It is possible and many millions of people rarely venture onto the internet beyond Facebook. In each case the opportunities have muscled in with cloud computing services and the provision of digital goods from their online stores.

The question Nick finishes with is whether the social media revolution can recharge capitalism. He concludes - rightly in my view - that they may offer the potential of increasing productivity, particularly in the industrial arena via the automation of systems, it does nothing for markets that are already glutted. And that's before the replacement of jobs by further rounds of robotics and AI are factored in. Second, lean platforms in particular are in a precarious position. Uber depends on lax regulatory regimes that many jurisdictions are clamping down on, not least on the question of whether their drivers are employees or not. Revenue streams are also episodic (how many times do you need a cab or a quick delivery?) and not everything can be outsourced. As far as platforms go, Google and Facebook are doing well but there can only be one of each. They create opportunities for returns but themselves cannot upgrade capitalism into a new era of growth. The lean platforms, however, will only last for as long as the venture capital pledged remains.

The book is an interesting and very readable entree into how capitalism is struggling after the crash, and also shows up a lot of problems it has in coming to grips with the growing importance of immaterial labour and the production of information, knowledge, signs, affect, and social relations. Midway through the book Nick addresses the issue of whether the data being produced should be treated as the product of labour a la Marx. He suggests not as there is no element of compulsion in play and what is being provided is a raw material that is then refined by the firm into a material that yields its value when employed to sell advertising space. In other words, the data impressions left by our digital footprints are effectively a force of production. What we are seeing with the data capture represents the shift in exploitation away from the direct organisation of work and the extraction of surplus value from behind the veneer of the wage relation to, more or less, poncing off the interactions and the social production of the people who use the platform. In a formal sense it is a free exchange. We click the tl;dr terms and conditions and get to use the platform wizardry for free while they make billions from the content we make and share. It is the contemporary equivalent of the "fairness" between the employer and employee we know and love, of them generously providing a wage if we work for x number of hours under their direction. Such kindness.

Platform Capitalism then is about the new, about the cutting edge and seemingly most dynamic sections of capital. Its suffusion of the glamour of high technology with the promise of mega profits offers hope beyond the impasse. What Nick has done is to show that for all the smart science and gizmos, platforms shows capital running up against its limits. It doesn't solve the contradictions balling up in front of it. Instead, following William Gibson's classic definition of cyberspace, the apparatus of social media is a consensual hallucination. And those city lights, receding are the hopes capital has for the new technologies pulling it out from the mire.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Tory Tribunal Fee Farce

Unalloyed goodness is a rarity in politics, especially when it comes to labour movement politics. But the decision handed down by the Supreme Court this morning ruling that employment tribunal fees are unlawful is some of the best industrial news seen in years. Implemented by the Tories with Liberal Democrat support in 2013, it was ostensibly part of the contrived war on red tape. According to the former Prime Minister, workplace rights were getting in the way of job creation and growth. A convenient scapegoat when you consider the real reason for Britain's economic underperformance has much to do with business banking its profits and effectively going on capital strike. In reality, the introduction of fees strengthened management in the workplace and enabled a more precarious labour force. Bosses had the freedom to intimidate, bully, and diddle workers without any comeback.

Tribunals have always occupied a problematic place in the Tory imagination. They have the power to impose fines and order reinstatement of employment, though in practice many claimants settle for compensation. However, it represents an extra layer of mediation between employees and employer that implicitly challenges management's right to manage. The requirement to pay an upfront and non-refundable fee of between £390 and £1,200 to take an employer to tribunal was self-evidently unfair and unjust, and so had to be introduced under a smokescreen of bogus stories about vexatious claims and exporbitant penalties placing heavy loads on hard-pressed businesses. Incidentally, it was cuddlesome liberal hero Uncle Vince Cable who was responsible for most of the spadework done. In his role as business minister in the Coalition government, the new LibDem leader recommended and implemented the raising of the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from one to two years, and advocated the introduction of tribunal fees to "encourage potential claimants to fully consider their cases". Truly a case of looking from Tory to LibDem, LibDem to Tory, and not knowing which was which.

The Supreme Court judgement decreed that fees acted as a obstacle to justice. As most potential claims are for monies less than the tribunal cost, potential claimants were deterred due to the process leaving them further out of pocket, even if successful. And like so many of the measures the Tory/LibDem coalition brought in, it tended to disproportionately impact women. According to the BBC, the government indicated that it would reimburse all fee payments if they were found to have acted unlawfully. Hardly the language of a party determined to appeal the decision.

From the government's point of view, it's politically wise not to appeal. In the quiet of the summer, why give bored headline writers Tory meat to chow down on when, as far as they're concerned, they can carry on worrying the Labour Party? Even if they are minded to try and push something through the Commons when it reconvenes properly in October, being seen to not be on the workers' side and problems lining up all the backbenchers present a headache it could do without. There are no opportunities here for the Tories, just cost, cost, cost.

And what's good news for workers is also good news for the Labour Party. Yet again we have another instance of party policy - in this case the scrapping of tribunal fees - effectively being implemented by a Conservative government. How many more times is this going to happen between now and the next general election?