The image tweeted by Conservative chairman Grant Shapps last night.
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The Tories' bingo poster spoils Osborne's morning

The Chancellor is forced to comment on the patronising image in every broadcast interview.

For George Osborne, yesterday's Budget was a shambles-free occasion, with most of the changes he announced welcomed by the media and Labour unable to attack any specific measure (focusing instead on the continuing decline in living standards). But the Chancellor's morning has been marred by a remarkably inept poster tweeted by Conservative chairman Grant Shapps last night. 

In reference to the cuts in bingo tax and beer duty announced in the Budget, it declares that the Tories are helping "hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy" - an astonishingly patronising line that treats "working people" ("they") as a foreign breed. Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, who led the campaign for a cut in bingo duty, must have had his head in his hands. (The familiar claim that the party is for "hardworking people" reminds me of Margaret Thatcher on power: "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.")

Even Danny Alexander, whom Lib Dems accuse of going "native" at the Treasury, was moved to rare criticism, telling Newsnight: “I thought it was a spoof at first, it’s just pretty extraordinary. It may be our Budget but it’s their words, I think it’s rather patronising." 

As a result, Osborne has been asked to comment on the poster in every broadcast interview he's done this morning in just the kind of distraction from the "core message" that politcians loathe. He attempted to dismiss the row as "a campaign whipped up by Labour" but that conveniently ignores that it was conservative journalists, including Michael Gove's wife Sarah Vine (who tweeted "Please tell me this is not real"), who led the charge

While the furore hardly complains with the aftermath of the 2012 Budget, when Osborne was universally derided for raising taxes on pasties, pensioners, churches and charities, while cutting them for the top 1 per cent, it's still a mess he could have done without. Little wonder that the Tories are now desperately claiming that the poster was merely a "one-off tweet by the party chairman". 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.