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Tony Blair is simply spelling out the truth about Brexit

The essence of democracy is the right to change your mind at a later date. 

Tony Blair is back in town with a speech about his new “mission”: persuading the British people that they made the wrong call in backing Brexit.

Labour’s last election winner will tell listeners that people voted “without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit”, and that as those terms “become clear”, it is the right of the people to change their mind – and the duty of pro-Europeans to do so.

It’s a measure of the febrile nature of British politics that an observation that is, to be frank, banal in the extreme is considered heretical or controversial.

Brexit might well be a success – I laid out one possible path towards that here – but it is hard to see how it will be a success that unifies half of the electorate. Blair is right, too, that just because we can see a path to making "the best of a bad job doesn't alter the fact that it isn't wise to put yourself in that position unless you have to". For those of us who still think Britain is better of in the European Union, that the promises extended to the 52 per cent cannot be reconciled with one another, let alone the 48 per cent, is reason to retain the option of a do-over if it doesn't work out. 

The bulk of Labour voters who opted to leave wanted protectionism, lower immigration and higher public spending – and only one of those is likely to be forthcoming under Theresa May. Ethnic minorities who backed Brexit in Newham and Birmingham did so because they hoped for fairer and more humane visa conditions for the nations of the Commonwealth. Good luck with that. 

As far as the Conservative electoral coalition is concerned, free trade with the rest of the world may please the Brexit elite in SW1, but is less likely to appeal to the agricultural seats they represent in the House of Commons - particularly if it leads to the emergence of non-tariff barriers to trade with the EU. 

All of which assumes that Brexit is a success. If Britain falls out of the EU without a deal, if a hard border between Northern Ireland and the South reignites conflict in that part of the United Kingdom, and if Scotland falls out of the Union, that will have consequences for public support for Brexit, too. That Theresa May has made a series of unforced errors which have reduced British leverage only increases the risk on that score. Blair is right to say that the break-up of the United Kingdom is "back on the table" as a result of the Brexit vote.

So it’s not unreasonable or particularly remarkable that pro-Europeans should still retain hope of winning a second referendum. What is unreasonable and downright sinister is the insistence of a vocal section of the Brexit elite and their media allies that it is remarkable or undemocratic to ask for a second opinion. 

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

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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.