Political sketch: Cam and Clegg in Basildon

Re-making those coalition vows from the Rose Garden days.

The County of Essex has attracted notoriety for exporting perma-tanned men onto the national stage via network television. Today, it reversed the trend.

This time 15 minutes of fame was bestowed upon unsuspecting Basildon as those who chose the Downing Street Rose Garden to plight their troth two years ago decided a bit of plighting further afield would be wiser. They left home in the same car to fool the paparazzi into thinking they were still together, but the days when Dave had his hand firmly up Nick's back - and he liked it - were clearly gone.

Instead it was more panic than passion which united them as both tried to come to terms with the full import of last Thursday's drubbing in the town so associated with Tory breakthroughs in the past.

But Ed Miliband had got in first with his own lightning raid on Essex earlier - as if electors had not done enough by voting Labour - to rub salt, vinegar and cayenne pepper into the wound by adopting the pledge of Mrs Thatcher 30 years ago to make life better for its locals.

So just 24 months after love's young dream made its way shyly on to the sun-lit lawn at the back of No 10, today's battered and bruised version turned up at a rain-sodden tractor factory for their own version of TOWIE (Radio's 3 and 4 listeners: consult Google at this stage).

No longer joined-at-the-hip-Nick could only stare into space as Dave told his clearly unimpressed audience (nattily, and one assumes deliberately, outfitted in blue and yellow tops) that times were hard all round.

Nick then popped up to promise optimism and growth before launching into a two-handed version of the Jeremy Kyle Show.

But as fast as the Prime Minister and Deputy re-made their coalition vows to the Bored of Basildon, MPs in both their parties were lining up to publicly and privately disown them.

Dave finally remembered to slip off his jacket as the amateurs provided the dis-interested backdrop for the photo-call for which the press party had been dragged out of London. 

With the re-launch re-launched it was back to London for the rest of the week. It should be remembered that today was the latest attempt by David Cameron to re-launch his administration since his last latest re-launch two weeks ago, which was sunk by James Murdoch's appearance at the Leveson inquiry.

With former spin doctor and erstwhile editor of the News of the World Andy Coulson due in the same stocks on Thursday, and Dave's "ten texts a day" friend Rebekah Brooks booked to do a similar turn on Friday, this week already has the smell of death-delayed about it.

And forget not tomorrow's Queens Speech where Dave and Nick will try and surely fail to avoid offending as many people as possible.

Do you think they rue the day they decided on a fixed term parliament, with 150 weeks like this one still to go?

Dodging questions CNH Tractors on May 8, 2012 in Basildon Photo: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.