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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Want to beat child poverty? End the freeze on working-age benefits

Freezing working-age benefits at a time of rising prices is both economically and morally unsound. 

We serve in politics to change lives. Yet for too long, many people and parts of Britain have felt ignored. Our response to Brexit must respond to their concerns and match their aspirations. By doing so, we can unite the country and build a fairer Britain.

Our future success as a country depends on making the most of all our talents. So we should begin with a simple goal – that child poverty must not be a feature of our country’s future.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that relative child poverty will see the biggest increase in a generation in this Parliament. That is why it is so troubling that poverty has almost disappeared from the political agenda under David Cameron, and now Theresa May.

The last Labour Government’s record reminds us what can be achieved. Labour delivered the biggest improvement of any EU nation in lifting one million children out of poverty, transforming so many lives. Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. So we have a duty to this generation to make progress once again.

In my Barnsley constituency, we have led a campaign bringing together Labour party members, community groups, and the local Labour Council to take action. My constituency party recently published its second child poverty report, which included contributions from across our community on addressing this challenge.

Ideas ranged from new requirements on developments for affordable housing, to expanding childcare, and the great example set by retired teachers lending their expertise to tutor local students. When more than 200 children in my constituency fall behind in language skills before they even start school, that local effort must be supported at the national level.

In order to build a consensus around renewed action, I will be introducing a private member’s bill in Parliament. It will set a new child poverty target, with requirements to regularly measure progress and report against the impact of policy choices.

I hope to work on a cross-party basis to share expertise and build pressure for action. In response, I hope that the Government will make this a priority in order to meet the Prime Minister’s commitment to make Britain a country that works for everyone.

The Autumn Statement in two months’ time is an opportunity to signal a new approach. Planned changes to tax and benefits over the next four years will take more than one pound in every ten pounds from the pockets of the poorest families. That is divisive and short-sighted, particularly with prices at the tills expected to rise.

Therefore the Chancellor should make a clear commitment to those who have been left behind by ending the freeze on working-age benefits. That would not only be morally right, but also sound economics.

It is estimated that one pound in every five pounds of public spending is associated with poverty. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty worsens the key economic challenges we face. It lowers productivity and limits spending power, which undermine the strong economy we need for the future.

Yet the human cost of child poverty is the greatest of all. When a Sure Start children’s centre is lost, it closes a door on opportunity. That is penny wise but pound foolish and it must end now.

The smarter approach is to recognise that a child’s earliest years are critical to their future life chances. The weight of expert opinion in favour of early intervention is overwhelming. So that must be our priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will change lives today.

This is the cause of our times. To end child poverty so that no-one is locked out of the opportunity for a better future. To stand in the way of a Government that seeks to pass by on the other side. Then to be in position to replace the Tories at the next election.

By doing so, we can answer that demand for change from people across our country. And we can provide security, opportunity, and hope to those who need it most.

That is how we can begin to build a fairer Britain.
 
 

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.