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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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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