Miriam González Durántez and her politician husband make crumble at a West Country school. Matt Cardy/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Firth blunders forth, Balls' food foibles - and Farage to quit smoking?

Plus: Douglas Alexander burning the candle at both ends?

Twickenham’s Karl Marx, Vince Cable, has been trudging the streets of suburban London with a yellow backpack. The bag, in gaudy Lib Dem colours, was a gift from staff at the Department for Business, intended to make Cable visible to motorists while he was cycling to meetings – but he’s not cycling any more. Cable’s battle bike was nicked outside Richmond’s adult education college during a campaign visit with Nick Clegg. He lost his wheels, seat, handlebars and frame. Clegg isn’t helping the police with their inquiries. My snout muttered that Cable’s error was to pretend-lock the boneshaker instead of securing it properly; the thief had only to pull apart the unfastened, er, cable. A workable analogy for this party’s relationship with voters, perhaps?

The rubbish Tory Anna Firth is the gift that keeps giving. Dave’s candidate in Labour-held Erith and Thamesmead published photos of littered streets a few weeks ago, seemingly without realising that they were in an area run by a Tory council. Her latest eyebrow-raiser was on a visit to a gurdwara. Firth was trying too hard with her Bollywood princess look and was docked extra votes for a rehearsed “Indian” greeting. The Sikh host explained politely that it was Hindi, while they speak Punjabi.

Big Tobacco shareholders (if there are any among NS readers), take note. I hear that Nigel Farage is to quit smoking after the election. Win or lose for Ukip in South Thanet, the 40-a-day puffer intends to give up death sticks in the most savage blow to the industry since fags were banned from pubs and restaurants. Brewers and photographers, however, can relax. The pint glass will remain a standard prop.

Not everyone was excited to learn that Miriam González Durántez has been enjoying a secret life as the coalition government’s Nigella Lawson. When informed about her anonymous food blog, Labour’s top chef, Ed Balls, sniffed: “She’s an arriviste.” The culinary divide is clear in the Great Political Bake-Off. Nobody gets to the size of the burly shadow chancellor by eating tiny wraps with shrimp, or chickpea and spinach soup.

The distracted Tory Bob Blackman has been photographed fiddling with his phone during hustings in Harrow East. Constituents claim that he’s calculating mileage claims, having been asked to repay more than £1,000 for more than 700 “inaccurate” claims. I’m told the criticism drives him mad.

Unless one has gone up in the past few days, I imagine the only explanation for the absence of a “Vote Labour” poster at the London home of Douglas Alexander must be the pressure of running the party’s national campaign while fighting to keep his own seat in Scotland.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mail

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Scots are coming!

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Donald Trump's healthcare failure could be to his advantage

The appearance of weakness is less electorally damaging than actually removing healthcare from millions of people.

Good morning. Is it all over for Donald Trump? His approval ratings have cratered to below 40%. Now his attempt to dismantle Barack Obama's healthcare reforms have hit serious resistance from within the Republican Party, adding to the failures and retreats of his early days in office.

The problem for the GOP is that their opposition to Obamacare had more to do with the word "Obama" than the word "care". The previous President opted for a right-wing solution to the problem of the uninsured in a doomed attempt to secure bipartisan support for his healthcare reform. The politician with the biggest impact on the structures of the Affordable Care Act is Mitt Romney.

But now that the Republicans control all three branches of government they are left in a situation where they have no alternative to Obamacare that wouldn't either a) shred conservative orthodoxies on healthcare or b) create numerous and angry losers in their constituencies. The difficulties for Trump's proposal is that it does a bit of both.

Now the man who ran on his ability to cut a deal has been forced to make a take it or leave plea to Republicans in the House of Representatives: vote for this plan or say goodbye to any chance of repealing Obamacare.

But that's probably good news for Trump. The appearance of weakness and failure is less electorally damaging than actually succeeding in removing healthcare from millions of people, including people who voted for Trump.

Trump won his first term because his own negatives as a candidate weren't quite enough to drag him down on a night when he underperformed Republican candidates across the country. The historical trends all make it hard for a first-term incumbent to lose. So far, Trump's administration is largely being frustrated by the Republican establishment though he is succeeding in leveraging the Presidency for the benefit of his business empire.

But it may be that in the failure to get anything done he succeeds in once again riding Republican coattails to victory in 2020.

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