Tim Farron speaks during the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham in 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farron is in a stronger position than ever to be the next Lib Dem leader

The party president is the only major figure to have been untainted by coalition and by allegations of plotting.

If Vince Cable was once a plausible caretaker leader for the Lib Dems, he isn't any longer. The revelation from his old friend Lord Oakeshott that he was aware of polling he commissioned showing that Nick Clegg would lose his seat (a fact he did not disclose in his condemnation of the peer last night) has left him looking duplicitous and treacherous.

Clegg will now almost certainly lead the party into the general election for the reasons I outlined this morning: there is no Heseltine-style figure prepared to challenge his leadership; he has the backing of a majority of Lib Dem MPs; most of the party's current and 2010 supporters want him to stay (the Lib Dems' key target group); and it is far from certain that the gains from deposing Clegg would outweigh the costs.

But when a leadership contest is held it is clearer than ever that the most likely victor is Tim Farron. The party president is now the only senior figure to have been untainted by the coalition (having not served as minister) and by allegations of plotting. Through his energetic campaigning and social media presence (few politicians reply to more tweets), he has become the darling of party activists and topped a Liberal Democrat Voice leadership poll today. Unbound by collective responsibility, he has been free to vote against tuition fees, the NHS bill, the bedroom tax and Secret Courts. If Labour is the largest party after the next election, and Clegg is forced to stand aside, Farron will be the ideal man to lead the party in a progressive coalition.

He is also one of the few Lib Dems who can be certain of re-election in 2015 (unlike his principal rival Danny Alexander). He has a majority of 12,264 in his constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale (increased from just 267 in 2005 through relentless campaigning) and the party finished first in South Lakeland in the European elections (the only area in which it did so). After the waning of Cable's star, Farron is the man to watch.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.