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.

Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here