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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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.