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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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism