Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron speaks at the party's spring conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tim Farron: Clegg's leadership not under threat if Lib Dems wiped out in European elections

Party president also says Lib Dems will not withdraw from the coalition.

If the Liberal Democrats lose most or all of their MEPs in next week's European elections, and endure a similar thrashing in the locals, there will be calls from some in the party for Nick Clegg to be replaced as leader and for the party to withdraw from the coalition. Lord Oakeshott, a close ally of Vince Cable, who has previously demanded Clegg's departure, recently said that the Lib Dems should leave government "straight after" the results. 

But when I spoke to party president Tim Farron, one of the frontrunners to lead the Lib Dems after Clegg, he told me that "neither of those are even on the table". On Clegg, he said: "He's very, very popular within the party, he's got very strong support at all levels and I think there's a great sense, in a very Paddy Ashdown-esque way, that Nick has done difficult things that were right. 

"Paddy led the party for 12 years and could have gone on for longer...It was largely because of the great sense that he spoke to the heart of the party, he stood up for difficult issues, sometimes unpopular but always principled, and he did the right thing. There's a great sense that the same is said of Nick, not just on Europe but on civil liberties issues and, indeed, going into government at all. It would have been far easier and safer for him to have wimped out and let there be a Tory minority adminstration. Instead, he did what was difficult for him and the party and went in, and people really admire that and respect that, and support that."

The reference to Ashdown is apposite. Sources point to Clegg's appointment of his mentor as general election campaign chair as one reason for his continued survival. "Every time there's a crisis, Paddy's on the news channel", one notes. Just as Peter Mandelson shored up Gordon Brown's position in times of trouble, so Ashdown serves as Clegg's political life support machine. 

The Lib Dem leader's team have also been carefully managing expectations, refusing to rule out the possibility of a wipeout in the Euros and ensuring that all sides are brought into the tent. 

On the coalition, Farron said: "We've battled for four years through some incredibly difficult times for the party and the country and it now very strongly appears that the tough and controversial decisions that we took over that last four years are now paying off. It would be pretty barmy to, just at the moment that it's working, want to somehow disown what we've done both in terms of the man who inspires us and leads us and our membership of the coalition. 

"I don't think either of those things will be or should be in question at all. I love Matthew Oakeshott, I think he's a very, very good person and if he didn't exist you'd have to invent him. But at the same time, I regularly and to his face disagree with him on both of these issues."

Despite what will almost certainly be one of the worst nights the Lib Dems have ever endured, with the party's councillor base likely to fall below 2,000 for the first time since its creation, the odds are on Clegg remaining as leader. This is not least because none of the potential replacements - Farron, Danny Alexander, Vince Cable, Jeremy Browne - have any desire to lead the party into the toughest general election it has faced for years. Far better to begin the hard work of reconstruction at a later date. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.