Nick Clegg leaves Hall Park Centre in Sheffield after voting in the local and European elections. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why both the Tories and Labour need Clegg to survive

Cameron fears the collapse of the coalition. Labour fears a more popular centre-left leader. 

If the Lib Dems lose most or all of their MEPs in the European elections, and endure a similar thrashing in the locals, there will be calls from some in the party for Nick Clegg to resign as leader. With a year to go until the general election, there is still just enough time for someone else to take the reins and try and revive the party's fortunes. 

But for several reasons, even in the event of a complete wipeout, Clegg is likely to survive. First, Lib Dems activists and MPs have been buoyed by the party's unashamedly pro-European campaign and will regard any defeat as an honourable one. "No one can fault Nick's efforts," one told me.

Second, Clegg's political godfather Paddy Ashdown has already moved to shore up his position, warning potential rebels that they will have to answer to him if they attack Clegg after the results. The Lib Dem leader's decision to appoint his mentor as the party's general election chair is regarded as a shrewd one. "Every time there's a crisis, Paddy's on the news channel", a party source notes. Just as Peter Mandelson came to Gordon Brown's rescue in times of trouble, so Ashdown serves as Clegg's political life support machine. 

Third, the most obvious pre-election replacement for Clegg - Vince Cable - has seen his star wane over the last year, while other alternative leaders - Tim Farron, Danny Alexander, Jeremy Browne - are biding their time until after May 2015. They have no desire to lead the party into the toughest general election it has faced for decades. 

But Lib Dem calculations aside, it's worth noting that both the Conservatives and Labour have an interest in Clegg's survival. 

For the Tories, the danger is that Clegg's deposition would lead to the collapse of the coalition and an early general election. While some of David Cameron's MPs might welcome such an outcome, the PM certainly would not. Indeed, he and his staff are already preparing a "Save Clegg" operation for the aftermath of the elections, with a series of Lib Dem "policy wins" planned for the Queen's Speech on 4 June. 

For Labour, the danger is that any replacement for Clegg would succeed where he has failed and revive the party's fortunes. As I've often noted, if Labour is to win in 2015, one of its most important tasks will be maintaining the support of the 20-25 per cent of 2010 Lib Dems who have defected. "We want to wound Clegg, not kill him," one Labour MP told me. In addition to those seats that Labour can hope to win directly from the Lib Dems, strategists point out that in 86 of the party's 87 Tory targets, the Lib Dem vote share in 2010 was larger than the Conservative majority. In 37, it is more than twice as large. Even if Clegg's party partially recovers before 2015, Labour stands to make significant gains. 

Aware of this, some Tory MPs have long hoped that Clegg will be replaced by a more left-wing figure such as Cable or Farron who could persuade the party's former supporters to reutrn home. But fortunately for Labour, their wish is likely to be denied. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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If there’s no booze or naked women, what’s the point of being a footballer?

Peter Crouch came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”

At a professional league ground near you, the following conversation will be taking place. After an excellent morning training session, in which the players all worked hard, and didn’t wind up the assistant coach they all hate, or cut the crotch out of the new trousers belonging to the reserve goalie, the captain or some senior player will go into the manager’s office.

“Hi, gaffer. Just thought I’d let you know that we’ve booked the Salvation Hall. They’ll leave the table-tennis tables in place, so we’ll probably have a few games, as it’s the players’ Christmas party, OK?”

“FECKING CHRISTMAS PARTY!? I TOLD YOU NO CHRISTMAS PARTIES THIS YEAR. NOT AFTER LAST YEAR. GERROUT . . .”

So the captain has to cancel the booking – which was actually at the Salvation Go Go Gentlemen’s Club on the high street, plus the Saucy Sporty Strippers, who specialise in naked table tennis.

One of the attractions for youths, when they dream of being a footballer or a pop star, is not just imagining themselves number one in the Prem or number one in the hit parade, but all the girls who’ll be clambering for them. Young, thrusting politicians have similar fantasies. Alas, it doesn’t always work out.

Today, we have all these foreign managers and foreign players coming here, not pinching our women (they’re too busy for that), but bringing foreign customs about diet and drink and no sex at half-time. Rotters, ruining the simple pleasures of our brave British lads which they’ve enjoyed for over a century.

The tabloids recently went all pious when poor old Wayne Rooney was seen standing around drinking till the early hours at the England team hotel after their win over Scotland. He’d apparently been invited to a wedding that happened to be going on there. What I can’t understand is: why join a wedding party for total strangers? Nothing more boring than someone else’s wedding. Why didn’t he stay in the bar and get smashed?

Even odder was the behaviour of two other England stars, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson. They made a 220-mile round trip from their hotel in Hertfordshire to visit a strip club, For Your Eyes Only, in Bournemouth. Bournemouth! Don’t they have naked women in Herts? I thought one of the points of having all these millions – and a vast office staff employed by your agent – is that anything you want gets fixed for you. Why couldn’t dancing girls have been shuttled into another hotel down the road? Or even to the lads’ own hotel, dressed as French maids?

In the years when I travelled with the Spurs team, it was quite common in provincial towns, after a Saturday game, for players to pick up girls at a local club and share them out.

Like top pop stars, top clubs have fixers who can sort out most problems, and pleasures, as well as smart solicitors and willing police superintendents to clear up the mess afterwards.

The England players had a night off, so they weren’t breaking any rules, even though they were going to play Spain 48 hours later. It sounds like off-the-cuff, spontaneous, home-made fun. In Wayne’s case, he probably thought he was doing good, being approachable, as England captain.

Quite why the other two went to Bournemouth was eventually revealed by one of the tabloids. It is Lallana’s home town. He obviously said to Jordan Henderson, “Hey Hendo, I know a cool club. They always look after me. Quick, jump into my Bentley . . .”

They spent only two hours at the club. Henderson drank water. Lallana had a beer. Don’t call that much of a night out.

In the days of Jimmy Greaves, Tony Adams, Roy Keane, or Gazza in his pomp, they’d have been paralytic. It was common for players to arrive for training still drunk, not having been to bed.

Peter Crouch, the former England player, 6ft 7in, now on the fringes at Stoke, came out with one of the wittiest football lines. When asked what he thought he would have been but for football, he replied: “A virgin.”

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage