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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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.