Let them eat cake: Jeremy Hunt by Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: the Unhealthy Secretary’s slice of the cake

Meanwhile Nigel Evans returns to Westminster. 

Bumping into Jeremy Hunt, I noticed that the Unhealthy Secretary wears an NHS enamel lapel badge. It adds to the boyish minister’s air of a harassed hospital junior manager. He’s clean-cut, too. The Tory MP bragged to his local newspaper in Surrey that he’s no philanderer. Hunt, whose wife is expecting their third child, issued the information during a lunch to celebrate an office move by the rag. According to the paper: “When invited to cut the cake, decorated with an edible print of the Haslemere Herald front page, Mr Hunt said he was pleased not to see a stop-press ‘local MP embroiled in sex scandal’ story and promised there never would be one.” He’s shafting the NHS instead.

How often does Ed Miliband go up to his Doncaster constituency? An informant muttered that it may not be very often, if the Labour leader’s standard question to people from Tykeland is any guide. Miliband is prone to inquire: “How are things in Yorkshire?” It could just be an ice-breaker but the informant felt that Mili has a hazy grasp of what occurs in the white rose counties.

Nick Clegg never strikes me as particularly familiar with Sheffield, the steel city. Yet we know straight from the retired police horse’s mouth that David Cameron has ridden every inch of Witney with the Chipping Norton set. In the PM’s case, familiarity may, depending on events at the Old Bailey, prove a weakness.

The pressure is getting to scribbler-turned-spinner Patrick O’Flynn. Hired by Ukip as Nigel Farage’s chief propagandist and destined to be an MEP, O’Flynn was a genial if reactionary hack for many years on the Daily Express. Lobby correspondents grumbled, after he inadvertently sent a sweary text about a Times journalist to the writer, that O’Flynn refuses to return calls, takes offence easily and hangs up when he doesn’t like the line of questioning. It didn’t take long for him to develop the politicians’ disease known as thin skin.

As Nigel “Not Guilty” Evans returned to Westminster at a party thrown by the Tory David Davis, a snout recounted details of a colourful exchange during Evans’s trial on rape and sexual assault charges which suggest he should expect no favours when John Bercow is in the big chair. The judge, summing up a contretemps in a Commons bar, said Lembit Öpik had been referred to as “a c***”. The prosecuting counsel intervened to remind him Öpik had actually been called “a f***ing dickhead” and that the C-word had been applied to Bercow. Such language is sure to catch the Speaker’s attention, if not his eye when Evans hopes to be called.

Things you never thought you’d hear. MP on his phone: “Give me 20 minutes. I’m at a fundraiser for a food bank and the buffet is fabulous.” 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Islam issue

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear