Why isn't Osborne appearing at the Leveson inquiry?

The man who first approached Coulson should appear in person.

The current phase of the Leveson inquiry, focusing on the relationship between politicians and the press, will see David Cameron and six senior cabinet ministers (Nick Clegg, Theresa May, Michael Gove, Vince Cable, Ken Clarke and Jeremy Hunt) take to the witness stand. Yet, bizarrely, George Osborne is not one of them. The Chancellor will not appear in person and will merely submit a witness statement. I say bizarrely because, as was confirmed again during Andy Coulson's testimony, it was Osborne who first suggested that Cameron should hire Coulson as the Conservatives' communications director. Here's the key extract from Coulson's witness statement:

The first approach from the Conservatives came from George Osborne, I believe in March 2007 (NB: this was just two months after Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World over phone-hacking). He contacted me and we met at a London hotel for a drink. In that conversation he told me that the Conservative Party wanted to make changes to its professional operation and asked whether I would be interested in joining the team ... I believe David Cameron called me later that night to say that Mr Osborne hold told him of our conversation and that he would like to meet.

Questioned at length on why the Conservatives had hired him, Coulson replied at one point: "I don't want to be obstructive, but that's a question for Mr Osborne". Indeed it is, which is precisely why the Chancellor should appear himself. As Lib Dem peer Michael Oakeshott has quipped, "Leveson without Osborne would be like Hamlet without the prince".

Before Coulson's appearance yesterday, James Murdoch told the inquiry that he complained to Osborne about the "slow" progress of the BSkyB bid. In his witness statement, he recorded:

I recall one conversation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, about the bid ... I expressed my concern at the slow progress with the regulatory process, my view that the investment would be good for Britain and also my view that there were no plurality issues raised by our proposal.

Osborne met Murdoch executives 16 times in the period following the general election, including two meetings with Rupert Murdoch and four with James Murdoch. Rebekah Brooks, who will appear at the inquiry from 10am this morning, met Osborne five times in her capacity as chief executive of News International. Should she divulge the details of their conversations, the pressure for Osborne to appear himself could become irresistible.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne leaves Number 11 Downing Street on May 10, 2012 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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