Boris pulls ahead in the polls

But the London mayoral race is not won yet.

Is the London mayoral race a done deal? A Populus/Times (£) poll this morning suggests it might be, giving Boris Johnson a 12 point lead over Ken Livingstone.

In the first round of voting, the poll gives Johnson 46 per cent of the vote to Livingstone’s 34. In the second round, with all other candidates eliminated, the incumbent retains the 12 point gap, with 56 per cent to his Labour rival’s 44.

The poll was not good for the Liberal Democrats, with their candidate Brian Paddick polling behind the Green candidate, Jenny Jones (with five and six per cent of the vote respectively), and sharing fourth place with independent candidate Siobhan Benita. Ukip’s Lawrence Webb polled at three per cent, while the BNP’s Carlos Coriglia trailed at just one.

Why this sudden poll success for Johnson? The Times cites a surge of support for Johnson in outer London, where his lead extends to 20 points. While Livingstone polls marginally better than the Tory mayor in the inner city, with 51 per cent of the vote, he should really be doing better in these Labour heartlands.

However, Boris's team should not pop open the champagne corks yet, as this poll does not tell the whole story. Firstly, it is worth noting the possibility that this poll is an outlier – it has given Johnson his highest lead for months. The 12 point lead is double the margin which got Johnson into City Hall in 2008.

Elsewhere, the Evening Standard has published a poll by YouGov, which gives Johnson a narrower lead of three points in the first round, with 44 points to Livingstone’s 41. In the second round, the lead increases to four, with Johnson on 52 and Livingstone on 48. This is consistent with a Standard/YouGov poll last week, which put Johnson just two points ahead.

While a win for Johnson looks most likely, the relatively narrow lead still shown in some polls illustrates that the race is not quite a dead cert. It is hard to see, though, how Ken -- still failing to excite enthusiasm amongst his core supporters -- will pull off a victory.

David Cameron will certainly be hoping for a Tory win in London on Friday to distract attention from his other woes. A rather different poll by ITV News/ComRes last night showed that 49 per cent of the public think that the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt should resign, while just 16 per cent think he should remain in post. Those are dire figures given that the Prime Minister has gone out on a limb in Hunt’s defence, despite not being in possession of all the facts.

As I argued yesterday, a win for Boris could halt the flow of bad news and shore up support for the government from Conservatives. This is somewhat ironic given that if Boris wins, it will be contingent on how much he can differentiate himself from his party’s top command.
 

Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson await the results of the 2008 mayoral election. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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