Clegg and Cable at odds over welfare cuts

Clegg would trade welfare cuts for a wealth tax, but Cable won't accept a "penny more" off spending.

A senior Lib Dem adviser told me last week that internal polling indicates very clearly that the electorate attributes the cut in the top rate of tax to the Tories and the rise in the income tax threshold to the Lib Dems. Thus this year's conference slogan - "Fairer tax in tough times" - was born. And you can see this differentiation strategy in action now, everywhere you look. For example, when Nick says - "I will not accept a new wave of fiscal retrenchment, of belt tightening, without asking people at the top to make an additional contribution"- there’s a very clear indication that George Osborne will only get his welfare cuts – his Tory welfare cuts – if there’s a suitable quid pro quo.

This is all well and good, so long as the message is a consistent one. You can have your evil nasty policy, but only if give me something exceptionally nice in return. However, I detect that certain parts of the party have moved on already. Vince, for example. "We’ve used the phrase not a penny more, not a penny less," he says. "I’m implementing spending cuts and it’s very tough. We are not agreeing anything over and above the cuts that have already been agreed in the spending review."

Not a huge amount of wriggle room there. Not much of a quid pro quo on the horizon. One wonders what, if anything, Vince will say in his speech. Has he had the messaging strategy "clarified"?

For someone like me, who’s spent two years telling party folk that the electorate are quite capable of differentiating between a Lib Dem policy and a Tory one, and that the "not a cigarette paper between us" strategy was disastrous, this is all good news. And indeed, suddenly, everywhere you look, differentiation is writ large. But are we doing deals with the Tories – or just saying no? I can feel a row brewing.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference.

Vince Cable has said he won't accept "anything over and above the cuts" that have already been agreed.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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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