Gordon Brown’s hot date

Why Brown decided to go for a May election.

The election will be on 6 May, but your correspondent has discovered that the Prime Minister briefly considered other spring dates. Gordon Brown instructed Ray Collins, Labour's general secretary, to send contingency proposals for a contest in March or April to Downing Street. But Broon decided to stick with May when Collins replied that the cash-strapped party had no plan B, let alone a plan C or D. So 6 May it is, by default as well as calculation.

Philip Hammond MP, "Boy George" Osborne's ambitious deputy, must be worth a few bob. A cameraman halted an interview outside Sky's landlocked Osterley HQ after the guest -- me, since you ask -- was drowned out by what sounded like a motorboat. The vessel turned out to be Hammond's enormous Jaguar, a gas-guzzling beast that looked big enough to fit "Two Jags" Prescott in the boot. The Tory era of "Vote blue, go green" is over. Nor is the "Age of Austerity" likely to worry a property developer who moonlights as the shadow bean-counter and would scythe public services.

Campaigning in Doc Martens rather than behind the wheel, meanwhile, will be Hilary Benn. The cabinet minister, a member of the nearest thing Westminster has to a dynasty, has bought only that brand of shoes, originally designed for factory workers, for two decades. His father, Tony, was painted in Doc Martens for a portrait that now hangs in the House of Commons. Persuading him to buy them, sniffs Benn Jr, is the sole political influence he has had on his illustrious forebear.

No sign of Tory wobbles as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson enjoyed what a snout described as a "very jolly" lunch at a pizza joint near City Hall. Is Gove hedging his bets by selling Cameroons and buying BoJos?

You meet the most unlikely sorts in the Strangers' Bar. Howard Crosby, nephew of Bing, popped in for a swifty recently. Burly Brian Binley, Northampton's Tory bruiser, took the amateur crooner-cum-businessman to dinner. Crosby Jr sang for his supper, warbling a few of his uncle's hits, including "White Christmas" and "Pennies from Heaven". Binley likes the sound of his own voice but was persuaded to listen rather than join in, a fellow Tory comparing his vocal style to a backfiring motorbike.

Some MPs find it hard to step aside when retiring. Which may explain why James Purnell is telephone-lobbying Labour members to back his favoured Stalybridge and Hyde candidate. Calling, that is, from India.

Andy "I Knew Nothing" Coulson gets in a tizz most evenings after ringing the Sun (presumably on an unbugged phone) for a sneak preview of the Wapping rag's YouGov daily poll. A Tory mole whispered that the spinner dreads informing Cameron and Osborne of dips and leads that are still stuck in single figures. The Bullingdon Boys have started, I hear, to take it out on the messenger.

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

This article appears in this week's special double issue of the New Statesman.

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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 05 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, GOD

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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