Gillian Duffy backs David Miliband

Woman at the centre of Gordon’s Brown’s “Bigotgate” blunder supports Miliband to succeed him as Labo

Like Gordon Brown before him, David Miliband had tea with Gillian Duffy this weekend. During the May general election campaign, the 65-year-old Rochdale resident came to epitomise the perception that Brown was out of touch with ordinary people. Conversely, Miliband used his visit to Mrs Duffy to try to demonstrate that he is the "grass-roots candidate" for the Labour leadership, supported by ordinary Britons.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Duffy said:

He's a really nice man and obviously very intelligent but also down-to-earth. I think he would be a great prime minister. I felt David really listened to my points of view and shared my concerns on the issues that matter to working people.

Miliband used the meeting to continue to push the line that he represents ordinary people, saying:

We need to win the confidence of many more voters like Mrs Duffy if we are to be serious about winning the next election. This new government is not on the side of people like Gillian Duffy. I am determined the Labour Party will be.

Though a conveniently media-grabbing stunt, the meeting itself is meaningless in terms of the actual contest. However, it is interesting for the questions that it raises about the kinds of voting patterns we can expect in September.

Duffy is a member of the Unite union, and will be voting on a Unite ballot. Unite came out in favour of Ed Miliband this weekend, but the endorsement carries no obligation for the union's members to vote a certain way. Duffy is living proof that while endorsements might be useful indicators of members' intentions, they are not by any means to be considered absolute (rendering the rumours that Ed Balls is going to drop out following his failure to secure Unite's endorsement rather less plausible).

Similarly, David Miliband's campaign have been very keen to highlight that their candidate is ahead on constituency party nominations, with 158 to his brother's 146. But again, each member of each party still has an individual vote, and as the membership of each party varies hugely, this isn't a reliable predictor of actual votes, either.

In addition, as Mark Ferguson points out on LabourList, David Miliband's team seems keen to impress upon us that his endorsements from local councillors confirm his status as a "grass-roots candidate". In fact, these councillors are elected officials and, as such, are just as much part of the Labour establishment as MPs are.

Miliband may still experience a surge of support from the true grass roots of the party, but it isn't apparent yet. Tea with Gillian Duffy and boasting of his endorsements is not going to convince anyone otherwise.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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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