Cruddas and Miliband set out their vision

Labour leadership hopeful and party intellectual rethink social democracy.

Fresh from his endorsement of David Miliband's candidacy for the Labour leadership in last week's New Statesman, the Parliamentary Labour Party's resident intellectual Jon Cruddas joins the front-runner in the race in the Guardian to set out what the two men call their "covenant with Britain".

Most of what they have to say will be familiar to New Statesman readers, especially those who read Maurice Glasman's recent guest piece for the magazine. Glasman, a political theorist close to Cruddas, argued that Labour succumbs to the temptation simply to dismiss Tory rhetoric about the "big society" as so much window-dressing for a neo-Thatcherite assault on the welfare state at its peril:

The Conservatives have seized Labour's language with their vision of a "big society" -- and not only its language but its history. By stressing mutual responsibility, commitment to place and neighbours and the centrality of relationships to a meaningful life, and by laying claim to the mutuals, co-operatives and local societies that built the labour movements, the coalition government is seizing Labour's future by stealing its inheritance.

For Glasman, the correct response to this raid on Labour's vocabulary is not to dismiss the big society, as Ed Miliband has done, as a "load of rubbish". Rather, he says, "Labour should assert its ownership of the language and practice of organised social action for the common good. Democracy all the way up and all the way down."

Cruddas and David Miliband echo this: "We let the Tories claim our language and traditions in their one-sided "big society", while allowing ourselves to be pigeonholed as defenders of the 'big state'." And, in a phrase that occurred in Miliband's Keir Hardie Lecture delivered in July, which is by far the most comprehensive and ambitious statement of fundamental values and political vision to have been made by any of the five candidates for the leadership, the two men offer this succinct assessment of the failings of the New Labour years: "In government we were too hands-off with the market and too hands-on with the state."

The piece also contains the outline of a psephological and sociological analysis of the reasons for Labour's defeat in May. As Sunder Katwala has pointed out, the argument between David and Ed Miliband concerns not only the shape of a renewed social democracy (the legacy of Anthony Crosland, you might say), but also electoral strategy. Katwala distinguishes the approaches of the two brothers as follows:

It is fair to say that the thrust of the Ed Miliband campaign's political argument was that New Labour had failed to realise how much its DE vote had slumped, and the impact of that on vote share and seats. The David Miliband campaign agrees that these votes matter, while placing more emphasis on lost C1 and C2 votes and maintaining a strong middle-class appeal, warning against pretending that these don't matter.

Cruddas and David Miliband appear to contest that analysis:

We need a new electoral strategy, too. Labels such as "core vote" and "Middle England" are now largely meaningless. Since 1997 we lost support right across society: 1.6 million lower-income voters and 2.8 million middle-income voters. We need a broad appeal based on principle, not polling -- rooted in the lives and experiences of the people. We combine radicalism and credibility by inspiring people with a sense of hope, while taking them with us as partners in a shared adventure.

"Principle, not polling" -- now there's a thought.

UPDATE: Over at Next Left, Sunder Katwala has now commented on the Cruddas and Miliband article. And he recognises, as I implied above, that the line about labels such as "core vote" and "Middle England" now being "largely meaningless" suggests "a potentially significant shift in the electoral strategy argument which has dominated the last few weeks".

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture 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