Is the tide beginning to turn against the coalition?

Labour ahead in two consecutive polls for the first time since 2007.

The latest YouGov poll will encourage the thought in Labour circles that the tide is beginning to turn against the coalition. The survey again puts Labour two points ahead of the Tories, the first time the party has led in two consecutive polls since 2007. The party's rating (42 per cent) is also the largest share of the vote it's had for more than three years.

Poll

Latest poll (YouGov/Sun): Labour majority of 20.

It could, as UK Polling Report's Anthony Wells reminds us, be a short-term blip, but it's noticeable that it comes after a period in which the coalition has taken some heavy hits on tuition fees and spending cuts. Just as striking is the fact that support for Labour has risen an impressive 13 points since the election, a reflection of the fact that the party's brand is nowhere near as toxic as the Tories' was. Miliband must restore Labour's economic credibility but he is not charged with convincing significant sections of the electorate that his party is not homophobic, racist or sexist.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

Poll

Hung parliament, Labour 5 seats short.

If repeated at a general election on a uniform swing, the latest figures would give Labour a majority of 20 seats. That estimate doesn't take into account the likely effect of the coalition's planned boundary changes (which Labour peers narrowly failed to delay last night), which are likely to cost Labour a significant number of seats. According to a confidential briefing recently seen by Labour MPs, had this year's election been contested under the new boundaries, the party would have lost 25 seats, nearly 10 per cent. The Lib Dems would have lost seven seats -- more than 13 per cent of their total and the Conservatives 13 seats -- just over 4 per cent.

There are big challenges ahead for Miliband, not least establishing a consistent line on higher education, control orders and taxation, but for now all the key indicators are pointing in the right direction.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

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