Vince Cable's speech to conference: Live blog

The Business Secretary addresses Liberal Democrat delegates in Birmingham.

QUICK VERDICT: Cable's delivery today was low-key, but were some unmistakeable jibes at the Tories -- the repeated references to fairness, stimulus, and, of course, the reference to the "ideological descendants of those who sent children up chimneys". There was also a sprinkling of Lib Dem populism with the emphasis on social justice, and fairness -- particularly on limiting executive pay and taxing the rich. Notably, he didn't use the Jaguar and Landrover contracts he opened with to say that the economy was on the home-stretch; nor did he indicate that the next phase of difficulty for ordinary citizens is going to be over any time soon.

12.37: Cable has reiterated his commitment to a mansion tax. "When some critics attack our party policy of a tax on properties over £2 million by saying it is an attack on ordinary middle class owners, you wonder what part of the solar system they live in." Greater tax of land and property was a key theme of his speech last year.

12.36: He keeps returning to the idea of "responsible capitalism".

12.35: "Some of you may have noticed one of the big media companies has had a spot of bother" -- Cable makes a nod to his anti-Murdoch stance without courting controversy too much.

12.32: Living costs are falling, he says, and there is a sense of grievance that workers are paying for a crisis they did not create.

12.31: Cable is talking about investment in infrastructure -- the "stimulus" section of his speech. It's not a word used often by George Osborne, it must be said.

12.29: How do we progress from financial stability to growth, asks Cable. "Panic in the markets will not be stopped by stopping maternity rights," says Cable, assuring delegates he will not provide cover for unscrupulous business-people -- the "ideological descendents of those who sent children up chimneys". This is a jibe at Steve Hilton for some of his more unconventional ideas on workers' rights.

12.26: Cable is criticising the idea that cutting taxes for the wealthy will improve the country's wealth. On the idea that this will encourage tax avoiders back from Monaco, he says: "Pull the other one". Playing to the Lib Dem faithful here.

12.23pm: Vince Cable is calling for "stability, stimulus, and solidarity" to help the economy recover and create a "responsible capitalism". He is criticising Labour's record and saying that financial discipline is not necessarily "right-wing" or "ideological". He says he thinks they are following in the steps of Roy Jenkins. "The progressive agenda of centre left parties cannot be cannot be delivered by bankrupt governments" -- but the really important word here is "stimulus".

12.05pm: Join us at 12.20pm for live updates on Vince Cable's speech. You can read the full transcript of it here.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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