£10m: the price of democracy?

In the General Election Lottery, the best funded parties always deliver the most votes.

Rather excitingly, I discovered the price of democracy this week. It was printed in the Financial Times. Apparently, it's £10m.

In the midst of allegations about mystery donations from shadowy figures funding almost-but-not-quite-official alternative foreign policies, it's quite surprising to find anyone willing to hang so precise a figure on the value of voting. And given the hundreds of millions of pounds the UK has just invested on the military campaign in Libya, I'm sure many will want to argue with the paucity of the amount suggested.

Why £10m? Well, that's the figure an unnamed, (and therefore unashamed), "senior Labour Party source" has suggested as a reasonable cap on individual party spending in a general election campaign.

So there you have it. If you'd like to buy a ticket to the General Election lottery, and want to have a fair chance of winning it, that's the suggested price of entry. And remember folks, you've got to be in it to win it.

That is the problem with just adding a spending cap to party funding and doing nothing else: you limit the field of horses likely to win by a clear length to -- well, most likely, two.

Jonathan Freedland has just drawn an excellent analogy between Premier League football and the inequality of wealth. In the Premier League the richest clubs keep buying the best players, drawing the biggest crowds, winning the most trophies and making the most money, with which they buy the best players and so it goes on. Or as Freedland puts it, it's "an unsustainable system where the rich win and the poor go to the wall."

The same is exactly true of party political funding. While the Lib Dems have attracted more donations from individual and corporate donors than Labour, come May 2015, does anyone expect the Lib Dems to have the same financial muscle as Labour? One thing the Fox affair has re-emphasised is that it looks unlikely the Tories will be strapped for cash. Hence, the hegemony of the best funded parties delivering the most votes goes on.

When the Kelly Report on party funding is published in a few weeks time, I'd like to think that Cameron and Miliband will agree that merely capping the millionaires' club is neither fair, nor healthy in a democracy where the ability of rich vested interests to fund campaigns can ensure that the winning team can only be wearing red or blue (and not yellow).

Although I'm not hopeful. After all, Messer's Fergusson or Mancini seem unlikely to do the decent thing and give Norwich a leg up, if they can help it.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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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