Labour's poll surge: ten key points

What lies behind Labour's 10-point poll lead?

Today's polls should gladden the hearts of even the most pessimistic Labour supporters. An Independent/ComRes survey gives Ed Miliband's party a 10-point lead over the Tories, Labour's largest since last March and its largest with ComRes since 2005. Elsewhere, YouGov has them seven points ahead and Populus has them four points ahead.

A third of the fieldwork for the Populus and ComRes polls was conducted after the cash-for-access scandal broke, while the YouGov survey was carried out entirely on Sunday and Monday (i.e. after the publication of the Sunday Times story). It remains too early to say what effect (if any) the scandal has had on the parties' standings. That hasn't stopped many excitedly commenting on the fact that the third of the ComRes poll conducted after the scandal broke gives Labour a 17-point lead.

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Latest poll (ComRes/Independent) Labour majority of 114

Below the headline figures, the polls contain some fascinating findings on the Budget and other subjects, here's my summary.

1. Labour leads on taxation. One notable post-Budget shift is that Labour is now rated as the best party on taxation. Two weeks ago, the Tories led by a point (27-26) but the abolition of the 50p rate and the "granny tax" mean they now trail by three (28-25).

2. But the Tories still lead on the economy. Perhaps aided by a Budget that saw no significant revisions to the OBR's growth and borrowing forecasts, the Tories still lead Labour by four points (30-26) as the best party to manage the economy (see YouGov poll). It is this rating that Labour needs to shift to guarantee a majority at the next election.

3. No Budget boost for the Lib Dems. Despite the largest ever increase in the personal allowance (a policy that originated as a Lib Dem manifesto pledge and is supported by 90 per cent of people), Nick Clegg's party has seen no increase in support since the Budget. Populus offers us a clue why. Only 23 per cent recognised the policy as a Lib Dem idea, while 16 per cent credited the Conservatives and 19 per cent the coalition as a whole.

4. The rise of the "others". All three of today's polls show a surge in support for minority parties. YouGov has the Greens on three per cent and Ukip on six per cent, while ComRes has the Greens on five per cent and Ukip on four per cent.

Given that the latter cost the Conservatives up to 21 seats at the last election (there were 21 constituencies in which the UKIP vote exceeded the Labour majority), the continuing high levels of support for Nigel Farage's party will trouble Tory strategists.

5. Labour seen as more "united". One unsung achievement of Ed Miliband's leadership is the avoidance of the "blood bath" so many predicted would follow Gordon Brown's departure. Consequently, according to Populus, Labour is now seen as more united than the Tories (46-42).

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Labour majority of 76

6. Personal allowance increase: small change? Despite the cost of raising the personal allowance to the government (£3.3bn in 2013-14), Populus shows that just 35 per cent believe that increasing the tax threshold from £8,105 to £9,205 will help them. 45 per cent said that it would make "little or no difference to me".

7. The "granny tax" backlash. It wasn't just the press that disliked the abolition of the pensioners' tax allowance. According to ComRes, only 31 per cent agree with the idea, while 59 per cent disagree.

8. 50p tax cut: not a stimulus. Had George Osborne sold the abolition of the 50p tax rate as an economic stimulus, voters might have been more sympathetic. Instead, he focused on the number of people avoiding it. As a result, it's unsurprising that 53 per cent (according to Populus) believe the move will do "nothing" to boost the economy.

9. The Tories' health problems. Andrew Lansley's toxic bill has finally made it onto the statute book and his party continues to suffer. YouGov shows that Labour's lead on the NHS has grown from 14 points (37-23) to 16 points (39-23).

10. Labour's in-built electoral advantage. If there was a general election tomorrow, every one of today's polls, assuming a uniform swing, would give Labour a majority. But what about the boundary changes, I hear you ask. Won't they tilt the balance in the Tories' favour? The truth is that the significance of the changes has been overstated by most on the left and the right. While the proposed reforms reduce Labour's electoral advantage, they do not eliminate it. Even after the new boundaries have been introduced, the Tories will need a lead of seven points on a uniform swing to win a majority (compared to one of 11 points at present), while Labour will need a lead of just four.

The biggest obstacle to a Tory majority at the next election may not be the NHS or the economy but the British electoral system itself.

Ed Miliband's party has a 10-point lead over the Tories, an Independent/ComRes survey shows. Photo: Getty Images

George Eaton is political 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