Why won't Labour publish the Falkirk report?

Labour figures believe the party fears the evidence against Unite is embarrassingly thin.

The police's decision not to launch a criminal investigation into Unite over its alleged manipulation of the Falkirk selection contest has achieved the rare feat of uniting the Conservatives and Len McCluskey in agreement. Both are demanding that Ed Miliband publish Labour's internal inquiry into the affair (which was passed to the police), as are Labour figures, including Tom Watson and David Blunkett. The party, however, which is now pursuing disciplinary action against Stephen Deans and Karie Murphy (the two suspended Unite members) "as a matter of urgency", is insistent that it will do no such thing.

So why the obstinacy? Among Labour figures there are two main theories. The first is that the evidence against Unite is embarrassingly thin. The Guardian's Seumas Milne, one of the few (perhaps only) journalists to have seen the report, recently wrote that while "a handful of members were signed up without their knowledge (by family members)" and there were "'discrepancies in the signatures' of four others (suggesting some may have been forged)", "the union isn't held directly responsible". 

The second is that the report would implicate others in the party and spark a new scandal. Diane Abbott recently commented that "one of the things the report might reveal is that Unite weren’t the only ones signing up members in the run-up to this selection". Suspicion has fallen on Gregor Poynton, one of the other Falkirk candidates and the husband of Labour MP Gemma Doyle, who is alleged to have handed over a cheque for £137 in June 2012 to pay the membership fees of 11 people. Milne, however, reported that Poynton, like Unite, was not held "directly responsible" in the inquiry.

How this debacle will end remains unclear. But the most striking thing today is how Labour unity is fraying. Abbott, who is Labour's shadow public minister, earlier retweeted Michael Crick's claim that "Miliband won't publish cos evidence agst Unite is weak, and others implicated too", while in response to Ian Austin, who noted the Tories' failure to publish their report into Aidan Burley's stag party antics, Tom Watson simply replied: "publish both". The longer the cloud of suspicion continues to hang over Unite, the greater the pressure for transparency is likely to become. 

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey. Photograph: 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