No. 10 refuses to deny Cameron call to "get rid of all the green crap"

In a non-denial denial, a Downing Street spokesman merely says "we do not recognise this at all".

No. 10 is tellingly refusing to deny the report in today's Sun that David Cameron has ordered aides to "get rid of all the green crap". A Downing Street spokesman merely stated that "we do not recognise this at all" (a classic non-denial denial). In reference to the environmental levies imposed on fuel bills, a Tory source earlier claimed of Cameron: "He’s telling everyone, 'We’ve got to get rid of all this green crap.' He’s absolutely focused on it." The source added: "It’s vote blue, get real, now – and woe betide anyone who doesn’t get the memo." 

Those words are strikingly at odds with Cameron's recent declaration in Sri Lanka, following Typhoon Haiyan, that "I'm not a scientist but it's always seemed to me one of the strongest arguments about climate change is, even if you're only 90 per cent certain or 80 per cent certain or 70 per cent certain, if I said to you there's a 60 per cent chance your house might burn down do you want to take out some insurance? You take out some insurance. I think we should think about climate change like that.

"Scientists are giving us a very certain message. Even if you're less certain than the scientists it makes sense to act both in terms of trying to prevent and mitigate.

"So I'll leave the scientists to speak for themselves about the link between severe weather events and climate change. The evidence seems to me to be growing. As a practical politician I think the sensible thing is to say let's take preventative and mitigating steps given the chances this might be the case."

The comments are also, of course, the diametric opposite of Cameron's pledges in opposition. Since you won't find them on the Conservative website, here's a reminder of the PM's past greenery.

He told Newsnight on 3 October 2006: "We’ve said publicly, we’ve committed that we think green taxes should take a bigger share of overall taxes." And similarly declared on The Politics Show on 29 October 2006: "I think green taxes as a whole need to go up."

It's also worth pointing out again that the recent surge in energy prices owes more to higher wholesale prices and profiteering by the big six than it does to environmental levies. Of the £112 of "green taxes and green regulations" recently attacked by Cameron, the majority are energy efficiency measures designed to aid vulnerable households, including the Energy Company Obligation (£50), the Warm Home Discount for pensioners (£11) and smart meters and better billing (£3). Of the average energy bill of £1,276, just £50 (4%) is accounted for by green taxes in the form of the Renewables Obligation (£30), the Carbon Price Floor (£3), the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (£8) and feed in tariffs (£7). 

The Tories could transfer the cost of these measures (which are forecast to reduce bills by £166 by 2020) from consumer bills to general taxation, as the SNP has pledged to do, but Labour will reply that the government is merely giving with one hand and taking with one another. For that reason, the party believes that it is Miliband's pledge to freeze energy prices that will have "the longest shelf-life". 

David Cameron speaks at the launch of the climate change bill campaign on October 25, 2006 in London. 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