Rupert Murdoch listens to Barack Obama at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting, at the Four Seasons Hotel, on November 19, 2013, in Washington, DC. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Rupert Murdoch predicts Labour victory in 2015

News Corp head says Cameron "will be dead meat" if the Tories fail to do a deal with UKIP.

With the polls narrowing in the wake of the Budget (YouGov puts Labour's lead at two points today), thoughts have turned to the possibility of a Conservative victory in 2015. But one man still predicting that Ed Miliband will make it to No. 10 is Rupert Murdoch. Earlier today, he tweeted:

The Conservative leadership has long rejected a national pact with UKIP (for the reasons I described here) but that leaves open the possibility of local deals between the two parties' candidates. Nigel Farage said last year that "a couple of dozen" Conservative MPs would be open to an agreement, an estimate described by Tory Philip Hollobone (who was endorsed by UKIP in 2010) as "spot on". 

At a fringe meeting with Farage at last year's Conservative conference, Bill Cash warned that UKIP could cost the Tories up to 60 seats and hand Miliband the keys to Downing Street. "Let us be realistic. Are we going to be allies or enemies? Lay off our marginals," he said.

While UKIP is unlikely to inflict as much damage on the Tories as Cash fears, the split in the right-wing vote (UKIP draws nearly half of its support from 2010 Conservatives), will make it easier for Labour to dislodge the Tories in the marginals it needs to win to become the largest party. At the last election, with a UKIP share of just 3 per cent, there were 20 constituencies in which the party's vote exceeded the Labour majority (one shouldn't make the error of assuming that all those who supported the party would have backed the Tories, but many would have done). Should UKIP poll around 8 per cent, it could well indirectly propel Labour to victory. Unless the Tories manage to dramatically reduce support for Farage's party between now and the general election campaign, talk of pacts will endure. 

But in the absence of a full deal, it looks this is one "winner" that Murdoch won't be backing. 

P.SOne interesting question is the extent to which Murdoch's prediction has been influenced by his recent conversations with Conservatives such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. It was during a recent meeting with the News Corp head that Gove reportedly said that George Osborne, not Boris, would be Cameron's strongest successor (a discussion seemingly premised on Conservative defeat in 2015). Murdoch, who has never warmed to Cameron (asked by Charlie Rose in 2006 "What do you think of David Cameron?", he replied: "Not much"), may well be indulging in some wishful thinking. 

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