Sayeeda Warsi with her mock frontpage on ITV's The Agenda tonight.
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Tory class war continues as Sayeeda Warsi calls for end to "Eton Mess"

The Tory Foreign Office minister backs Michael Gove and produces mock frontpage with the headline "Number 10 takes Eton Mess off the menu".

Two days after the FT published its interview with Michael Gove in which the Education Secretary described the number of Old Etonians in David Cameron's inner circle as "ridiculous" and "preposterous",  the Tory class war shows no sign of ending. David Cameron is reported to have given Gove "a right royal bollocking" over his comments and it looks as if he'll also have to have a stern word with Sayeeda Warsi.

On tonight's edition of ITV's The Agenda, the Foreign Office minister will join Gove on the barricades when she produces a mock frontpage (featuring OEs Cameron, Jo Johnson, Oliver Letwin and Ed Llewellyn)  with the headline "Number 10 takes Eton Mess off the menu". Even by the standards of Warsi, a minister renowned for going off message, it's a remarkably provocative intervention. She will tell the programme: "Michael was making an incredibly serious point that it can’t be right that the 7 per cent of kids who go to independent school end up at the top tables, not just of politics, but banking, and law, and every other profession, and that what Michael wants to create is a first class, world class state system which means that in future years you will have more pupils from state schools, people like me, around the cabinet table, and in that I fully support Michael Gove."

The more one reads Warsi's headline, the worse it gets for Cameron. How is he supposed to take "Eton Mess" off the menu when he's part of it? Resign? If Warsi was a New Labour minister, I expect resigning is precisely what she'd be ordered to do tomorrow morning.

As Ed Miliband prepares to respond to George Osborne's Budget by declaring that this is a recovery "for the few, not the many", it's hard to think of a worse possible backdrop for the Tories. By denouncing Cameron's "Eton Mess", Warsi has done Labour's spinners work for them. There couldn't be a more perfect attack line for Miliband to store for Wednesday afternoon.

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