Ed Miliband speaks at the launch of Labour's local and European election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour tensions over election strategy are growing

There is increasing division over the party's alleged "35% strategy".

After Labour's much-derided assault on the Lib Dems last week, one does not have to look far to find despondency within the party's ranks. "I believed them when they said there wasn't a 35 per cent strategy," one MP tells me. "Now I'm convinced there is". By this, he means a strategy that consists of uniting Labour's core vote with Lib Dem defectors in an attempt to crawl over the electoral finish line, rather than a more ambitious "40 per cent strategy" that also seeks to win over blue collar non-voters and Conservative supporters. 

Those who advocate the latter despair at what they regard as the crude negativity and vacuity of last week's election broadcast on Nick Clegg ("The Un-credible Shrinking Man"). They worry about the apparent degrading of the "One Nation" frame in favour of an approach that one figure characterises as "cost-of-living, bash the Lib Dems and 'you can't trust the Tories with the NHS.'" Rather than "The Un-credible Shrinking Man" it is Labour's "Incredible Shrinking Offer" that troubles the party's radicals. 

The surge of Ukip in the polls, with the party now regarded as almost certain to win the European elections, has led to open divisions over how to combat the Farageiste threat. While Ed Miliband has focused on attacking Ukip as "more Thatcherite than Thatcher", Jon Cruddas, Labour's policy review co-ordinator, eschewed such language in his piece for the Guardian on Thursday ("Ukip isn't a Tory movement. It's a party of the disenfranchised English") advocating a positive approach that recasts Labour as a patriotic "party of the people" and more explicitly addresses anxieties over immigration and welfare. 

Other shadow cabinet members complain of the party's failure to promote its commitment to reform the EU, which they regarded as a quid pro quo for Miliband's refusal to guarantee an in/out referendum under a Labour government.

I'm told that attempts are now underway to try and bridge the divide, which one MP described as "a fundamental difference of outlook". But if the party suffers a poor result on 22 May, becoming the first opposition party in the last 20 years not to win the European elections, Labour's tensions could once again burst into the open. 

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