Cameron getting his Zzzzzs. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: Tories got no soles

Plus: the PM’s early bedtime.

Jeremy Paxman, the retired rottie, has time on his hands after bidding goodnight to Newsnight, yet it was still a surprise to bump into him at the Durham Miners’ Gala. Paxo’s the type of chap who’d be more at home at a Countryside Alliance fete and his expression was bemused as the procession of brass bands and pit banners went past his hotel. At the city’s old racecourse, fiery speeches from union leaders and Dennis Skinner left the masses wanting to march on London to overthrow the political establishment. Intriguingly, I’d earwigged a discussion between Conservative MPs a few days earlier about whom they want to succeed Boris Johnson as Mayor of London in 2016. Top of the list is a broadcaster who describes himself as a “One Nation” Tory. Paxo laughed when I informed him, a response that a veteran interrogator for a certain late-evening BBC2 current affairs programme would recognise wasn’t a complete denial. I can see the Newsnight report now: Paxo at the front of a tandem, cycling to City Hall as Johnson sits behind.

We knew the chillaxing Cameron’s no Stakhanovite, but I hear from a very reliable Downing Street snout that in the summer the Prime Minister goes to bed when it’s still light. He likes to be tucked up by 9pm on Tuesdays before Prime Minister’s Questions. One unkind Tory wondered aloud why Cameron felt the need to turn in so early. “After all,” he mused, “he’s only facing Ed Miliband.”

There’s no love lost between the two wings of the ConDem coalition. Cons eagerly anticipate the demise of Lib Dems. Holier-than-thou Simon Hughes’s difficulties in Bermondsey, where Labour is putting up its stiffest challenge since he won the seat 31 years ago, are bolstering Tory spirits. Hearing the justice minister could be ousted, Alec Shelbrooke, a blunt Yorkshire Tory, was overheard offering to make a donation to the anti-Hughes cause.

Ahead of the reshuffle, a southern Tory muttered that I should watch clips of ambitious Esther “Posh Scouse” McVey when she was a humble reporter for GMTV. “She didn’t have a bloody accent then,” grumbled her resentful male colleague. Buller Boy Cameron may believe most people oop north keep coal in the bath but I suspect the Old Etonian is aware that Posh Scouse was privately educated at a minor public school. These things matter more inside a snooty Tory hierarchy than out.

Nadine Dorries boasts she didn’t always wear red-soled Louboutins. The celebrity MP told the Ampthill Literary Festival in Bedfordshire that when she was a child, her family was so poor, she often couldn’t go to school because she’d no shoes. I always knew the Tory party had no sole.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Our Island Story

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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