The Tories would limit strike action. Photo: Getty
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The Tories pledge a 50 per cent strike ballot threshold

The Conservative Party has pledged that if it were to form another government next year, it would ban strikes if less than half of workers back them.

As has been rumbling beneath the surface for a while, the Tories have now pledged to implement a 50 per cent turnout threshold for strikes, alongside a three-month time limit on the duration of industrial action mandates. If the party makes it into office after the next election, it will introduce these measures.

The PoliticsHome website is reporting this morning that the Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told House magazine that the case has been made for these reforms due to unions causing “serious disruption” by “consistently coming again and again, on the basis of very low turnouts, and deciding to call their members out”.

The TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told the same magazine that the proposals are “out of touch” and questioned why there should be “one test of a democratic ballot for trade unions, and an entirely different, easier test for politicians”.

The Lib Dems have blocked these reforms while they’re still in government, but it’s more interesting to see how Labour can respond to such a pledge from the Tories.

The reality is that strike action in recent years in this country has not been devastatingly disruptive, and is also relatively rare. The Tories’ move is an ideological one, and also one that could gain quite a bit of traction with their voters, and perhaps those floating into Ukip territory. It is a politically-driven decision rather than one responding to any walkouts putting the country to a standstill.

This makes Labour’s position more tricky. As although it rightly does not see the case for change in strike laws, it will nevertheless need to respond in a nuanced way to the Conservative party’s pledge. It can’t just attack the Tories on ideological grounds, as it has already made some headway in weakening the influence of the unions over its own party and decision-making.

If it all-out attacks the Tories, it may undermine some of its intentions there, which were forged in such tricky, sensitive circumstances, almost risking “a civil war in the Labour movement”. So Ed Miliband should tread carefully when responding to these plans.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at 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