Ed Miliband speaks to supporters at Redbridge on May 1, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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This week revealed the real Ed

By presenting himself to voters as who he truly is, the Labour leader has given himself a chance of winning their respect and understanding. 

From the White House to Westminster, Ed Miliband presented himself this week to the world as the man he truly is - a smart, slightly geeky politician who cares about big problems and knows how to fix them.

Politicians can be respected, feared, liked or trusted for a host of reasons. But key to almost any politician's success in connecting with the electorate is their authenticity. To my mind the moment George W. Bush beat John Kerry was actually in their first debate when he said: "I understand everybody in this country doesn't agree with the decisions I've made. And I made some tough decisions. But people know where I stand. People out there listening know what I believe." That level of authenticity and consistency was powerful enough to re-elect a man in the middle of a losing war with a weak economy. It is that strength of clarity that the best politicians embody.

For the earlier attempt to sell Ed Miliband as "a man of the people" (the semi-fictitious "Mr Normal" effort) failed. But it is not too late to present Ed to the electorate as who he truly is - a very smart, deeply honest politician who cares deeply about tackling inequality and changing the economy fundamentally so that society itself is transformed.

As Mark Ferguson rightly noted, this meant not just presenting his strengths but also, in that wonderful maxim of veteran politico Chris Matthews, "hanging a lantern on his problem" and owning up to his own presentational weaknesses. By ceding this ground to Cameron he has given away nothing that he could have won anyway and stands to gain much in terms of authenticity and thus connection with the electorate in the months to come.

But today's speech was about more then political positioning. There was a serious point too. Miliband hit on a resonant insight, that of politics having become "a game that fewer and fewer people are watching, or believing." This is something previous Fabian Society research has shown: "Politics is a game played by an out of touch elite who live on another planet" was one of the main criticisms people made of politicians. The solution people tend to reach for is of more representative politicians, drawn from a broader pool than the professional political classes. But Labour’s leaders are who they are: Andy Burnham recently recognised “we’re the professional politician generation”.

So being authentic is a wise play, and one that can position Miliband as a different type of political leader, for an age when people don’t believe in political leadership. Miliband must win back trust – and his pledge to give power away to people is the right policy agenda to match his personal leadership pitch. But being authentic is a high stakes game, with a special responsibility then to walk the walk. This is a Miliband who has learned the danger of dining out on taking on Murdoch only to then sit down with his paper. He knows now, as he ever did, he’s best at his boldest.

This week we saw the Ed Miliband that rejects the gimmicks of Cameron's hug-a-huskie and instead speaks with President Obama about Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan. This is the Ed that's ready for Number 10.

By presenting Ed to the British people as who he actually is, as was the case with the 2012 One Nation speech, or indeed the Redbridge launch of the local and European election campaigns, Ed can win back voters' respect and understanding by being his own man.

Marcus Roberts is the deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society and served as Field Director of Ed Miliband's leadership campaign.

Marcus Roberts is an executive project director at YouGov. 

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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