Yvette Cooper used the bungling of her opposite number to Labour's political advantage. Photo: Getty
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Labour is the real winner after the European Arrest Warrant vote that wasn't

Labour is set to use an opposition day debate on the eve of the Rochester and Strood by-election to debate and vote on the European Arrest Warrant.

Last night, the House of Commons fell into disarray as furious Tory MPs discovered that they would not be voting on the European Arrest Warrant, accusing the government of misleadingly ducking an issue that would see some backbenchers rebel.

The Labour party jumped on Theresa May's bungling with Yvette Cooper leaping up and proposing her own motion to postpone the vote. This led to some extraordinary filibustering from the Tories as they attempted to buy time for as many of their MPs, including David Cameron hurrying in in white tie having left the Lord Mayor's Banquet early, to turn up and vote.

Labour's motion was defeated by just 43 votes. But such a close vote, with 35 Tories rebelling to vote in favour of the motion, was a sign that the Labour party – which actually supports the government in wanting to opt in to the warrant – was calling the shots as government authority in the Commons dangerously wobbled.

Eventually, the government's original motion, which so controversially did not even mention the European Arrest Warrant, was comfortably passed, by 464 to 38. However, it looks like Labour continues to be the real winner, as it is reported this morning that the party is set to use an opposition day debate on Wednesday next week to discuss and vote on opting in to the warrant.

The date scheduled, 19 November, is on the eve of the Rochester and Strood by-election, which is awkward for the Prime Minister. To see rebellions from his eurosceptic MPs, as well as having to assert a pro-European position, the day preceding a by-election where it looks like the anti-EU Ukip is likely to defeat the Conservatives and take another of their seats is a very difficult situation for the PM.

Having been constantly criticising May in recent weeks for attempting to delay the vote until after the by-election, it looks like Labour is now deciding when and how the vote will play out with maximum damage to the government. The crisis of confidence in its leadership meant last week was one of Labour's very worst. But it has grasped this political opportunity smartly, and it looks like the spotlight will soon be back on Tory tensions.

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