In the past year Nigel and Ukip won support but not power. Photo: Getty Images
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Ukip are the least powerful nationalist party in Europe

Since the crisis, coalitions of the right and populist right have become the norm - but under the British electoral system, Ukip are shut out.

Ukip may have dominated the political agenda last year, and become a part of politics, but they are the least powerful established nationalists in Europe.

Take Macedonia. It is run by nationalists – more specifically, the ‘Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity’ – who have repaved Skopje, its capital city, with nationalist monuments.

43 per cent of Macedonians voted for the party last year, and they hold 50 per cent of the seats. Ukip won 13 per cent of the vote here last month, but hold just 1 seat, or 0.2 per cent of those available. Only France’s National Front can match that level of futility.

Ukip have less direct influence on government than nationalists in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, Turkey, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Ireland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Greece, Luxembourg and Armenia.

Ukip won fewer seats for their votes last month than the Lib Dems ever won in the decades they spent being ill-served by Britain’s system. In Christmas we estimated that the party have missed out on nearly 1,250 seats since 1945, compared to the number they would have won under a proportional system.

Nigel Farage’s party, and Nigel Farage, are now suffering in the same way. They would have won around 85 seats under a proportional system.

If we ever did move to a proportional system, and their level of support holds, Tory-Ukip coalitions would be our most form of government. The two parties won 49.8 per cent of the popular vote last month.

For a long time, voting reform was a way for lefties to keep the Tories out. That would have been the case in 1983 (and every post-war election), if the Lib Dems have won seats proportionally and partnered with Labour. But now such a system would serve the Tories.

A Lab-Lib bloc would have less than 40 per cent of the vote. To approach a majority they would need to partner with the SNP and Greens as well, and form the large, multi-party blocs that most of Europe is used to.

But with the Tories in power, and Labour nostalgic about the landslides First Past The Post can deliver, proportional voting seems a distant prospect. And that means Ukip is likely to remain Europe’s least effective nationalist party for years to come.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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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