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Four thoughts on Theresa May's general election decision

The Prime Minister's shock decision to seek an early election has many consequences. 

So much for the cautious Theresa May.  The myth that the new Prime Minister is a cautious or careful operator has been decisively demolished by her decision to seek an early election. Although the polls are with her and the pattern from local and parliamentary by-elections suggests that she will be rewarded with a big majority, there is potential for disaster. People tend to resent “snap” elections and turnout may drop. As the Remain coalition tends to vote more frequently than any other, a low poll – say 60 per cent – could advantage the Liberal Democrats. (That the result is seen as a foregone conclusion by most increases that risk.)

There is also the prospect for someone to “do a Nick Clegg” in the televised debates. It could be Jeremy Corbyn, who is a better performer in the TV debate format than he is in the chamber. But it could, equally, be Clegg’s successor: Tim Farron.

The investigation into election expenses is dead in the water

One important effect of the election is that if any results of the 2015 contest are declared void, that won’t matter, as those results will have been overturned in any case. Some will wonder if May’s abrupt U-Turn, after Downing Street had spent the best part of a year briefing against the idea, was motivated by the chance that the Crown Prosecution Service would declare the results void.

(In practice, verdicts incriminating individual MPs could still force them to stand down, but as you have to prove deliberate intent on the part of the candidate, rather than the party, this is highly unlikely.

So are boundary changes

The shrinking of the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 seats will not take place before this election. If the current polls are recreated at a general election, the biggest losers from the change will be Tory MPs, further reducing the chances that the Commons will ever be shrunk down to 600.

Theresa May got tired of her cage

May attacked Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP for getting in her way on Brexit. This isn’t true; there is a large majority for exit in the Commons. Her frustrations have been in the domestic sphere, and her biggest defeats have come from her own party. Her other headache is the manifesto she inherited from David Cameron, a document intended to be negotiated away with the Liberal Democrats that cannot be implemented in the real world. Now she will be free from the demands of her backbenchers and will no longer face a Lords veto when she deviates from the Cameron agenda.

Nicola Sturgeon will be pleased

Theresa May’s message to Scotland was that Downing Street would prevent them holding a referendum on independence as the process of negotiating Brexit had to come first. Now, she’s decided that negotiating Brexit comes second – and getting a bigger parliamentary majority comes third. You don’t have to be an astute politician to work that into an effective wedge message for the Scottish National Party. 

Read more: How Theresa May can call an early election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act


Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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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