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Jeremy Corbyn quotes Enver Hoxha at Labour party Christmas party

The Labour leader quoted the Albanian dictator at the party's Christmas bash, who he dubbed "a tough leader".

Jeremy Corbyn stunned attendees at Labour's staff Christmas party by quoting Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator who served as chairman of the Democratic Front of Albania and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces from 1944 until his death in 1985. 

Dubbing Hoxha a "tough ruler", Corbyn quoted Hoxha's phrase that "this year will be tougher than last year". Hoxha is believed to have imprisoned, tortured or executed at least 100,000 Albanians during his reign. 

The party - thrown for both current staff and veterans of the 2015 election campaign - was stunned by the remarks, which will raise memories of John McDonnell's decision to quote Mao Zedong's Little Red Book in the House of Commons. One attendee described the reaction as "awkward laughter". Others had to Google the autocrat, who is a relatively-obscure figure in Britain. The row over Mao overshadowed Conservative U-Turns on cuts to tax credits and the social security budget.

Others defended Corbyn, however. One staffer said that "he was trying his best to speak to a room of people who he will never like or trust and who will never like or trust him".  The remark is believed to have been in jest.

UPDATE 10/12/2015:

Simon Mirakaj, head of the Albanian Institute of Formerly Persecuted People, has been in touch with the New Statesman. Mirakaj, who was personally imprisoned for 44 years, described Hoxha as leaving an "unhealed wound" on Albanian society, who "filled the streets of Albania with tears and blood" and condemned the joke.

"In my family, the 'tough leader' sentenced us together to 950 years [in aggregate] of prison, forced labour camps and executions. [In Albania] there are 6000 people executed with and without a judicial process and we still haven't found their graves, we have had 30,000 political prisoners and 200,000 people put in labour camps." 

That the remark was intended as a joke recieved short shrift from Mirakaj. He said: "In September 2014 our country was visited by Pope Francis. This was his first visit in Europe. He didn’t choose Albania as a developed country. He chose Albania for the reason this country suffered most during communism."

"There is no bigger insult for the Catholic Church," he added, "That in a Christmas party a name of a dictator such as Enver Hoxha is quoted." 

It remains Labour party policy not to comment on private gatherings. 

I'm grateful to ABC's Vincent Triest, who put Simon Mirakaj in touch with the New Statesman. 

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