Reasons for Lib Dem cheer — as told by Labour and Tory supporters

Just two things from me:

1) Anyone trying to forecast how the Lib Dems will do in 2015 based on extrapolating mid-term opinion polls on the basis of uniform national swing is likely to be as wrong as they would have been at every general election in modern history.

2) My confident forecast for 2015 is the Lib Dems will a) do less well than I’d like and b) do better than our fiercest critics would like.

But enough from me. I’m just telling you what you’d expect me to tell you. Over to these guys instead…

The Lib Dems’ future may not be so bleak (Tim Wigmore in the Tory-supporting Spectator)

[The] Lib Dems’ main electoral challenge in 2015 will come from the Conservatives; of the Tories’ 40 target seats, 20 are currently held by Lib Dems. But Lib Dem MPs should be more comfortable defending themselves from the Tories than Labour. In right-leaning constituencies in the South of England, Lib Dem MPs can claim they have broadly cooperated with the Conservatives while reigning in the perceived nastier elements of the party, such as immigration policy and social conservatism. It could amount to a powerful pitch. … In Lib Dem-Conservative marginal seats, disaffected Conservatives supporting UKIP may allow Lib Dem MPs to retain their seats even if their own vote share falls. Lib Dem MPs will also be able to fall back onto their traditional strengths: strongholds developed over many years, local campaigning, and above all their personal popularity and reputations. All these advantages would have been eradicated by the proposed boundary changes: come 2015, the failure of Lords reform could seem inconsequential for the Lib Dems’ future compared to the preservation of old constituency boundaries.

Half Time Report: How are the Lib Dems doing? (Labour-supporting Don Paskini on Liberal Conspiracy)

I think that the [last week's] election results were actually rather good for the Lib Dems, and show that their future may well be brighter than many expect. … The Lib Dem coalition of support pre-2010 was made up of a small number of people who philosophically believed in economic and social liberalism, a larger number of people on the centre left, and a big group of people who didn’t like party politics and wanted to vote for someone independent minded … if former Lib Dem party members can get elected to run the police in Kent and the council in Bristol, and if the Lib Dem leadership modifies even very slightly its political strategy of alienating all of their former supporters, then 2015 may bring another election with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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41 Comments

  • As the LibCon post points out, key to any recovery will be whether the party can end its strategy of alienating a large swathe of former supporters on the centre left (i.e. people like me who have been party staff, members for over a decade and are currently totally disengaged).

    I’m not sure how this would be possible without a change of leadership before the next election. Any realignment back to towards the social democrat section of the party would not be credible otherwise. It is very clear that Clegg, a few MPs, advisors and assorted economically liberal bloggers are intent on permanently moving the party to a narrow little stretch of classically liberal centre ground (they must hark back to the days of the old Liberal party when you could fit the entire parliamentary party in the back of a taxi).

    The party won’t recover its electoral fortunes until this project is abandoned and a credible leader comes to the fore late 2014.

  • paul barker 24th Nov '12 - 4:09pm

    Intelligent labour supporters know perfectly well that the current polls dont predict the next general election, few of them have the courage to say so in print & the ones that do are usually dismissed as unreconciled blairites.
    Members of other parties who want us to change direction or leader do not have our best interests at heart, their advice should be ignored.

  • I went to Don Paskini’s article feeling very sceptical, but to my surprise I found the strategy he advocates is exactly the one I’d suggest – that sitting Lib Dem MPs should “run as quasi independents. They can emphasise their independence from the government, point to good local works and remind people that the choice is between them and someone even less appealing.”

    Stephen’s quotation disguises the “quasi independent” aspect, but of course that was the whole point of Paskini drawing attention to the PCC elections. The sense in which he thought the results were good for the Lib Dems is that liberal-minded candidates did succeed in getting elected, but only by standing as independents.

  • mark fairclough 24th Nov '12 - 6:26pm

    at last week council byelections the LIBDEMS polled an when all the results were taken together 19%

  • Simon Beard 24th Nov '12 - 6:32pm

    I’m not a betting man, but my prodictions would that in 2015

    1 – Lib Dem share of the vote = 14%
    2 – Lib Dem seat wins = 35-40

    Why

    1 – This is surely our ‘base. If you wanted to determine the lowest concievable vote share for the tories it would surely be what they got in 1997 (i.e. 30.7%), Labour, what they got in 1983 (27.6%) and the Lib Dem’s, what we got in 1979 after a disasterous ‘pact’ and with our leader on trial for attempted murder (13.8%), the sad thing is we aren’t likely to do much better then that

    2 – its simply a matter of incumbancy. Where the Lib Dems haave a long established history we have bucked the national poling trends. 35 is roughly how many seats we have held continuously since 1997 (anyone have better numbers? What I would prefer to know is how many seats we one in four out of the last five general elections, which should be roughly the same thing) and I think we should win most of them with a few extras. Again the sad thing is we aren’t likely to do much better then that.

    Or, to put it more simply, I think if you really want to know how well we will do you are better off studying the past then looking at present poling or trying to predict future trends, but I may be wrong here.

  • @paul barker

    “Members of other parties who want us to change direction or leader do not have our best interests at heart, their advice should be ignored.”

    That’s correct, why would they have “your parties” Interest at heat.

    What they want is, is “what’s in the countries best” Interest, as they see it.

    A bit of a No Brainer really.

    And I am sure it is political suicide to ignore what the country is saying.

  • the Lib Dems will a) do less well than I’d like and b) do better than our fiercest critics would like

    That is quite a wide margin Stephen! I suspect that Lib Dem votes will be much lower. I doubt changing leader will help much either, though I do think we have seen hints that Nick Clegg is preparing to step down and quite possibly leave Westminster. Going into coalition was always a long term strategy, which is unlikely to bear fruit before 2025.

    Despite the pessimism, it is important to acknowledge that in the last election votes increased but seats decreased. This means there is a lot of slack: Lib Dems can actually afford to lose some votes, while still concentrating on retaining seats. As Stephen says the Lib Dem v Con seats remain winnable.

    Big mistakes have been made and I am unsure why. The student fee issue has unfortunately become an iconic disaster. Vince Cable or someone tried to be over clever. Had Lib Dems in parliament dug their feet in, tuition fees could have remained as Labour’s legacy. We were too naïve about electoral reform. An AV agreement with Labour could have worked as it was their policy. A proposal from the Conservatives that neither party had wanted looks in hind sight doomed from the start. The rose garden episode now looks many times more embarrassing than it did at the time(it was excruciating then).

    Post 2015 is likely to be a time when Lib Dems should refind a clear definition and also be able to use the experience of government to be able to comment authoritatively on events.

    Personally my support starts with electoral reform and commitment to the EU. Sadly prospects for electoral reform are more distant then ever and there is an increasing likelihood that the UK will shoot itself in the foot over the EU.

  • I think the word I’m looking for is Panglossian.

  • To Matt re: “A bit of a No Brainer”: would that be a personal confession? “What they want is, is “what’s in the countries best” Interest, as they see it.” is risible: the operative words are “as they see it” which is rarely in the country’s best interest. In fact it is very difficult to point at much that the coalition government is doing that Labour would not have done.

    Obviously the right want Lib Dems to be anti EU. From labour, calls for spending for growth seem to have dried up. The EU budget could have been an opportunity to argue for an increased budget based on increased industrial and infrastructure investment, but as we saw Labour are also wedded to austerity.

  • @Martin

    To your first point, I’m not even going to bother, though you should take note of the forum rules, which are highlighted just below the Post a Comment, just in case you missed it.

    Secondly I would of thought that most people want what is best for the country “as they see it”

    It;s just a case of those people wanting different things and have different perceptions of what “best” is.

    The Tories will always favour the City and always want a smaller state, with the rich lining their pockets and feeding off the poor.
    Labour will always prefer a larger state, with much fairer taxation and spending that supports the disadvantaged.
    And Liberals,
    well, I don’t know what they stand for any more, and I think neither do they, I am guessing they stand for whatever tiny morsels their partners throw their way in order to cling to power.

  • Some interesting points raised in the comments.
    On the question of how low can tories/labour go the point is that the decline of the 2 party/labservative vote is a long-term trend going back to the early 1950s, low points for labour (1983) or tories (1997) are just staging posts along the way. Whatever the reasons for the decline the evidence suggest it was still happening in 2010, its reasonable to suppose it will continue. The world has not suddenly shifted in the last 30 months.

  • @Matt:

    “The Tories will always favour the City and always want a smaller state, with the rich lining their pockets and feeding off the poor”

    Actually, the last three Labour governments favoured the City, with the rich lining their pockets and feeding off the poor (measured by Gini index they were worse than Margaret Thatcher). And the Tories only favour a smaller state when they are not in power themselves. Eric Pickles wont even let local councils decide how often they can collect rubbish.

  • My concern is that too many in the Parliamentary Party are looking ONLY to 2015, yet there are major steps on the way.
    In 2013 there are elections for the English County Councils and some Unitaries, and in 2014 we face local elections, and difficult Euro Elections. A reduction in Councillor and MEPs will not be a good platform for the General Election. There is a whole world of politics outside Westminster, and we need to stem the tide of net losses starting next May.

  • Stephen Tall

    On the first point you are right. Using mid-term polls as an accurate prediction is correct. What you and a number of posters on here do though is actally ignore any messages from the polling based on spurious comparisons with previous LD performance

    There are a number of people within the LD family who seem to have a religious-like belief that the voters who are not supporting you in the polls will come back in 2015. This is a dangerous assumption but from what I can see from you and others is that you believe it will happen.

    What you should do with the polls is to look and see how they link to what other information is out there. The local council election results in the last two years have broadly supported the polls, as have the small number of by-elections

    As for me an ex-voter on the political left all I see is arrogance and disinterest – we shall see in 2015 who is right but I think you should work on the assumption that the polls are right and see what you can d to reclaim votes. Simple belief it will all come right is folly

  • Tony Dawson

    That maybe true to an extent, but I do believe that Labour are fairer on taxation and redistribution.

    I know the gap between rich and poor grew under Labour, However,
    Those at the bottom rung of the ladder had not sunk anywhere near as low as what they have under this administration.

    I believe it is more “palatable” to have this gap, if those at the very bottom are at least supported better than what they are now.
    I will give an example of what has happened under this current government that I am aware of.

    A 28 Year old I know of personally, who found himself unemployed and homeless and who had support needs for debt amongst other things, was put into a supported Hostel to the cost of £165 a week to the expense of Housing Benefit {apparently registered hostels can get away with charging this amount} he then had to pay a further £10.00 a week to the hostel out of his Job Seekers Allowance.
    The support worker, initially helped him with his debts, applied for a bankruptcy order to clear his debts. And after that, No support whatsoever.
    In Fact, he was even told by the support worker it was not in his interest to find work, because he would then have to find the Full £175.00 a week for the room that is provided to him in a 6 bedroom Hostel.
    The said person also has support needs in other area’s, i.e health issues and lifestyle issues which really should be being addressed medically, though he is reluctant to face these issues, he could and should be encouraged to claim ESA and receive support, but instead, he claimed JSA, when he clearly is not fit enough to do so and to follow the strict rules that are attached with JSA.
    The end result has now seen him sanctioned for 26 weeks, where he will receive no benefit whatsoever, apart from the ridiculously high £165.00 a week HB are paying direct to this hostel for his supported housing.

    I can not get my head around this at all, what justifies the hostel being paid this huge amount of money, which is not
    a) providing any support for needs
    b) Trapped him in to unemployment.

    And what does stopping someone’s benefit for 26 weeks achieve? It is obvious the will have to resort to drugs and crime .

    That’s the kind of thing that is happening under this government and it is ludicrous.

    As soon as this coalition came into power, they also dropped the Income Support for Mortgage Interest payments from 6% to 3 %, this is despite the fact that Mortgage companies refused to lower their standard variable rate despite the fact that the Bank of England base rate remains at just 0.5%
    The hundreds of thousands of people this affected suddenly found themselves having to plug this difference or lose their home. Many were forced into situations where they had to turn to these sell to rent back companies, at huge mark up rates, which of course ends up in a higher H/B bill.

    This administration seems to be swinging a stick far to wildly and it is becoming manic. And it is this that will destroy this country before anything else.

  • @ Matt

    So the government is to blame for someone failing to claim the right kind of benefit because he doesn’t want to face up to the problems (Sorry but I hate the misuse of the word “issues”) he has in life?

    If people are set on a course of self destruction including not facing up to the problems they have in life, how far can the state go to put things right if the people themselves don’t even seek the help that is on offer?

    As for mortgage interest, the average in 2010 was around 4.0%. Average two year fixes were 2.9% in September 2011. I don’t see how it is utterly unfair, when the state’s finances have been left totally up the spout, that the government should not be paying 6.0% so that people can make a profit out of their mortgages.

  • @RC

    When someone is in “supported” housing to the expense of £165.00 a week then yes it is upto the state to make sure the hostel who is being contracted to provide this “support” lives up to the job.

    To say “If people are set on a course of self destruction including not facing up to the problems they have in life” shows a complete lack of empathy towards serious problems that vulnerable face in today’s society. To simply blame the individual is very counter-productive and it is these attitudes that will bring society to it’s knee’s.

    With regards to your figures on Mortgage Interest Payments, those figures relate to people who are on fixed term mortgages, How many people who have found themselves unemployed/sick/disabled do you think are on or even able to get fixed term mortgages? The vast Majority are on standard variable rate, because that’s only what they can get and many are others have been forced into situations where they are on “Interest only” repayment mortgages. Most SVR provided by the main mortgage lenders are at 6% and above.
    Those on Income support for Mortgage Interest Payments are not making money out of their mortgages, and since they have to submit details of their mortgage including any extra money that may have been borrowed in the past {which is then deducted from the support they can get} someone from the benefit office has already calculated the amount of support they can claim, why then would it cost more in “administration costs” to assess each claim on the actual % amount that is applied to this mortgage rather than having an arbitrary one size fits all.

  • I maybe wrong but it does appear to me that the party is drifting away from its own constitution.

    The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals.
    We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights.

  • Tony Dawson 25th Nov '12 - 3:14pm

    @matt :

    ” I do believe that Labour are fairer on taxation and redistribution.”

    I am intrigued as to how you can believe the talk when they never ever ‘walked the walk’. Every single Cabinet Meeting they had over 13 years, you would expect some deviant Labour Minister might have looked at the stats and said: “Y’know what, Gordon. we’re giving a bigger and bigger share of the national ‘cake’ to the rich comparing with the poor. We’re a bit worse even than Maggie Thatcher, on this one.” Presumably, Gordon, Tony, Liam Byrne, David & EdMiliband etc told the poor sod where to go. Again. And again. And again.

    Even the living standards increase we achieved under Labour was created by stealing from the next generation with unsustainable borrowing to consume more than we were producing.

    I am far from the Coalition’s greatest fan but I fully expect an observable reduction in the Gini Index. I hear Labour’s ‘little Sir Echo’ endorsement of legislation to stop massive tax evasion and think “What exactly did you do to stop this?” Then Margaret Hodge is interviewed and tells the world that a million pounds worth of shares is ‘only a little thing’ and everything about ‘New new Labour”all falls into place. As with their PFI’s their enforced privatisation of parts of the NHS. They are as Tory as Michael Gove is, just more dishonest about it.

    Those of us who work with benefit claimants week in, week out, know that the disgrace of ATOS started under Labour. This does not forgive the present government for permitting the continuation. I have personally assisted genuine claimants to escape ‘sanctions’ under both this government and the last one. The person you cite should still have been eligible for Housing Benefit if/when he got a job if his income was low.

  • @Tony Dawson

    Isn’t it the case though that almost every country steals from future generations to raise living standards of those today. Of course that does not make things right, however, that is the reality of the situation and the world we live in. It is a consequence of advancement in technology and civilisation.

    Cutting the budget deficit will go nowhere to plugging the enormous pension deficits that all countries face.

    As for the person I mentioned, yes you are right they would still be entitled to claim HB if he was to find work, but the housing benefit would not cover the whole £175 a week that this “supported Hostel” charges, because if he was in work, the most he would be allowed to claim in Housing benefit as a single person is only £75 a week I believe for a bedroom is a shared property.
    The situation is ludicrous, by him being placed in this hostel he is no longer regarded as a priority for housing, So no amount of bidding is going to get him a council flat or housing association. He is separated from his partner and has 2 children, however the hostel does not permit him to have his children stay over. The support worker he was assigned when first moving into the Hostel encouraged him to go bankrupt, rather than trying to negotiate his debts { I am guessing the bankruptcy order was less work for the support worker} And when you consider that the Hostel charges the Council £165 a week to provide this room and support, I think it is a disgrace.
    Being bankrupt now makes it even more near on impossible for him to find a letting agency who would rent to him.

    I know things were not great under Labour and they made many mistakes which they must learn from, but I don’t think that even compares to what this government is doing now.

  • Simon Banks

    I am sure you will do better locally than the national polls show but that just highlights the danger of you being ‘ghettoised’. From what I can see you will do better against the Tories than Labour and you will probably find yourself a party of the rural areas and south. Like the Tories potentially seeing a much reduced representation in the urban areas and Scotland

    My argument is not actually that different from yours except that I think making optimistic assumptions about how voters will behave based on past electoral cycles is a flawed strategy. I will be interested to see how you approach the election in terms of strategy. From my own anecdotal evidence it seems that people like me on the left will not support you in 2015 due to you actions in Coalition. Whether we vote Labour is still open to debate. Your option will then be to go for the soft right vote and try to take that from the Tories or from Blairites. This will mean a change in rhetoric from past elections

  • @Matt – “I know things were not great under Labour and they made many mistakes which they must learn from, but I don’t think that even compares to what this government is doing now. . ”

    “not great under Labour”!? What is making things worse are the cuts – the policies are pretty much exactly the same! Atos, workfare, expensive housing, JSA that penalises people for doing even the slightest bit of work – just a continuation of what Labour were doing. Take the rose tinted spectacles off.

  • Peter Chegwyn 26th Nov '12 - 2:41am

    Steve Comer is right to point out that before we get to the next General Election we have two sets of local elections plus the European elections to fight. The omens are not good!

    Our Party exists to build a liberal society at all levels and to win elections at all levels. Sadly one of the effects of being in coalition with the Conservatives at a national level is that our campaigning base at a local level has been decimated in many areas and, in the north and Scotland in particular, the hard work of a generation to win control of great cities like Liverpool and Newcastle has been completely undermined.

    Of course we can still win local seats at a local level, but less of them however good our councillors and campaigners. We have lost hundreds of excellent councillors and MSPs in the past couple of years. How many more will we lose in 2013 and 2014?

    Some 40 years of building our local government and ‘community politics’ base is being eroded. Those at the top of our Party who think only in Westminster terms should start thinking instead about the damage being done to our grassroots. Trees without roots don’t grow. They wither and die.

    I just hope there’s enough seasoned campaigners still clinging onto the branches when it’s time to re-plant!

    P.S. There are 3 parliamentary by-elections next Thursday. I was the Election Agent in a previous parliamentary by-election in Rotherham (1976) when we were glad to hold onto 3rd place ahead of the National Front. I fear we won’t be 3rd or maybe even 4th on Thursday.

    Another by-election is in Croydon North, the bulk of which was in the old Croydon North West seat where I was Agent in the 1981 by-election that resulted in the first victory for the Liberal-SDP Alliance. Nobody is expecting us to win on Thursday, or finish second, and I fear our excellent candidate may not even finish third.

    Our Party used to survive on a regular diet of parliamentary by-election victories. Now our Leaders tell us we can’t expect to win by-elections when we are in Government. If they are correct then this will be the first Parliament since the 1950s (excluding the short seven-month Parliament of 1974) when we have failed to win a single parliamentary by-election. Nick Clegg says our Party has changed. Indeed it has!

  • I don’t have rose tinted glasses on thanks, I said labour had made mistakes, and there were a few reasons why i never voted Labour at the last GE.

    And I don’t think the policies were exactly the same, there were many flaws in some of labours policies i.e ATOS which I have never agreed with and should never have been sourced out to the private sector. But what this coalition has done has taken bad policies and made them even worse tenfold.

    The cuts this government have made have not been fully implemented or even felt yet. There is much worse to come over the next 3 years from this coalition as the cuts really start to bite.

  • Steve Griffiths 26th Nov '12 - 10:19am

    “…and if the Lib Dem leadership modifies even very slightly its political strategy of alienating all of their former supporters…”

    Absolutely, but we don’t see any evidence of that yet; not even a nod in our direction.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '12 - 1:52pm

    bazzasc

    From what I can see you will do better against the Tories than Labour and you will probably find yourself a party of the rural areas and south.

    That leaves Labour without a serious political challenger in those areas where it’s dominant – a horrible situation, one which those of us who have been involved in the party in such areas worked long and hard to challenge.

    The danger in the rural areas and the south is that there’ll be a big “I’ll never vote LibDem again” switch to Labour, who’ll revive from poor third places to better third places, or to second places and the Tories will sweep the board in terms of first places – a horrible situation, one which those of us who have been involved in the party in such areas worked long and hard to challenge.

  • Peter Chegwyn 30th Nov '12 - 2:05am

    Lib. Dem. 8th in Rotherham by-election. Even in the middle of the Lib-Lab Pact and the Thorpe crisis we still held 3rd place in Rotherham in the 1976 by-election. I can’t remember the last time we finished 8th in a mainland UK by-election. Have we ever?

  • Peter,
    in 1976 there were only 6 candidates at the Rotherham by-election so 8th was a literal impossibility, actual turnout was 1/4 down this time compared to then and targeted campaigning has become much more ruthless in the intervening period, so I think it would be unwise to read anything into the national picture whatsoever.

    The result simply reflects the relative amount of effort put into it by each side. A better comparison is Henley when Labour came behind the BNP. So what?

  • Paul in Twickenham 30th Nov '12 - 8:25am

    Peter – no, I don’t recall a time of such utter electoral desolation for the party.

    Like many others on this forum, I’ve been a member for 30 years, have campaigned in numerous by-elections, have delivered literally tens of thousands of focuses, and have been a significant financial supporter of the party. But enough is enough. I’ve allowed my membership to lapse (something I would previously have regarded as inconceivable) and frankly if I had been a resident of one of those three constituencies then I would not have voted Liberal Democrat either.

    The Liberal Democrats in the UK can never succeed by being the FDP. And until Nick Clegg is removed from his position (and presumably departs for his sinecure in Brussels) and the party goes back to being the radical, distinctive entity that it was under Grimond, Steel, Ashdown and Kennedy, it will continue to bleed support and lose what remains of its grassroots base.

    The party has gained some cabinet posts but lost its identity. It’ll take a generation to fix this mess.

  • Oranjepan

    So Labour were behind the BNP in 2008 which presaged an appallingly bad 2010 election for them

    I fail to see your point in that case – do you now expect the LD to have a similarly poor showing in 2015 with perhaps <15% of the vote?

    In fact it was worse for you than Henley as you were behind the English Democrats who have nowhere near the same level of familiarity as the BNP. 2008 was also around the same time as the high point of BNP support.

    This is a terrible result for the party but as usual we see complacency and dismissal of the
    votes of actual voters (which are backing up the polls)

  • Liam

    So what sort of result is it then as you seem to suggest it is okay and nothing to worry about?

  • Liam

    I have just looked at the results from those by-elections and I think your memory is flawed.

    There were no great results but to compare them to yesterday it is night and day.

    This wilful denial at all levels of the party will lead to big problems in 2015

  • @ Líam (@doktorb)

    “I think we’re just seeing what happens when Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP go to war. At local council level, our results are much healthier across the board, and that’s where it really counts.”

    Funny really, I am not sure having all of this overoptimistic enthusiasm, which really translates to being in complete denial is going to help with the parties hope of any “real” recovery. That is unless of course the party is content with doing well and holding a few parish councils and then attempting to maintain that they are a real credible Third party.

  • The Libdem fighting off Conservative challenges depends less on how Conservative voters behave as on the percentage of strategic Labour/Left votes their majority included. In my area I estimate this as comprising most of my MP’s majority looking at statistics over the past twenty five years. If enough people vote UKIP from the right in these areas then it will of course offset the loss. However I personally expect the rural West Country to become blue rather than stay yellow. We shall see.

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