Author Archives: Tony Greaves

What happens after 12 December?

It is clear that there are two possible broad outcomes to this General Election. The first is an overall Conservative victory. The second is no party with an overall majority, what the world will call a Hung Parliament.

There’s a subset of them both which is a repeat of 2017 where the Tories as largest party can get to an overall lead with the assistance of the DUP. The Irish borders issue (the main single reason we are now having an election yet almost completely absent from the election debate) may make that more difficult for Johnson though we must …

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…So how would an interim government actually work?

For a start, here is my letter to the Guardian which they did not publish.

It is surely obvious that the best person to head up an interim multi-party government is an interim Prime Minister – a person with no longer term ambitions who is not going to try to use their interim position for their own advancement or that of their party? It should be a person who commands respect around the House of Commons and who is not standing again at the next General Election.

As for Mr Corbyn, can he be trusted on Europe? We all know that he and his closest advisers would like to leave the EU, that he has talked for the past three years about the need to get a “Labour Withdrawal Agreement”, and that he has been dragged kicking and screaming by members of his party to support any new people’s vote. In the highly unlikely event that he could win an overall majority in the General Election that he wants to call before any new referendum, are we confident that he would not abandon any such idea? Jo Swinson is right – he is not the person for the job.

But now we need to take the discussion further. In all the Westminster Bubble blather about who should be the Interim Prime Minister in an Interim Government, no-one seems to be thinking about how it would work. Of course it suits the Bubble to talk about personalities, who is falling out with who within and across the parties. And it means they don’t have to think and expose their ignorance about what the rules say and how the systems actually work.

Jo’s speech and letter were an excellent explanation of where the Remain forces (which at any given moment may or may not include Labour) stand in the short run. Experts in what the Commons might or might not be able to do in their fortnight back in September to stop a hard Brexit on 31st October are working hard on that. There is still over a fortnight before Parliament returns on 3rd September for the politics of it all to evolve, though to read and hear a lot of the current blather you’d think it all had to be done this weekend.

Paul Tyler’s excellent piece here sets out a good explanation of how the present government can be brought down, and what has to happen before a General Election would have to be called. There is still far too much loose talk in the media about the Prime Minister or even Mr Corbyn just “calling a General Election”. But if it does all result in the Queen inviting someone else to try to form an Interim or Caretaker Government, there seems to be no talk at all as yet about what such a Government would look like (other than who might be PM), how it would be constructed, how long it would last and what it would do.

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Geoff Tordoff (1928-2019)

Last week we learned the sad news that Geoff Tordoff had died. This is a personal tribute and assessment of his life as a Liberal. Geoff was essentially a very nice person. He had a modest even self-effacing manner and invariably had a smile on his face and a chuckle in his greeting, but his Liberal commitment was deep and his impact on the party’s organisation and strength was significant indeed for over half a century. Geoffrey Johnson Tordoff was a politician who made friends rather than enemies.

Geoff started life in Lancaster and was educated at Manchester Grammar School …

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D’Hondt complain afterwards if you d’Hondt understand it…

Not everyone in the country takes a lot of interest in the intricate details of electoral systems, and that probably includes most politicians including the new Chukkers on the block, and almost all the media.

A lot of people know that you can have “first past the post” (FPTP which in practice usually means the candidate who has got closest to the post when the whistle goes) and “proportional representation” which includes all the other systems ever invented. And that’s about it.

The thing is that the way the votes are counted is one of the two things (together with how people vote) that decides who gets elected. Stalin is supposed to have said that what matters is not how people vote but who counts the votes. In the Euro elections, the counting takes place by a system known as d’Hondt after one Victor of that ilk who is (possibly) one of the most famous Belgians to have lived.

FPTP is designed for a binary choice. It works perfectly when there are only two candidates – or in a for-and-against referendum. In elections when there are lots of parties, all standing for different things, it’s hopeless. On the other hand, d’Hondt is designed for just that – it will allocate seats more or less proportionately between lots of parties standing for different things (though it discriminates against the smallest ones). It is useless at making a binary choice.

Yet it has for a long time been as clear as daylight that if we have EU elections next month they will be proxy for a new referendum on the UK’s EU membership. It would work if there were just two parties standing (though I suppose we would have to let the Labour lot in to provide a third choice for the fence-sitters.) In practice, there are going to be more serious contenders than ever. And there is a huge danger that Farage’s Brexit party will sweep up the Leavers and “top the poll” in both votes and seats, while the People’s Voters and Remainers are split umpteen ways.

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Tony Greaves writes…”There really is no Planet B” Scenes from the Schools 4 Climate action demo

Fantastic atmosphere in Parliament Square today as some thousands of mainly school students gathered to protest against what is happening to our climate and our planet. This was one of the most extraordinary demonstrations I have witnessed.

There was none of the usual organisation, attempts at order and regimentation, agenda of speeches and actions. No stewards and precious few police, who were clearly taken unawares by the scale of the protest and were standing around looking a rather lost at how to cope with quite a big disruption with no organisers to talk to! People just turned up, often in school groups, and did their own thing as they felt fit.

Some just stood about with their placards. Some sat in a circle, chanted or sang or made impromptu speeches – at first on the grass, later on in the road. Some stood in the streets or marched off down Whitehall or towards Westminster Bridge. Parliament Square was completely blocked, partly by the young demonstrators but also – by a curious bit of serendipity – by the black cabs whose drivers were staging another protest against being kicked out of London bus lanes.

For once, the young people were being allowed to stand on the plinths of statues and hang placards on Mr Churchill and his friends. One glorious incident happened when a big red open-top tourist sightseeing bus, blocked on the corner of Bridge Street and the Square, was commandeered by a group of young people waving their placards and leading the chants. What any tourists thought about it, I know not!

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Tony Greaves writes…Home rule for the north

The North of England is the second English region after London and the south-east together, and has 15 million people—three times as many as Scotland and five times as many as Wales. It shares considerable cultural, economic and social cohesion and history, and many current problems. This is about the North as such because the North should stand together as a whole.

What we have is asymmetric devolution. Scotland, and to a lesser extent Wales have increasingly become functioning units of a federal system, except there is no federal system for them to be the units of. This is not a system that is sustainable in the long run. We still have a highly centralized state, not least in England, with a number of peripheral anomalies. If I call Wales and Scotland peripheral anomalies, I do so with admiration that they have been able to break free from the grip of London to the extent that they have. Then we have gimmicks such as EVEL (English Votes for English Laws in the House of Commons).

Some people believe the answer is a federal system with an English Parliament, but the result of that would in due course be the complete detachment of Scotland and Wales. And it would do nothing to change the concentration of economic and political power within England. We have had a series of feeble initiatives such as the attempt by John Prescott to set up a North-east Assembly with no powers, which was rightly rejected. Labor set up government regional offices in which civil servants from different departments sat in the same buildings and talked to their bosses in London rather than to each other. There was the coalition’s regional growth fund and its local enterprise partnerships—nobody really noticed them.

The North is being fragmented into city regions but it is not devolution: it is almost entirely the reorganisation of local government. It is the concentration of power within local government, with all power going to the big cities, but what is that except the power for those involved to carry begging bowls on the train to Whitehall and Westminster and, if they are lucky, to go home with their railway fares? As power is concentrated in big cities through city regions and mayors, the people who suffer in the North of England are those in the areas on the edges, and the places in between. Particularly towns, which have lost so much of their civic culture, power and society in recent years.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…Where now for the Liberal Democrats? Part 2: What we do about it

Yesterday, I laid out the issues facing the party. Here is my analysis of what we should do about them.

I suggest there are four or five things that should now be priorities for the party as an organisation and a movement. They may look rather different from each other but I suggest that they gel together more than may be immediately obvious. This is not an order of importance – I think they are all equally important.

First, in view of the election result we need to insure against the threat of another General Election in the next 12 months or two years. The very survival of the party requires a presence in the House of Commons. That means making sure that the 12 seats we held will be held again – no more carelessness or complacency. It means a similar level of intensive continuous work and campaigning in the 25 or so seats that are realistic targets for gains in an early poll. And those seats need to build up their local organisation to a level where they do not depend on support from lots of people in the surrounding areas and beyond when the election comes.

Second, from a longer term perspective, we need to rebuild and recreate the party as a campaigning organisation and movement. Campaigning in recent years has been diminished to mean just election campaigning, and a lot of that is now done in an arid “painting by numbers” fashion. The campaigning that gives political activity its interest, its excitement, its achievements, and its fun (and who is going to do it for year after year if it’s not fun?) is campaigning on issues, on projects, on protests, on getting things done. Community politics. It’s something the party almost abandoned during the Coalition. And campaigning of this kind is not just about elections – they are part of it but only a part. It’s much, much more, and genuinely all the year round stuff.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes… Where now for the Liberal Democrats? Part 1: Where we are

The morning after another disastrous General Election for the Liberal Democrats, the party’s press office issued a statement which started with the breath-taking words: “It has been a good night for the Liberal Democrats.”

It went on to say: “We hoped to hold our ground but instead we have increased our number of MPs by 50%. We welcome back big hitters to our ranks in Jo Swinson, Vince Cable and Ed Davey, who all regained their seats with emphatic majorities. We have won stunning victories in Eastbourne, Bath, Edinburgh West, Caithness and Oxford West & Abingdon.”

Well yes, and I cheered every one of them. But we lost five of the nine seats we were defending including four which had been held at the calamitous election in 2015. Many more seats that we recently held or which were strong targets fell back badly so that the number of possible winnable seats has shrunk to levels not seen for decades. We lost 375 deposits and it was clear that the basic Liberal Democrat vote in large parts of the country was still close to zero and that the much-vaunted fight-back in many areas had simply not happened at the Westminster level.

So let’s start again. It was a disastrous night for the Liberal Democrats. The best that can be said is that in an election when the very presence of the party in the House of Commons was in danger, we survived. The increase from eight seats in 2015 to 12 this time is welcome but only gets us back to the position in 1966. The truth is that over much of the country hardly anyone voted for us. The countrywide core vote we had been building up in the first decade of the 2000s has gone and shows no signs of coming back.

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Obituary: John David – an immense presence in the Pendle community

john-davidLifelong Liberal stalwart John David died early on Monday morning. John David was an immense presence in the Pendle community who served as a Liberal and Liberal Democrat member of Pendle Borough Council for 28 years. He was elected in May 1986 for the Fence area until retiring in May 2014 due to ill health. He was Leader of the Council from 2008 to 2010 and Deputy Leader from 2012 to 2014, and served as a highly distinguished Mayor of Pendle in 1992/1993.

A proud Welshman (not least when Wales were on the rugby field) John was a lifelong Liberal. He stood for the Liberals in Bosworth in the 1964 General Election, polling 10652 votes, almost a fifth of the total, in a seat the party had not previously contested. By the 1980s he was living in Pendle in Lancashire, running a business in Burnley, and in the 1986 Council elections Gordon Lishman (then the Pendle PPC) sat in his kitchen until, in Gordon’s words, “John signed the nomination form to get rid of me on the promise that he had no chance of election”. He won and held the seat for 28 years.

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Tony Greaves writes…Challenging the Tories, Liberal Democrat lords are in the vanguard

We have just seen another week in which the Liberal Democrats in the Lords led the way in challenging the Conservative Government. The high profile issue was votes for 16 and 17 year olds in the European Referendum when no fewer than 91 of our members voted for the amendment, out of a total of 107 – five are still waiting to come in – with none against, an astonishing record turnout of 87%. Labour managed 74% and the Tories 71. (And it didn’t even include me, I was stuck at home in Lancashire feeling poorly and miserable).

And then Sue Miller (my good friend Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer) moved an amendment to give the vote to all UK citizens living in the EU – and why not, it’s their future as much as or even more than ours? But Labour more or less abstained (four in favour, 37 against – these no doubt being mainly the anti-EU little Englanders in their ranks) and the amendment went down by 214 to 116. There were 84 LD votes in favour and again none against. Yet another principled Liberal charge while Labour sat on the sidelines!

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Obituary: Dennis Wrigley

Dennis Wrigley, who died earlier this week, was an inspirational pioneer in the rejuvenation of the Young Liberals and the Liberal Party in the Manchester region and the North West during the 1950s and 1960s.

Dennis came to national prominence in the High Peak by-election in 1961, in the year before Orpington. A combination of the rising national Liberal vote, a lot of outside help including Manchester students and YLs, and Dennis’s personal charisma and campaigning energy produced a Liberal vote of 30.5%, narrowly third but up by more than 10% from the General election in 1959. He contested the seat at the following three General Elections, polling well but never as well as at the by-election.

In 1964 the Labour candidate was the subsequent Liberal Democrat peer and Lords Chief Whip John Roper. The story that both of them told is (from Dennis) “Of course I was able to preach in every chapel in the constituency” with the riposte from John “Yes but I drank in every pub!” Unfortunately neither won that year.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…Raising awareness of Lyme Disease. Do you know how to deal with tick bites?

Ticks courtesy of Lyme Disease Action 1Lyme disease is something rather nasty that you can get from being bittenby a tick. Both Lyme and ticks have had quite a good press of late (or perhaps a bad one) due to a number of “celebrities” getting infected –people such as John Caudwell (founder of Phones 4U) and Bella Hadid, daughter of Yolanda Foster – with long articles in the Mail, Evening Standard and on the BBC website.

Not so well promoted, but I hope important, was a short debate I secured and led on Lyme Disease and other tick-related infections in the House ofLords last week. This was, it seems, the first ever debate in Parliament onthis matter. This is perhaps not surprising since Lyme Disease was onlynamed in 1975 (after a small town in Connecticut where it was first studied). So what is this all about and should we all worry about it?

Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease transmitted tohumans and other animals by bites from ticks, which are small arthropodsrelated to spiders, and I can tell you from a close encounter with quite a big one last June that they are pretty nasty things. Infected ticks transmit the Borreliosis bacterium when they suck your blood, and they are found throughout the UK. They live on vegetation, particularly damp areas of vegetation such as bracken and in woodland. They are found throughout the countryside but they also appear more and more in towns – in parks and in suburban gardens for instance – and they are increasing in number.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…Crisis on the streets of Lancashire

When the new lot all arrive we’ll have 112 Liberal Democrat peers and we need to use them. For some of us that means local as well as national stuff since some of us are still actively campaigning in our local areas! So when changes to the police funding formula were announced that mean one of the best forces in the country risks being “annihilated”, in the word of the commissioner, it was time to put down a topical question in the Lords.

The Lancashire police force is “outstanding”. That’s the conclusion of the review of police force efficiency by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. It’s one of the most cost effective police forces in the country at only 49p per head, it’s made savings of £74m since 2010, yet it will be hammered by further cuts up to £161m. Police officers will drop from 3,611 in 2010 to 1,699 in 2020 and the PCSOs (community support officers) will disappear. Chief Constable Steve Finnigan says these cuts would severely limit the capabilities of Lancashire Constabulary which by 2020 will only be able to provide an emergency- service, responding to 999 calls and a few priorities.

The potential impacts include closing all enquiry desks and the loss of specialist support units, mounted officers, dog units and road policing units, and dramatic cuts to departments that deal with serious and complex crime. In addition the county-wide network of neighbourhood policing teams – community beat officers and community support officers – will be swept away.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…Why a new coalition would be a bad idea

In my first piece about what happens after May 7th I worked on the basis that the result would be around Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all the Northern Irish 17 (of which the present numbers are DUP 8, SF 5, SDLP 3, All 1). Since then the numbers predicted by the polls have wobbled a bit around these numbers but the only consistent change has been to push up the SNP to perhaps 50 seats. And given the lack of a “late swing” of any size the LD number may be a bit high.

Given the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act it all still adds up to the likelihood – or the opportunity? – of a minority government (or democratic parliament?) that lasts several years, perhaps for the full five. Yet our official line is still that we want to join another Coalition. Officially we will negotiate with Tories or Labour, starting with the party with most seats (though in practice we will be talking to both simultaneously if that is what the numbers decree). Unofficially our leadership are reported to prefer another coalition with the Tories.

It’s no secret that this idea causes a severe onset of jitters in many parts of the party. With a week to go, the Times’ lead story reports “Lib Dems to revolt over fresh pact with Tories” (£). The story is pretty anecdotal, full of unattributed comments by “senior figures in the party” and the like (only Andrew George breaking cover), in general a typically flimsy piece of tabloid style journalism of the kind we see nowadays in the Times.

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Tony Greaves writes … Haggling over more than the haggis?

 

Let’s assume, as I did in previous pieces here and here, that no party will win a majority on May 7th, and that all the post-election pressure will be for a minority government with an arrangement with one or more other parties that falls short of coalition. On current polls the Liberal Democrats will not get enough seats for it to be practicable for us to enter coalition, and the third largest party will be the SNP who have made it clear they will not enter any coalition but will seek a looser agreement with Labour.

None of this may happen but the probability seems high enough to discuss how it might work. I am also assuming that, for reasons I’ve also set out previously here, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act will make it very difficult for anyone to force an early second election. In spite of this (or perhaps with some level of ignorance) both Labour and Conservative MPs seem to favour minority government. All this could mean that a minority government may not only be the short term outcome, but could last for some time – perhaps a full five years.

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Tony Greaves writes…Can’t poll, won’t poll?

I wrote about prospects for a minority government if no party gets an overall majority at the General Election, and some of the things that might need to change at Westminster if it’s to work. Moves away from its majoritarian and adversarial culture to one based much more on negotiation and mediation, compromises and trade-offs, and an acceptance of a more dominant role for Parliament as against the government. But will it last?

Traditionally the Prime Minister asked the Sovereign for a dissolution. In the modern era such requests were always granted. Sometimes the government had lost the confidence of the Commons (1924 and 1979), run out of steam (1951), or politics had been turned upside down and the new arrangements needed popular endorsement (1931).

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Tony Greaves writes: What happens if …?

House of Commons. Crown Copyright applies to this photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/4642915654/There’s growing talk in Conservative and Labour circles about a minority government. Let’s make an assumption about numbers – not a prediction, just approximate numbers based on current polls: Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all the Northern Irish 17 (of which the present numbers are DUP 8, SF 5, SDLP 3, All 1).

Take out the Speaker and assume that Sinn Fein get five again, and the target for an overall majority is 323. On these numbers a majority Coalition looks hard to achieve – though don’t underestimate the ability of politicians to moderate or even overturn pre-election statements when it comes to getting into government. But add the heightened level of distaste in both Conservatives and Labour for both the concept of coalition and recent practice (at least in Westminster) and the idea of a minority government is not a fantasy.

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Lord Greaves writes… We must make the Lobbying Bill work

Big Ben Orange Blue 200It is rightly said that this Bill has had a disgraceful lack of scrutiny, and I agree with that. But we are where we are. The Government are not going to withdraw it, and it is not going to stop. If we can work together as a House and the Government can work with us, we can make a much better fist of this Bill than we have at the moment.

Tony Greaves writes on the Transparency of Lobbying, Third Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act, commonly known as the Lobbying Bill, drawing on his statements during the Second Reading on Tuesday. The committee stage begins on Tuesday 5th November, at which amendments will be tabled.

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Lord Greaves writes…We must do more for wage-earners below income tax threshold

I have tabled an oral question in the Lords to ask the government what measures they will take to ensure that wage-earners who are below the income tax threshold will benefit from any future increases in the personal allowance.

In a little-noticed debate last September the Liberal Democrat conference debated social and economic inequality. Inequality, the conference decided in the obscure language motion-writers use, “is an obstacle to individuals determining their own destinies and reduces aspirations”.

The resolution also, equally clumsily, said that inequality “prevents talent from fulfilling its potential to the detriment of the economy and society”. And, more accessibly, that …

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Tony Greaves writes… The health and social care bill. The party has spoken. What happens now?

The next big event comes very soon and is nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats or the coalition per se – it’s the BMA’s Special Representative Meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) which they say “will form a key part of our activities to step up member engagement and lobbying”. I suspect it will also get a lot more publicity than the Liberal Democrat conference did.

There are some outrider motions of no confidence in Andrew Lansley and calls for “industrial action” which will result in a lot of press noise and no action, but there seems little doubt that the meeting …

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Tony Greaves writes: seeing the wood for the trees

Why did the Government drop its proposals for the Forestry Commission (FC) and the forests and woodlands it manages? I thought it would happen but I was astonished by the speed of it. It comes down to three things. An ill-considered and foolish policy. Incompetent presentation. And a stupendously successful and largely under the radar campaign which burst through with stunning effect.

The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) included a target of £100million from selling around 15% of the national forestry estate in England. This is the most that can be sold under existing legislation. But over the summer DEFRA Ministers …

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Tony Greaves writes: Coalition, Government and the Lords

We are in a new situation which started with the coalition being negotiated. Nobody in the political parties had thought it through. It had to be made up as they went along and it is still being made up, week by week, month by month. It has had a major effect on the resulting policies. It has also had an effect on the ongoing processes of government.

The coalition was put together in five days. An important lesson must be that future coalition-building in this country after an election really ought to take place at a slightly more measured pace, and …

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | Tagged and | 46 Comments

Opinion: Post-election blues

This is the worst possible election result for Liberal Democrats but we have to make the best of it.

A majority for one party would have left us in our usual comfort zone of simple opposition.

The expected gain of 40 seats or more would have left us with real momentum and a genuine balance of power in the Commons – the chance to turn the screw in negotiations with the other two parties and act as the catalyst for substantial political reform including STV.

Even a Lib-Lab majority in the Commons, with no Lib-Con majority, would have provided the chance (and the …

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Tony Greaves writes… Abolish postal voting on demand

I want to abolish postal voting on demand, which was introduced in 2000 with the best of intentions. It has proved to be wide open to electoral fraud, corruption and fiddling, and is a thoroughly bad thing.

Ministers have talked about the “convenience” of voting. This is the word the Government used in the Electoral Administration Bill in 2006, when I was ploughing the same furrow. They talked about convenience and increasing turnout. Unfortunately there are unintended consequences, many of which are unavoidable.

The Electoral Commission report in August 2004, following the last European election – Delivering Democracy? The Future of

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