Lib Dems react to new Covid restrictions and Christmas misery

For the second time in 6 weeks, the prelude to Strictly involved the Prime Minister announcing tougher restrictions to deal with a new strain of Coronavirus which, although no more lethal, can spread up to 70% faster.

Much of London and the South East have been put on a much stricter Tier 4 from midnight tonight and the 5 day Christmas bubble is now no longer allowed. Outside of Tier 4 areas, bubbles will be able to see each other on Christmas Day only – but the advice is very much “only if you have to.”

The thing that struck me most about the PM’s press Conference was the first question, which came from a member of the public, Laura. She said she had lost two of her loved ones to Covid and asked why people who had been shielding were expected to go back to work. Had I been answering, I’d at least have offered sympathy for her loss. Boris Johnson clearly didn’t know the answer and it was left to Chris Whitty to show some basic empathy.

I get why the restrictions have to happen, but I am absolutely heartbroken for those whose Christmas arrangements have been cancelled. I’m thinking of my friends whose parents and Grandma were coming up to see them in their new home for the first time, the young professionals stuck in house shares in London, anyone who is going to struggle with being on their own.

Lib Dems have been reacting to today’s developments.

Ed Davey said:

My heart goes out to the millions of families who after a very tough year were looking forward to Christmas with some sense of normality.

“The sad fact is the Prime Minister has caused more upset by yet again acting too late. The writing was on the wall last week when we asked Boris Johnson to listen to the scientists. He was warned that, if he had to cancel Christmas, he mustn’t leave it to the last minute. Yet Johnson ignored our warnings and refused to take the tough decisions he is paid to take.

“Let’s be clear about why we are in this mess. From the late first lockdown in March, to the delays sorting out PPE, test trace and isolate and the care home tragedy, Boris Johnson has never got a grip, and his Government has left our country with one of the worst death rates and most damaged economies in Europe.

“Boris Johnson is truly a hopeless Prime Minister. He and his party have totally failed our country when all people wanted was strong leadership through this crisis.”

In Scotland, Willie Rennie took a more measured approach. The situation is very different up here. This new variant has been found, but is not widespread. Nicola Sturgeon put restrictions on Christmas gathering and announced a 3 week lockdown starting on Boxing Day. She’s also banned all but essential travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK These are at this stage preventative measures to keep the new variant at bay.I thought it was interesting that she was open that if she had her time again, she would have locked down earlier in March.

When I was watching her statement, it seemed really inconsistent that she was keeping the schools open next week, and Willie thought the same thing:

When the science speaks in such stark terms, the leadership of the country must listen and act. Shutting down mainland Scotland for three weeks will have a great impact on people’s lives, but it is the response that is necessary to match this new threat.

“However, the Scottish Government should act earlier by closing schools next week. The new strain of the virus is already here and pupils and teachers who are infected in school next week could pass it onto vulnerable relatives on Christmas Day. Let’s be safe and close the schools early.

And in Wales, Jane Dodds said:

With at best a crap deal Brexit and all of this, we certainly don’t have our troubles to seek at the moment.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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42 Comments

  • I do think Boris has bodged this as usual, waiting till now to make the announcement.

    I feel sympathy for those who are no longer going to get to spend time with loved ones over the festive period, but then personally I do not think it was a good idea to allow 3 households to mix in the first place. It was going to be a recipe for disaster in the new year for many many families.

    I understand the arguments that people should be allowed to make their own judgements on what is the right thing to do for their family, but we do have to consider the wider consequences for the whole of society and the NHS if gatherings of this scale were allowed to go ahead, and I am sure many would still blame the government rather than take personal responsibility if it all went wrong.

    We decided weeks ago that we were not going to be having xmas this year and it would have been a far to greater risk with my elderly parents. Fortunately my Dad gets the Vaccine on Wednesday and fingers crossed my Mother will be on the next list when the new batch arrives in the New Year.
    I will miss them at Xmas, but I would rather that and be able to hug them in the Spring

  • Helen Dudden 19th Dec '20 - 10:52pm

    It’s a now clearly showing what a disaster this is, from Brexit, that was oven ready, to the lack of medical care for anything other than Covid. Obviously, a large concern if your waiting for help with a serious health condition.
    Boris Johnson, has relied on dodgy graphs, and advisors that are not advising in the best interests of our country.
    Where, is all this funding coming from? It seems very foolish to crash the economy, and not explain the situation adequately, to those who will pay the high price.

  • George Thomas 19th Dec '20 - 11:26pm

    After the year it’s been the idea of a “normal” Christmas was always desirable but it surely was never realistic given it’s the season for passing around more common coughs and colds. It’s all very inevitable and sad. I fear that many people are going to do their own thing and those trying to act in the spirit of things are going to be the ones having the most difficult time of it (what’s even worse that the virus doesn’t really care which group you belonged to if people around you have been lax) and partly because of the breakdown of any togetherness felt earlier in the year and partly because decisions have been so slow (aiming to please Rishi Sunak?) and communication so poor.

    Bring on the warmer weather and the vaccine! Just have to get the end of 2020, first few months of brexit and inevitable winter/spring flooding (has this been forgotten again?) out the way first…

  • @Helen
    “It seems very foolish to crash the economy, and not explain the situation adequately, to those who will pay the high price.”

    I would suggest that those and their loved ones that lose their lives through covid and non-related covid will be the ones that pay the highest price of all

    High levels of hospital bed occupancy are an important indicator of a health system under pressure. Hospitals cannot operate at 100% occupancy, as spare bed capacity is needed to accommodate variations in demand and ensure that patients can flow through the system. Demand for hospital beds peaks at different times of the day, week and year. There must be a sufficient number of beds to accommodate these peaks.
    A lack of available beds can have widespread consequences in a health system. For example, it can increase delays in emergency departments, cause patients to be placed on clinically inappropriate wards and increase the rate of hospital acquired infections, while pressure on staff to free up beds can pose a risk to patient safety. Bed availability is also closely linked to staffing, as beds cannot be safely filled without appropriate staffing levels.

    Many hospitals are already approaching capacity and that’s with routine operations being cancelled and before the winter has even kicked in when respiratory illnesses increase, not forgetting that many NHS staff are also off sick or isolating

  • Peter Martin 20th Dec '20 - 6:15am

    “…….and his Government has left our country with one of the worst death rates and most damaged economies in Europe.”

    There is no significant difference between the death rates in England, for which the Johnson Govt is directly responsible, and the rates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for which it isn’t. So Lib Dems, who do claim to be an “evidence based” political party might want to consider if devolution has been a help or a hindrance in tackling Covid.

    Neither is there any significant difference with respect to France, Italy and Spain. Belgium has a much higher death rate. Germany looked to be handling the situation well in the first wave but they are losing their grip in the second. Cases are rising sharply. They reported 910 Covid deaths one day earlier this week with a seven day average of around 500 per day.

    Many Lib Dems would favour a looser lockdown policy and many would favour a tighter one. So, is Lib Dem policy that either would be better than what we have? Tighter or looser is the choice at the moment. It’s really not a question of left or right in a political sense.

  • Helen Dudden 20th Dec '20 - 6:25am

    I met someone yesterday with spinal damage and in pain. She needs urgent surgery. She is in her early 30s.
    I have bone disease and several broken teeth, infection and pain will get me at least seen. My teeth appear to be coming away from my jaw bone.
    I’ve just been reading how some Minister’s have invested in pharmaceutical companies. At this time, a good return could be expected.
    Jeremy Hunt cut NHS service’s, suspect testing has not helped.
    Actually, I know how infection can take your life. I had a pancreatic infection several years ago, extremely painful, if it was luck, I made it through.
    Infections can kill, I know.

  • John Marriott 20th Dec '20 - 9:06am

    Trump apparently thinks that the U.K. government is making a mistake by shutting down at Christmas. Well, that has got to be the right decision then!

  • Barry Lofty 20th Dec '20 - 9:31am

    Patrick Cockburn writing his column in the Weekend “I” newspaper compared Johnson to General Haig of First World War infamy, it is an excellent article and one I heartily agree with, two of the worst leaders this country has endured.

  • Denis Loretto| 20th Dec '20 - 10:08am

    And as we face this latest health crisis not just in the UK but evidently already in some mainland European countries the open offer from the EU to extend the brexit transition period at least for a few months is still being spurned. How crazy can it be to pile a no deal brexit (assuming that a deal does not emerge in the next few days) on top of this new strain virus situation.

  • Helen Dudden, if we just let the virus rip, your friend wouldn’t get her treatment either as the NHS would be overwhelmed. My local hospital was filled to capacity with Covid patients a few weeks ago which is why my area went into lockdown.

    If we let the virus rip, the economy won’t be able to function either.

    This is a crap situation made worse by a government that stumbles from one crisis to the next.

    We’re looking now at 10,000 more deaths than live in my town from this one cause in just 9 months.

    If we do what you suggest, so many more lives will be lost, unnecessarily.

  • @ Barry Lofty I’m no apologist for Douglas Haig, Barry, but leading modern historians of the First World War (e.g. Gary Sheffield) argue that Haig did at least have a ‘learning curve’ and improve their performance. There’s no evidence of that with Johnson & Co.

  • Helen Dudden 20th Dec '20 - 11:00am

    I don’t suggest that the virus just rips. Cheltenham was one large mistake, there are of course many other’s.
    We are simply Covid, Covid.
    I have just lined up a £1,000 for some private treatment, it will cost much more, I can’t risk waiting any longer. My friend is not so lucky, but she deserves the right to ease her continuous pain. I wish I could help.
    It’s strange how nearly losing my life several years ago, makes life so sweet.

  • See they were discussing Martial Law in the White House on Friday. It’s getting closer, probably now a 20% chance. A seemingly mentally disturbed narcistic and hedonistic personality can create mayhem in the next 3 weeks, and people are concerned about Christmas. Probably most of the Midlands and the North will be in Tier 4 by the second week in January anyway. We just have to get on with it, my grand children all live within 3 miles of our abode, we have not seen them for weeks, except for Face Time, lucky them I hear you say!!!!!!

  • Many people don’t know whether this Christmas will be their last. Around 600,000 people pass away in a typical year from all causes in the UK.

    They should have allowed an exception to the rules for Christmas for people who don’t know if they will be around next year.

  • Peter Martin 20th Dec '20 - 12:11pm

    @ Martin,

    “In terms of the death rate per number of CoVid cases…”

    You must know very well that the number of Covid cases is much higher everywhere, and in every country, than the recorded number. Just how much higher is unknown and will depend on the vigour of the testing employed.

    The only valid measurement has to be the death rate per number of the population. Not that it is perfect. Different countries will apply different standards. We have an arbitrary rule of someone who dies within 28 days of a positive Covid test. So what happens if someone survives for 28 days but dies on the 29th?

  • @Marco

    “. Around 600,000 people pass away in a typical year from all causes in the UK.”

    Any elderly person, or a person living with disabilities can form a “support bubble” and are exempt regardless of what Tier they are living in
    It is up to the people who form that support bubble to act responsibly in order to keep the vulnerable person safe.

    I feel sorry for the people who are religious and for them Christmas has much more meaning and will not be able to mark the occasion in a normal way (just as the Muslim community had to with Eid) and other religious events, but for me and others who Christmas is nothing but an overly commercialised excuse for over indulgence and a good old knees up, quite frankly, I can do that any time of the year and look forward to a time when I can do that with relatives safely.

  • James Fowler 20th Dec '20 - 3:36pm

    What an utter funk Boris Johnson is. The symbolism of Christmas was simple. Is anything more important than the virus? The answer for a while what there might be, but panic at the last minute now lends yet more support that idea nothing, bar nothing, can be more important. Many people like simplicity, preferably with a good measure of self-righteousness, but this is not a healthy moral or practical place to be. The dislocated morality of monomania is very damaging to society’s sense of itself because it allows people to reject balance, rationality, ambiguity and individuality in favour of a single truth.

  • @ Matt

    I think you have misunderstood how support bubbles work. You have to be a single person household and they are exclusive. That clearly is not a substitute for Christmas.

    Christmas is a special time as is Hanukkah, Ramadan, Diwali etc and a rare chance to see relatives for many people. People always remember their last Christmas with a departed relative.

    Boris Johnson said cancelling Christmas would be inhumane yet now he has gone and done it.

  • Once again Boris rhetoric clashes with reality.

  • The ‘Sunday Times’ headline, above a photo of Johnson, read “Christmas cancelled by surging mutant coronavirus”…

    I thought, “A perfect caption”

  • @Marco

    No you do not have to be a single person household at all.

    My elderly parents, one of whom has dementia were able to form a support bubble with another household, this is within the guidelines where one member has a disability.

    I am not saying that support bubbles cover everyone, but they should cover most people in the incidence of what you were referring to in your earlier post in regards to people who are sadly living with disabilities or end of stage life.

    These are difficult times for everybody and there are no easy answers to any of this, to allow xmas celebrations to go ahead as they were was pretty foolish in my view and was going to lead to many more infections, hospital admissions and sadly deaths.
    For the reasons I set out earlier, we can allow the NHS to become overwhelmed, we need a fully functioning NHS for Covid and non covid illnesses.

    If the Government truly wanted to give everyone the best shot at having a reprieve at xmas then it should not have come out of lockdown as early as what it did and kept full lockdown measures in place until a few days before xmas, thus hopefully driving down infection rates far enough to have made it possible.

    Whether the new strain of Covid that is circulating would have made that impossible anyway I do not know.

    But unless you are deeply religious, then as far as I am concerned there are far more important things at stake than the commercial Xmas celebrations

  • @Marco & Matt

    The Support bubble guidance is quite clear, Matt is right. However, a Christmas bubble (as of 14Dec) can consist of a support bubble (two households) PLUS and additional household.

    https://www.gov.uk/guidance/making-a-support-bubble-with-another-household

    However, what is clear, if two elderly grandparents live together and neither needs “continuous care” then they not supposed to form a support bubble, which is somewhat harsh and daft when you are dealing with people well into their 90’s, with registered carers…

  • ” A seemingly mentally disturbed narcistic and hedonistic personality can create mayhem in the next 3 weeks, and people are concerned about Christmas. Probably most of the Midlands and the North will be in Tier 4 by the second week in January anyway.” theakes

    Clearly no one in government had read Stephen King’s The Stand, or other similar works around rats leaving sinking ships, or noted the mass migration of people away from life threatening events. From the scenes at London stations last night, it is obvious the Government needs to closedown the national transport infrastructure ahead of any lockdown ie. they should have cancelled all trains/coaches out of London with immediate effect when the new lockdown announcement was made.
    Given the rumour is that this new lockdown may last into January, we can only hope that the government does clampdown on national travel – preventing those who left London for Christmas, returning to London in the new year…

  • @ Matt

    The exemptions to being a single household do not apply to many people. An elderly couple cannot form a support bubble unless one of them needs continuous care. Even if they can form a bubble that is only with one other household and that is clearly not the same as a Christmas bubble where they could meet with three households.

    It is irrelevant whether you personally like Christmas. Many people see it as a special time and your comments show a lack of empathy.

  • @Marco

    Where did I say I did not like xmas? And I can hardly be accused of lacking empathy.

    I sympathise deeply for people for whom this is an important religious event.

    I Sympathise deeply for people who are lonely and struggling with isolation and depression, in my own family as I have said I have vulnerable elderly parents who are struggling immensely this year and being a part of a support bubble meant they had to chose 1 of their 6 children who they could see indoors. They have become Great_Great Grandparents for the 1st time and have not been able to meet him.
    My Sister, who has a different father, just lost her step-mother to Covid last week, her father who is also extremely vulnerable with Asbestosis is in a very difficult times.

    Covid has not escaped my family at all, so i hardly think i can be accused of lacking empathy.

    It is just my personal belief that we are coming into the worse time of year for Covid and other respiratory illnesses, we are not even in the peak of Winter yet and NHS is already under immense strain in parts of the country due to a shortage of beds and staff.
    We can not allow this virus to get out of anymore control as that puts the health of the nation at risk from Covid and Non-covid diseases.

    As I keep saying, I would rather be able to see loved ones in the spring, rather than have an unsafe xmas. If that is lacking empathy, then so be it

  • Peter Martin 20th Dec '20 - 11:52pm

    We do get a slightly more optimistic picture if we look at the ONS figures for weekly deaths.

    In the graph on the link below the excess deaths caused by the first wave of Covid is clearly apparent. There is still evidence of a second wave but the effect looks to be less.
    This is not an argument for removing all restrictions. But rather that the picture is not quite as hopeless as some would make out. We should make it through until a vaccine comes to our rescue if we act sensibly.

    https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsregisteredweeklyinenglandandwalesprovisional/weekending4december2020

  • John Marriott 21st Dec '20 - 10:00am

    It will be total lockdown after Christmas. Get used to it, whether you agree with it or not. As for Brexit, surely the sensible thing to do would be to do what they do to the Cardinals when choosing the new Pope. Lock Frost and Barnier and their teams away and tell them to stay there until they have got a deal. If that means spilling over into January, so be it.

    I’ve just heard that the youngest daughter of an old rugby friend of mine has had a recurrence of the cancer for which she was treated a year ago. She has a young family and her father, who, by the way, is a retired consultant paediatrician, says her prospects are “dire”. Puts many of our ‘problems’ into perspective, doesn’t it?

  • John Marriott ” Yes it sure does!! Very sad.

  • @ John Marriott Sorry to hear your sad news, John, but wishing you and yours all the best for Christmas and the New Year. As my late Dad used to say if I complained about something, “at least no Buxxxr is shooting at you”, which in his case the Luftwaffe most certainly did. I still marvel how our parents generation got through nearly six years of WW11.

    It’s been a bitter sweet year, grand child number seven made her bow just before lockdown in March, but lost father-in-law in September, (survived Naval service in the Med, WW11), but fortunately not of Covid.

    Just seen the newest wee one three times in the garden since March, but as both Dad’s used to say, ‘Keep your Pecker up’.

    As for politics, in all my life I can’t remember such a bunch of incompetent dissimulators as there is in Westminster at the present time.

  • Helen Dudden 21st Dec '20 - 12:00pm

    John Marriott. I’m so sorry to hear about your rugby friend and his daughter’s illness.
    I think the sheer lunacy of this situation, has been worsened by the so called laws, this government see as the way forward.
    I’m not disabled enough, I live on my own in a small village, very small shop. I use a Power Wheelchair, but don’t have a heart or lung condition.
    Doctor’s surgery now signed over to Covid, the other surgery costing £13 return by taxi. If you don’t drive, only an hourly bus service. Sitting outside, and waiting for your appointment.
    I have just been calming down a member of my family. They do suffer with depression and worried about their baby.
    My daughter tells me a supermarket had long queues at 5am this morning, food is going to be in short supply.
    I’m so annoyed, by the total lack of concern for others by Johnson and his crew. Mental anxiety is going to cause so much ill health through all ages.

  • Jenny Barnes 21st Dec '20 - 12:07pm

    “I fall else fails, a stubborn refusal to accept reality will see us through” General Melchett /Blackadder

  • John Marriott 21st Dec '20 - 7:09pm

    I have just one great fear. What if the vaccines we are developing prove ineffective against the new mutant variant of COVID? If so, we really are in a mess.

  • Paul Barker 21st Dec '20 - 7:49pm

    International Post is now off, except for Ireland. Any letters or Parcels to or from Europe & lots of other places will now be held for the duration. Presumably, at some point We will be asked to stop Posting abroad or storage space will run out. German Post offices have already stopped taking Mail to the UK.
    Royal Mail have a statement out but so far I havent seen any Media coverage.

  • John Marriott 22nd Dec '20 - 9:34am

    Well, I’ve heard it all now. On LBC this morning Nick Maserati floated the idea that ‘retired’ teachers could be invited back into the classroom to help out if teachers fall sick and schools face potential closure. Personally speaking, as one of that arguably privileged species, who got out early (only did 34 years at the chalk face), I think, given a choice, I would rather catch COVID!

    Seriously though, I don’t think many people have any idea what a shambles many parts of state education are in. To adopt the Jean-Luc Picard method of command, “Make it so”, with a glorified schoolboy in charge of education, riding roughshod over largely emasculated LEAs, is only adding more poison to the recipe that successive governments of ALL colours have cooked up for state education over the years, that has produced such a dog’s breakfast. Speaking of young Gavin, I just wish that he would take the ‘advice’ he gave to the Russians after Salisbury and just “go away”.

    Finally, merry Christmas to all you all, even ‘Michael 1’, whose absence from LDV these past couple of days may be down to his still looking for that exercise bike he apparently hasn’t got!

  • John Marriott (and other past and current teachers) – What’s your opinion of the piece linked below? Does it in any way parallel changes in Britain over the last few decades?

    https://dianeravitch.net/2020/12/12/bob-shepherd-how-reform-ruined-teaching-2/amp/

  • James Fowler 22nd Dec '20 - 1:32pm

    Panic breeds panic. We panic over the virus. Other countries see our panic. New restrictions are enacted by them, causing more panic here. More measures are now needed to respond to the new panic. Fresh chronic problems emerge, caused by the drastic, hasty overreactions.

  • John Marriott 22nd Dec '20 - 9:41pm

    @Gordon
    I have written several times on the mistake by politicians in allowing the educational establishment to handle the reform of secondary education in England in the 1960s and 70s.

    By eventually taking back control via the National Curriculum together with the introduction of Grant Maintained Schools eventually morphing into academies no longer under LEA control but answering directly to the Secretary of State, politicians have saddled the teaching service with an albatross of an almost totally scripted curriculum where spontaneity is stifled and where the academic is favoured over the vocational. For some this works. For many it’s largely a waste of time.

  • Patel…“The government has consistently this year been ahead of the curve in terms of proactive decisions on coronavirus.” It is hard to draft a more precise inversion of the truth.”

    When I think of the old adage about how ““You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” I ask myself, “Why do all the ‘some of the people’ seem to live in England?

  • John Marriott 23rd Dec '20 - 10:00am

    @Gordon
    Having reread that link you gave me, which, I assume, originated from across the pond, I might add a few more comments from my own experience. Having had a ‘classical’ education in its broadest sense (Grammar School and Cambridge University) I emerged with frankly a quite modest degree, having spent a too large proportion of my time on an unsuccessful quest for a Rugby ‘blue’ (although I did manage a Half Blue in Water Polo), which equipped me well to begin my teaching career in German and French in a Boys’ GS in Nottinghamshire.

    Well, to cut a long story short, I married one of the school secretaries (poor girl) and we emigrated to Canada in 1970. We stayed for three years before returning to the U.K. via a year in West Germany. Our reasons for returning were in both our cases, because we really could not get used to winters on the Canadian prairies, where excessive reliance on alcohol seemed a way of life, because we actually missed the ‘old country’ and, in my case, because educational standards, in comparison with the U.K., were so low. It was great fun teaching in a Senior High School because of all the extra curricular activities, the largely young staff were great; but I really couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my life in that system without becoming an alcoholic!

    Scroll forward to today and, according to some reports, the Canadian education system, which largely mirrored what was happening south of the border when I was there, is now rated higher than our own. I don’t think it’s necessarily because standards there have increased; rather, it’s because in terms of academic excellence, certainly in many of our state schools, there has been a gradual dumbing down.

    I spent 23 years as a Head of Department in a 11 to 18 Comprehensive School near Lincoln. During that time I had quite a few colleagues come and go sporting 2:1 degrees, whose knowledge, for example, of German language and culture, in my opinion, left much to be desired. Not that this seemed to count in the eyes of examiners any more. As far as Modern Foreign Languages were concerned, the rot set in with the replacement of GCE O Levels and CSE with the catch all GCSE, with the obvious knock on effect on A levels and University entrance. The rest, as they say, is history. Anyone still awake?

  • John Marriott – Sorry to have been so long replying; it’s been a busy few days!

    You are right – the post I linked earlier is from the US. I am not and never have been a teacher, but it seemed to mirror much of what I’ve heard from teachers in the UK in recent years – in particular, a sister-in-law and a cousin who both gave up teaching which they loved for much less well-paid posts about three years ago.

    Each put it in their own way but what it came down to was that the level of micromanagement had become more than they could bear so they got out to preserve their sanity plus as, caring and experienced teachers, they knew it just wasn’t delivering for the kids just as the author of that piece found.

    So, according to multiple sources top-down prescriptive and disempowering management isn’t working. Surely, Liberals should be arguing for an approach that empowers – which would, of course, be one that did away with most of the (very expensive) micromanagement.

    Surely this should be prime LD territory and the perfect opportunity to offer a different narrative – one likely to have strong appeal.

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