Clegg says Tories are squandering our legacy. But it wasn’t tuition fees that lost it for us

clegg cameron rose garden

Nick Clegg has used his first major interview since stepping down as Leader of the Liberal Democrats to take a swipe at his former Coalition colleagues for ‘squandering’ their legacy. In today’s Independent he states:

The rhetoric at the beginning from David Cameron was good. I held my tongue. But I am afraid the very thin gruel the Prime Minister has announced, and the deeply regressive steps taken by his Chancellor, means it is insecure, hollow double-speak.

He has drawn up a long ‘charge sheet’ about the current Government: professing to care about social mobility while scrapping university maintenance grants; targeting childcare help to better off families; reducing the incentive to work for people relying on state benefits; ditching child poverty targets; and real term cuts to the schools’ budget and pupil premium.

Meanwhile he contests the thrust of the recently published Liberal Democrat internal review into the 2015 General Election, claiming the fundamental cause of the result was the decision to enter the Coalition in 2010 rather than a specific slogan or policy – even the U-turn over university tuition fees.

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45 Comments

  • Have to hand it to the guy when he says he has no time for whingers the and whiners he really means it. The party members shocked and frightened at the awful state of things and ex voters such as myself who feel betrayed at the Coalition he isn’t going to take notice. The thousands of Councillors gone the destruction of Scotland and Wales Lib Dems the misery that members feel he has no time for. Grown up politics.

  • Sometimes I wonder if Clegg ever went campaigning for the 2010 general election. Every where you went the LibDems were making a massive noise about tuition fees and then we had Clegg on the telly talking about a “new kind of politics”. That and electoral reform were the only things that 95% of the population knew about the LibDems. It was by far the biggest reason voters turned against the party – all those students, their parents and grandparents – and he still doesn’t understand. He truely lives in a world of his own.

  • Paul Pettinger 26th Feb '16 - 11:33am

    From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_complex

    “A god complex is an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility.”

  • Long detailed interview, not one single mention of the current Lib Dem leader. With friends like that….!

    The main purposes of Clegg’s interview seem to be to rubbish the Lib Dem internal review of the 2015 Election, to duck all the blame, to defend the Coalition, and by implication, to look forward to a renewal of Tory – Lib Dem coalition government at some point in the future. All deeply unhelpful to Tim Farron.

    The argument that Coalition is generally electorally disastrous for a junior partner also signally fails to help Clegg’s case. Yes, there is some truth in it. You can lose votes by joining a coalition, and thus helping a party which your supporters don’t like, even if you don’t make the litany of mistakes which Clegg made. But, so what? If Clegg “knew” that Coalition was naturally so bad for a junior partner, why didn’t he explain to the Tories and to the nation that only a much stronger deal for the Lib Dems would be a fair result, and that if the Tories weren’t prepared to offer a fair deal, they would be responsible for the economic consequences? And if Clegg “didn’t know” that Coalition was naturally so bad for a junior partner, isn’t that just a novel way for Clegg to admit political incompetence?

  • Nick Clegg has ruined the party beyond repair. Why does LDV not just consign him to history because reminding people outside the small bubble of Lib Dem supporters about him just makes it all horrible again. Silly.

  • Hard to feel much sympathy for this – I was great, the Tories are terrible, we’d have been alright if it wasn’t for that pesky Coalition. He clearly feels misunderstood by the party, but this seems just to open up wounds that are still quite raw. I wonder if he will ever apologise – really apologise – on tuition fees?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Feb '16 - 1:05pm

    The above comments from SILVIO ,Malc and Paul Pettinger are like an old record that is not old enough to be vintage, nor a classic , just a tune that , quite frankly, we have heard so many times !There are other ways of actually enjoying the mood music!

    This interview is rather revealing , or should be for even those above responding, if they could get over their dislike and read what is in its content.It shows what so many of us who share a range of views in the party, on different issues, and who do not consider ourselves on the consistent left or right of it , knew all along.Nick Clegg is not right wing.He is in the centre of the political spectrum, and that by its very definition puts him to the left of the Conservatives.He did not betray his voters, either, nor the members.He , nor a Liberal Democrat government, would have brought in the tuition fees policy they agreed to in government, had our party governed alone.Everything agreed was a shared decision, however mistaken.

    Centrist is not right wing. Let down is not betrayal .Decent is not disastrous.History is not today. Nick Clegg is not finished.

    When people in our own party seem capable of, forgive and forget, for personal mistakes, and support rehabilitation for low level offenders,can they not do so for this man? He made mistakes. Has he offended some to such an extent that he cannot be rehabilitated in their eyes?

    I am tough, very tough indeed , on punishment for the seriously dangerous , offender.This man is not that.This is a good man.

  • “(Clegg) contests the thrust of the recently published Liberal Democrat internal review into the 2015 General Election, claiming the fundamental cause of the result was the decision to enter the Coalition in 2010 rather than a specific slogan or policy – even the U-turn over university tuition fees.”

    This is surely right. My gut feeling is that a lot of Lib Dem voters in 2010 were instinctively anti-Tory, and the Rose Garden moment left them fundamentally and irretrievably disheartened with Clegg’s leadership and the party generally. Tuition fees, whilst generating a lot of passion and lingering in the memory, were more examples and symptoms of this “betrayal” rather than the pure source of anger.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Feb ’16 – 1:05pm
    The above comments from SILVIO ,Malc and Paul Pettinger are like an old record that is not old enough to be vintage, nor a classic , just a tune that , quite frankly, we have heard so many times …
    As are the excuses trotted out by Clegg and those who still refuse to admit culpability for hundreds of lost councillors, 90% of MEPs and 49 MPs….
    It wasn’t just tuition fees it was the NHS reorganisation, bedroom tax, secret courts, etc….
    For almost 5 years Clegg and Alexander sat like ‘Churchill-the -dog’, nodding along to every Tory policy….
    The only part of your post I agree with is “Clegg is not finished”; sadly, that appears to be true…

  • The tories squandering the lib dems legacy?

    did he think the tories wanted to:

    1. Implement lib dem policies because they liked them and wanted To keep the policies.

    2. Implement lib dem policies because they had too and would role them back when they had the chance.

    As for tuition fees it was a massive public promise, both in the parties manifesto and in made individually, in writing by every single MP to the parties core voters. They must have known breaking that pledge means losing that core support group and decided it was worth it. That group are not coming back.

  • Paul Holmes 26th Feb '16 - 6:35pm

    Nick thinks he was right and the 7,500 Lib Dem Members who gave evidence to the Election Enquiry are wrong. No surprise there.

    What does surprise me is that even after his ‘meeting of minds’ with Cameron and Co ended in disaster, Nick then apparently was still capable of believing in May/June 2015 that Cameron was genuine when he talked of governing as a One Nation Tory.

  • I left the LibDems after 27 years as soon as you joined with the Tories. However I was always looking to come back all it would have taken is to stand up against the Tories over tuition fees, the NHS reforms the Bedroom tax; but every time the leadership rolled over. It was almost as if they though the Tories were their friends and they couldn’t upset friends; while this was going on the Tories were targeting and targeting some friends they turned out to be.

  • and then we had Clegg on the telly talking about a “new kind of politics”.

    The problem with talking about a new kind of politics is that those who vote for you based on that idea will instantly be turned off as soon as you reveal yourself to being not that different from the established parties, even if it’s purely down to being slightly naive in a coalition.

    It would be a mistake for the party to lose its head in the feeling of betrayal and exaggerate the big mistake into something that means it cannot speak of all the Lib Dem triumphs under Nick Clegg.

  • Peter Watson 26th Feb '16 - 11:40pm

    @Rob Parker “My gut feeling is that a lot of Lib Dem voters in 2010 were instinctively anti-Tory, and the Rose Garden moment left them fundamentally and irretrievably disheartened with Clegg’s leadership and the party generally.”
    The report into the 2015 election indicates that the tuition fees issue had a direct impact on support for the party:”… six months on [from the General Election] the Liberal Democrats ended up with 27 members voting in favour of a tripling of fees, a package negotiated by one of ours Secretaries of State. …
    Polls which had languished in the low twenties since coalition was formed (down from 30% pre-polling day, but compared to a general election result of 23%), dropped to around 14%. They had only further declined by election Day 2015.

  • Peter Watson 26th Feb '16 - 11:42pm

    Oops, HTML fail!
    The quote from the report is:

    … six months on [from the General Election] the Liberal Democrats ended up with 27 members voting in favour of a tripling of fees, a package negotiated by one of ours Secretaries of State. …
    Polls which had languished in the low twenties since coalition was formed (down from 30% pre-polling day, but compared to a general election result of 23%), dropped to around 14%. They had only further declined by election Day 2015.

  • Bitsy Shephard 27th Feb '16 - 8:31am

    It’s time for us to stop looking back. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and look to the future. People need housing that is truly affordable. Instead, the Tories are selling council houses from underneath us. Landlords need to be required to keep up their properties. Instead the Tories vote against it. We need those university grants. Instead, Cameron does away with them. And we need to lead the march to stay in Europe, not follow. These are issues of today. Not yesterday. And while we dither, people suffer.

  • Alex Macfie 27th Feb '16 - 8:43am

    He is wrong when he implies that the rout was the inevitable result of coalition with the Tories. No Clegg, it wasn’t with hindsight that people criticise the handling of the coalition. People were critical AT THE TIME of the rose garden, of signing a stupid pledge as a publicity stunt and then publicly going back on it, of failing to differentiate us from the Tories, of not demanding more at the beginning. His approach to Cameron was that of the wannabe who is overly impressed by the cool kid at school. Now he can see Cameron for who he really is, but he could have seen it at the start.

  • I agree it’s time to start looking forward, but the party still needs to have answers. Importantly the public need to be clear what the current policy on tuition fees, secret courts and the bedroom tax is. If in 2020 there was no overall majority, would the party form another coalition with the Tories and support those type of policies again? The voters will need to know before they trust you.

  • Bruce Hosie 27th Feb '16 - 9:22am

    Clegg was a disaster, the election review report is far too politically correct and too many in higher positions still think they are right and the voters wrong. Disaster after disaster and even today we still mucking about with aws when it is a policy that many voters feel discriminates. This party needs to wake up soon or either die like the sdp or become so small as to be insignificant.

  • Peter Watson 27th Feb '16 - 9:31am

    @Bitsy Shephard “We need those university grants. Instead, Cameron does away with them.”
    Do we? The Tories are replacing or planning to replace various grants and bursaries with the same loan that many Lib Dems have told us for the last 5 years is a good thing that has increased the numbers of students from poorer families.
    That is why the tuition fees debacle is more than just a matter of trust for Lib Dems. It (and other positions taken in Coalition) seriously weakens the party’s ability to attack the Government on issues that are close to the party’s heart.

  • nigel hunter 27th Feb '16 - 9:52am

    Whatever happened. Clegg is yesterdays man, poisionous to the voter where the party is concerned, endless navel gazing gets the anger out but gets us nowhere. We must reorganise and get behind Farron and make him a strong candidate for a future Prime Minister.

  • Clegg will never get it. The authors of the Lib Dem review only get about half of it.

    The polling data is clear. Lib Dem support plummeted steeply from 23% to about 15% during the 6 weeks following the formation of the coalition. This was surely down to the Rose Garden effect. Ratings then fell more gently, bottoming out at about 12%, where they stayed between August and December. There was a further noticeable drop in the immediate wake of the tuition fees vote in December, after which the figure stabilised at 9-10%.

    So we can say with some confidence that the Lib Dems lost around 35% of their May 2010 support within weeks of the election; a further 9% in the following months; and then another 9% as a direct result of the tuition fees vote.

    The key point – and this is where Clegg is so hopelessly wrong – is that there was nothing inevitable about coalition destroying the Lib Dems. In many countries, coalition is routine and does not have this effect on small parties. Here in the UK, some Lib Dems seem to forget that Clegg was a real hero to many on the left during those few days between the election and the Rose Garden – many of us were genuinely delighted that he was going to rescue us from absolute Tory rule. All that good will evaporated after the Rose Garden, but it can’t be stressed enough that this was not inevitable; if Clegg had gone in to coalition saying something like “we are still opposed to the Tories but we will hold our nose and join them in coalition for the good of the country and to stop them governing as damagingly as they did before”, he would have held on to a lot of that good will, at least as long as people believed it.

    It was nothing to do with going in to coalition, and everything to do with the way you went in to coalition. The longer you stay in denial about this, the longer it will take you to work out how to recover.

  • Nigel Hunter

    Yes I agree but on the two biggest issues facing the country- the Syria bombing and the EU Referendum- it was Clegg who spoke on TV and in the HoC for the Lib Dems, not Tim Farron.

  • Denis Loretto 27th Feb '16 - 10:36am

    If it is true that “the fundamental cause of the result was the decision to enter the Coalition in 2010” then the future of the Liberal Democrats is bleak. In the foreseeable future, even if the Lib Dems can recover sufficiently to win a growing number of seats in the Commons, our only hope of participation in government will be as part of a coalition of some sort. I think the Gurling report explains the tuition fees debacle pretty well but should have been more critical of what happened prior to the 2010 election. To my mind, given that the leadership knew and had argued at conference that the policy of totally free university education was not going to be deliverable, the televised pledges by the same leadership were utterly reprehensible and can only be viewed as a tawdry attempt to bolster our student vote. Nick Clegg plays this down too much.

    As one of the 2000 or so who overwhelmingly endorsed the coalition in Birmingham I believe it was the right decision for the country and will be viewed as such by history. However in retrospect the coalition agreement should have been considered the be-all and end-all of the programme to which the Lib Dems were committed. Perhaps more time should have been taken in the negotiations (which were remarkably quickly concluded) to ensure that the agreement was sufficiently robust and comprehensive to constitute a full government programme. Then it would have been right and proper for every vote outside that agreement to be treated as a free vote. We went much too far in respecting the British traditions of cabinet responsibility and firm leadership from the top of government. Coalition is different and must be recognised as such.

    We all know mistakes were made in 2010/2015 but I honestly think that Nick Clegg and his team did a competent job overall in unprecedented and difficult circumstances. However I do not think it is right for him now to attribute the enormous setback we have suffered simply to the decision to enter coalition in the first place.

  • Phil Wainewright 27th Feb '16 - 11:13am

    We don’t know what would have transpired if the party in coalition had acted differently on tuition fees. But I suspect many voters who were dubious about us teaming up with the Tories were still willing to give us the benefit of the doubt until we broke the pledge that a huge majority of our candidates and MPs had signed on tuition fees. Without that betrayal, we might have recovered some, but once it had taken place we were doomed – and will suffer the effects for at least a generation.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing but in retrospect I have feeling that the crucial mistake Clegg and the party leadership made at that time was a lack of ambition. If Clegg had gone into coalition for the good of the country but also saying he would not rest until this country had a majority LibDem government, then I suspect it would have changed the entire tone of the coalition. Certainly we would have had a stronger motivation and a clearer justification for opposing measures such as the Secret Courts and the bedroom tax.

    Instead, we were so relieved to have finally got into government at all that we didn’t think to start building to the next stage. Now the task of reaching government is even harder but we must still nurture that ambition, however much the odds seem stacked against us, because no other party will deliver the values that Liberal Democrats stand for.

  • @Denis Loretto
    “given that the leadership knew and had argued at conference that the policy of totally free university education was not going to be deliverable, the televised pledges by the same leadership were utterly reprehensible”

    It never ceases to amaze me how many people still conflate two completely different things: the party’s policy to abolish fees, and the NUS pledge not to increase fees. It was entirely possible for the Lib Dem leadership to disagree with the former while still being sincere about the latter.

    Whether abolition of fees was “deliverable” is a moot point, because nobody expected any more from the Lib Dems than to honour their pledges, which were completely different and definitely deliverable. The increased fees actually cost more in the short and medium term, and analysis by the likes of the IFS has found that we won’t know for decades whether there will even be any long-term savings.

  • Phil Wainewright 27th Feb '16 - 12:38pm

    @stuart – it never ceases to amaze me how many people believe you can challenge valence with detailed argument.

  • Of course it wasn’t tuition fees which did for the Lib Dems in the 2015 GE. It was having a ‘leader’ who told the world that he and his party were different to all the others because we were the only ones who would keep our promises.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTLR8R9JXz4

    That would be the same ‘ leader’ who was committed to cutting down on the small army of overpaid political advisors to Ministers. What happened?

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/special-adviser-data-releases-numbers-and-costs-november-2014

  • David Allen 27th Feb '16 - 4:23pm

    Phyllis: “On the two biggest issues facing the country- the Syria bombing and the EU Referendum- it was Clegg who spoke on TV and in the HoC for the Lib Dems, not Tim Farron.”

    This is the $64,000 question. Is Tim Farron master in his own house?

  • Katharine Pindar 27th Feb '16 - 7:40pm

    Welcome back, Nick, and thanks for spelling out now, as Tim began to do at Bournemouth, so much that the Tory Government has done or undone that is deplorable since last May. As their policies hurt people their support must drop, and we have plenty to fight them on. Besides, the revelation that their Party is split from top to bottom about the EU shows their real weakness and lack of vision for the future.
    As for looking back, Coalition government was new to our generation, you took the decision to make it work for the sake of the country and did so. Your achievements were real but less well publicised than the failures, and our people who suffered losses can’t forgive those. However, I believe the country is beginning to accept how valuable our Party was and still is, and we have everything to play for now.

  • Katherine Pindar ” As their policies hurt people their support must drop”

    Yes absolutely right! Except that this should have happened in 2010-2015 with a minority or even a majority Tory govt. The Torys would have shown their true colours much earlier, they would not have had the Lib Dems detoxifying them and the Lib Dems would not have been destroyed. Shame!

  • nigel hunter 27th Feb '16 - 9:45pm

    Let us hope that the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ phrase is seen by the voter and whatever the reasons for the disaster of 2010 to now are remembered so that the mistakes are not repeated. We have May coming up, let us make it a success.

  • Denis Mollison 28th Feb '16 - 11:27am

    I’m surprised no-one has commented on the economic volte-face that was used to justify the coalition – the alleged need for a strong government to rescue us from economic disaster. We dropped our own economic policies in favour of George Osborne’s neo-liberal austerity. I didn’t believe either half of this argument (that we rescuing, or that if we did austerity was the answer). We now know that the economy was recovering in early 2010, but stagnated once George Osborne got going, and only started to do better later once he started (quietly) easing up on austerity.

    This is a key point: if we had at least questioned the whole “needs rescue” agenda we could have taken a sensible length of time to negotiate a coalition or whatever. And we might not have made the large mistakes (austerity, NHS reorganisation, schools privatisation, pretend instead of real electoral reform) that we did.

    On tuition fees, simply vetoing change was quite affordable and would have saved our honour.

    As to Nick, I don’t doubt his human decency and liberal values, but a “period of silence” (in Attlee’s words) from him would be welcome. As to the past, his comments on the 2015 election post-mortem only confirm that he does not understand what he did wrong. As to the future, we need a fresher voice to apeak for us on key issues such as Syria and Europe.

  • Denis Mollison
    Absolutely right – the analysis of the economic situation, and the lame acceptance that we needed specifically to “rescue Britain” (as opposed to the initial efforts of G Brown and others “saving the world”) and the volte face into what has become known as “austerity”, ie service and benefit cuts carried out in a Daily Mail / Express / Sun populist manner. This is what ruined our reputation.

    My consistent whinge (yes, I am a whinger, Nick!) with Nick is that he has been hopelessly naive, in particular with the Tories, but in all ways politically. I agree, he is not a “bad” man, but he doesn’t have the antennae to be a successful political leader. Hearing him in 2006, before he had yet publicly come forward for leadership, at a social/political event claim that “The Tories really aren’t that bad”, I realised how unsuitable he was as a Lib Dem campaign leader! Nothing that has happened since has changed my opinion of him. Any public statements from him now are unhelpful, as the media will go to him for comments, given his previous situation, and especially if they try to continue to justify actions in 2010 or in Government. Even if he does not apologise fully for what happened – and one can see he may not wish to, or believe in that – the “period of silence” should be observed.

    I think, however, that whatever Nick’s specific responsibilities on this, he could not have taken or continued on that road without significant support from his Parliamentary colleagues, who must share a large part of the blame. It is good to see some, like Adrian Sanders recognising this.

  • So in a nutshell, “It’s everyone else’s fault”

    Personally, it was the party voting in favour of the Health & Social Care act that convinced me not to vote for you anymore (the Tuition fees obviously didn’t help, but that was the clincher)

    But what do I know, I’m just someone who always voted Lib Dem until that. Like all those others, but then we’re not grown up about politics. Principles, what are they all about eh?

  • Stephen Hesketh 28th Feb '16 - 5:30pm

    I am not willing to waste much time on the man who totally trashed our party and reputation in pursuit of his own Centrist vanity project.

    The man who was at the core of the group who, without the democratic support of the membership, attempted to recast the Liberal Democrats in their own image; the man who has never apologised to the party and its 2010 voters for the 5 year disaster he led us through; the man who is clearly unwilling to gracefully accept a fairly muted report into the reasons for the calamity; the man who now seeks to rewrite history.

    I’d like to say unbelievable but in fact it is no more than par for the course.

  • @ Denis Mollison. Absolutely right. A period of Trappist silence from Mr Clegg would be the best service he could do for the party which he has virtually destroyed.

    What he and his pals, Alexander and Laws, don’t seem to understand is the sheer frustration and anger of radical Liberals who have seen a lifetime of effort – in some cases going back to the Grimond era – being chucked away by wrong headed policies and sheer incompetence.

  • Adrian Sanders 29th Feb '16 - 5:16pm

    Spot on David Raw.

  • Steve Comer 29th Feb '16 - 6:21pm

    I agree with Denis and David!
    David in particular makes the point that much of the inspiration that made many of my generation join the Liberal Party as teenagers in the 1970s came from the radical policies that started to come to the fore in the Grimond years (a bit before my time, but the party lived off that intellectual capital for years).
    For me another motivation was Community Politics and the success of those like Sir Trevor Jones in Liverpool who proved that this approach of fighting for local communities (as the “‘party of the governed” to use Grimond’s phrase) could reach people who would never vote for us on policy strength alone.

    Clegg never really understood the philosophy and practice of modern Liberalism, he was always an establishment insider and a political centrist.

    The party needs to adopt to the post Clegg, post-Orange Book world in the UK. Interestingly our sister party Fianna Fail in Ireland appears to have had some success by moving in a more social Liberal direction. And a new Social Democrat Party (espousing many policies that Lib Dems owuld support) has also got a foothold in Dail Eireann.

  • David Evans 29th Feb '16 - 9:25pm

    Anyone who was naive enough to hope that David Cameron had any interest whatsoever in building on the Coalition’s “progressive legacy” is either too naive to be in politics or just rewriting history to say “none of it was my fault.” Nick Clegg seems to think that it is an adequate excuse for his disastrous leadership to pretend it was somehow noble in allowing himself to be totally hoodwinked into presiding over the almost total destruction of the party he was entrusted with. Indeed the fact he neither resigned nor was replaced immediately after the 2014 election shows how totally selfish and spineless Generation Clegg were while they willfully squandered 50 years of hard work on self indulgence and the trappings of power.

  • John McKenzie 2nd Mar '16 - 7:18am

    I voted libdem for a “different politics” but ……..was utterly disappointed.

    The betrayal over tuition fees is only one reason and one of the many “lies” now associated with the party.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Mar '16 - 6:48pm

    “our sister party Fianna Fail in Ireland “

    Only since about 2009; it’s a party with no liberal tradition, which most of its lifetime was generally considered the more conservative of Ireland’s two civil-war parties. I remain sceptical of its credentials as a “liberal” party.

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Mar '16 - 9:00pm

    @alexmacfie. Then perhaps you ought to go and meet them as I have at a number of ALDE Party meetings. They have good Liberal instincts and see freedom and equality as very important issues.

  • John McKenzie 3rd Mar '16 - 7:14pm

    My criticism extents to all the Partys, however having read the piece, the delusional aspect to the spin is unmistakable……….many liberal MPs wholeheartedly put career before principle – betrayal is a long time healing.

    Its not just an issue particular to the liberal candidate and leader selection process.

    All across Europe the rise of populist Parties lags voter apathy.

    People are sick of remote career politicians lacking real world and meaningful, economically or otherwise, productive, work experience.

    Take some comfort though, Its not just the liberals that need to reengage with the electorate.

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