Not had your fill of Henley analysis yet?

by Stephen Tall on June 27, 2008

Then why not seek out former Lib Dem media chief Mark Littlewood’s analysis in today’s Telegraph? I don’t agree with it all, but here’s a thought-provoking extract to chew on:

The truth is that the Liberal Democrats have yet to develop a compelling narrative to deal with the threat posed by Cameron – and with many Liberal MPs defending small majorities over the Tories in the south of England, the threat is very real indeed. Many may now conclude that a record of being a hardworking constituency MP and championing local causes will not be enough to save them in the face of the rising tide of Cameronism.

Greatly to his credit, Nick Clegg has dropped some hints that the LibDems could become the party of low taxation at the next election. But he has yet to adopt the policies to make such a claim truly plausible. Supporting changes in current tax rates without committing to reduce the overall tax burden is too complicated a message – and not one that is obviously attractive to soft Conservative voters. But if Clegg was willing to take the next logical step – and support a lower total tax package than the Tories in the party’s manifesto – this could make a considerable difference to the party’s prospects in the electoral battlegrounds of southern England.

The LibDems need to spend more time and effort in honing and developing their key national messages. They should start now. And they need to become a little more circumspect about the upsides of spending a six-figure sum and deploying hundreds of activists in one-off contests that sometimes look and feel like little more than glorified local council by-elections.

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The man has never been a Lib Dem. He doesn’t care about us. My feelings towards him are unprintable.

The fact as he follows the Brown/Cameron strategy of calling us “The Liberals” to try and make us sound old fashioned in this piece just goes to prove it.

Beware false prophets.

by passing liberal on June 27, 2008 at 3:52 pm. Reply #

Agreed, the article misrepresents our position to one which the author personally favours.

We are not the party of ‘low taxation’, we are the party which can legitimately promise ‘economic competence’ from which lower taxation can be afforded without damaging our social infrastructure.

by Oranjepan on June 27, 2008 at 3:57 pm. Reply #

*while strengthening our civic infrastructure

by Oranjepan on June 27, 2008 at 3:58 pm. Reply #

Completely agree with the analysis that there is no point spending a bucket full of money on a by-election where we end up standing still.

And yes if we do, lets stop running a glorified council election and begin to hammer home some of our key messages (whatever they turn out to be)

by Cheltenham Robin on June 27, 2008 at 4:01 pm. Reply #

I agree that in the current political climate people care more about national rather than local issues and I’m sure many Lib Dem strategists know that.

The problem will be trying to convince the more locally minded party membership that it’s the line we have to take

by James Shaddock on June 27, 2008 at 4:15 pm. Reply #

“Passing liberal” – your comment is so ridiculous and arrogant that it barely warrants a response.

However, I’ll bite nonetheless. Mark Littlewood…

1. …is a member of the Lib Dems
2. …previously devoted himself full-time to the Lib Dems
3. …is quite clearly a liberal; being economically, socially, personally, every kind of ‘–ally’ liberal – and, of course, pro-European.

What exactly have you done to assume the authority of deciding whether or not he or anyone else is a Lib Dem?

by Julian H on June 27, 2008 at 4:19 pm. Reply #

passing liberal wrote: “The fact as he follows the Brown/Cameron strategy of calling us “The Liberals” to try and make us sound old fashioned in this piece just goes to prove it.”

Personally I don’t think that “liberal” sounds old fashioned. Actually, I think that the Lib Dems should rename themselves “Liberal Party”, or if that isn’t possible because of the splinter group that has appropriated the name, just “Liberals”. That sounds more clear and meaningful than “Liberal Democrats” (Liberal democracy isn’t even an ideology, and as liberals are supposed to be also democrats, it also sounds like a redundancy), or worse yet “Lib Dems”, which doesn’t mean anything, but invites opposition to invent mean nicknames like “Limp Dims” etc.

by Anonymous on June 27, 2008 at 4:25 pm. Reply #

Cheltenham Robin:
“And yes if we do, lets stop running a glorified council election and begin to hammer home some of our key messages (whatever they turn out to be)”

I’m afraid that parenthetical remark expresses the problem in a nutshell.

by Anonymous on June 27, 2008 at 4:52 pm. Reply #

Julian H –

1. Yet spends considerable amounts of time doing interviews on TV, openly criticising us, about how we need a narrative/how the Tories are going to take all our seats/ how we say different things in different parts of the constituency. (You can try denying this, but I have seen him saying every one of these things since he left the party’s employment)

2. And??? It was his job.

3. If you calm down enough to read what I wrote, I did not accuse him of not being a Liberal, I accused him of not being a Lib Dem – Ie. someone who is willing to do considerable damage to the party by way of his “interviews”

“What exactly have you done to assume the authority of deciding whether or not he or anyone else is a Lib Dem?” Uh, nothing, but I am perfectly entitled to my views. What have you done to assume the authority to declare that people cannot justifiably criticise people associated with our party?

Anonymous – Like you, I don’t have a problem with the name Liberals, I am one. but our party is called the Liberal Democrats and Brown and many others have set out a deliberate strategy to call us “The Liberals” I have been told by someone in the Labour party that the intention is to make us sound old fashioned. Now, why would someone committed to our party play in to their hands by saying it themselves?

by passing liberal on June 27, 2008 at 5:06 pm. Reply #

In point two, I mean country, not constituency

by passing liberal on June 27, 2008 at 5:06 pm. Reply #

And I meant point one, not point two. Thank god its Friday

by passing liberal on June 27, 2008 at 5:08 pm. Reply #

I’d prefer he called us social democrats myself

by Andy M on June 27, 2008 at 5:10 pm. Reply #

“What have you done to assume the authority to declare that people cannot justifiably criticise people associated with our party?”

I haven’t suggested for a minute that you cannot criticise him (or anyone else). I was saying that you are not in a position to say that he is not a Lib Dem, or to quote “has never been a Lib Dem”.

Maybe have a go at playing the ball instead of the man.

by Julian H on June 27, 2008 at 5:14 pm. Reply #

I do not believe that someone who, whether I am right or wrong, certainly appears to spend a lot of time on TV undermining us is someone with the interests of the party at their heart. If they do not have the interests of the party at heart, they are not a Lib Dem, whether they pay their subs or not.

There are other people who are very much “in the party” who I do not believe are Lib Dems. Lord Carlisle is one very good example.

by passing liberal on June 27, 2008 at 5:18 pm. Reply #

To passing liberal…I worked for the press office whilst Mark was in charge. I can cofirm he IS a liberal. Was brilliant at his job. Held up the polls almost single handedly whilst in charge – honing arguments and developing a narrative that the press and wider public did understand. it is noticeable to many that the polls fell away dramatically with in weeks of his leaving. We should all give thanks to his brilliant work. Since he left his comments have been incisive, accurate and much needed to keep the often lazy and frequently inept leadership on their toes. Long may he continue.

by jo white on June 27, 2008 at 5:58 pm. Reply #

er, who is Lord Carlisle ? Was he a councillor in that splendid border city?

by crewegwyn on June 27, 2008 at 6:14 pm. Reply #

Just a few comments on the above. I don’t think I misrepresent Nick Clegg’s position on tax – if in doubt, see this recent BBC report.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7409664.stm

I think Nick hits exactly the right tone, but needs to go further and advocate cuts in the overall tax take, rather than tax/revenue neutrality. This doesn’t logically imply cuts in priority areas, but would mean that where we make choices about government projects we’d abandon (ID cards, abolish the DTI etc), that at least some of this money is directed to tax cuts – rather than all of it being recycled into other public sector expenditure.

Not only do I support such a policy from an economic and ideological perspective, but I believe it would also be electorally beneficial in many of our key seats (which are disportionately contests against the Tories in southern England).

I get so much criticism for airing my views publicly, that it’s becoming tiresome to respond to it. I don’t mind if people don’t take to me personally, but some party members seem to believe that any deviation from the official party line, any suggestion that there may be some problems we need to tackle or any indication that certain things need to change is tantamount to treason.

This is a hopeless view of serious debate in the modern media. One can be critical (in the literal sense) without “undermining the party”.

I make no apology for using the term “Liberal” to describe the party. It’s an elegant shorthand. I sometimes think “LibDem” sounds unfortunately like some form of learning difficulty or medical affliction.

If there is some secret Brown/Cameron conspiracy to brand us “the Liberals”, I’m sorry to report I’m no part of it. If they think it makes the Liberal Democrats sound old-fashioned, they’re wrong. Witness the determined efforts of the Cameroons to acquire the word “liberal” to brand their own brand of Conservatism…

by Mark Littlewood on June 27, 2008 at 6:14 pm. Reply #

this might not be the best place to continue the chat about names, but here we go……….
………the problem may be in having two words making up the title (six syllables)…
…..it’s just too many for those simple souls in the media…….they can’t deal with more than two, viz To-ries;La-bour; LibDems………oops!
Seriously, this is not the time to be naval gazing to this extent, but I suggest that we know there is progress to be made and we are currently not being progressive.

by Ian Stewart on June 27, 2008 at 6:28 pm. Reply #

Mark, which means a misrepresentation of emphasis, not a misrepresentation of fact. Maybe I misrepresented myself…

by Oranjepan on June 27, 2008 at 6:30 pm. Reply #

Well, Orjanepan, I take Nick Clegg’s position to be pretty clear – namely, tax cuts for the money and serious consideration of whether the total tax-take can be reduced. If this isn’t his position, I have misunderstood it, rather than deliberately misrepresented it.

by Mark Littlewood on June 27, 2008 at 6:46 pm. Reply #

Apols – “money” = “many”

by Mark Littlewood on June 27, 2008 at 6:47 pm. Reply #

Mark, I agree with your description of Clegg’s position, but I think the important point is in the reasoning for it, which has a knock-on effect beyond the detail of the specific point.

The problem we have usually been faced with it the forced choice between two equally desireable or undesirable options, when really we need to take a dual (or multi-pronged) approach.

Yes, to tax cuts for those who need it.
Yes, to continued funding for essential public services.
Yes, to a more balanced tax take to encourage economic stability and growth.
Yes, this is a policy position which sets a standard for economic competence which business leaders and financiers can trust.
Yes, this is a symbolic policy area for Clegg which defines his leadership style, but also, yes it is a strategic position which is designed to expand our core appeal.

Two concepts of liberty, see?

by Oranjepan on June 27, 2008 at 7:02 pm. Reply #

Well, additionally, Clegg seems to be saying “Hopefully” to cutting taxes overall. I want him to convert the “Hopefully” to a “Yes”

by Mark Littlewood on June 27, 2008 at 7:33 pm. Reply #

The Liberal Democrats have not stated that they will reduce the overall tax burden, and neither for that matter have the Tories.
Since 1979 we have had governments that are obsessed with tax cuts, and I have no confidence at all that the Liberal Democrats can propose tax cuts at the next election without proposing some very painful cuts in public spending as well. Even remaining budget neutral will be difficult given the parlous state of the public finances.
Before we even consider tax cuts, we should consider the impact of the impending recession; unemployment going up will mean less income from taxes and more outgoings on benefits. What about the impact of global warming? Shouldn’t someone do an audit of how much that is going to cost? After all, there will be more extreme weather events like the flooding of Hull last year. What if London gets flooded? These events are going to get worse, yet the flooding of Hull caught the government by surprise. It shouldn’t have done but it did. I find it odd that we like all the other mainstream parties will commit to spending billions to replace Trident in the vain hope that our nuclear weapons would be a deterrent to someone (God knows who), and yet is not in the least bit interested in considering far greater threats to our security from global warming.
I think that tax cuts are entirely the wrong priority, and if the party takes that line, I very much doubt it will win them votes in any case.
Until recently the Lib Dems were the only party that advocated tax increases. It is difficult to do sonow when the level of personal debt is so high, but I do not understand why people join the party expecting it to advocate the opposite to that when the joined the party.

by Geoffrey Payne on June 27, 2008 at 9:06 pm. Reply #

I should issue a correction to the last comment; “not in the least bit interested in considering far greater threats to our security from global warming AND THE COSTS THAT WILL ENTAIL”

by Geoffrey Payne on June 27, 2008 at 9:08 pm. Reply #

“What about the impact of global warming? Shouldn’t someone do an audit of how much that is going to cost?”

Global warming? Surely no one’s interested in that old stuff now.

by Anonymous on June 27, 2008 at 9:09 pm. Reply #

Some interesting points, Geoffrey, but we already advocate massive cuts in public expenditure (ID cards, Child Trust Fund, scrap the DTI, less spening on nuclear weapons etc). What’s at issue is whether ALL of this money should be recycled into other public expenditure or whether at least some should go cutting tax.

You may be right that expenditure on e.g. unemployment benefit will rise in 2010 and 2011. But this will (or should be) factored into government spending projections. You may not consider government statistics to be wholly reliable, but they provide the baseline to compare otehr parties spending plans. As I understand it, both opposition parties are presently committed to the government’s projected levels of tax and spend (but differ on how to spend it and how to raise it).

You are right that advocating a reduction in the overall tax burden would be a change of message and direction. Bu it would reflect a change in circumstances. Given the mammoth increase in tax and spending since 1997, it doesn’t strike me as an antediluvian Thatcherite approach to say that this should be trimmed at least a little. I read somewhere that if we were willing to return to 1997 spending levels (I’m not suggesting we could or should) that we could abolish income tax entirely. This gives some indication of how enormous the growth in public spending has been under New Labour.

by Mark Littlewood on June 27, 2008 at 9:41 pm. Reply #

Abolishing income tax would be an economically positive, socially just and electorally popular “longer term goal”. I look forward to the day our party sets this out as the logical extension of our Green Switch.

We already have a 16% basic rate pledge, which we could realistically shift to 15% in time for a 2010 general election. Couple that with some fiscal options to honour our promise for CHOICE in local revenue raising, and the prospect of zero rating LIT also becomes feasible.

Reducing the overall tax burden is entirely possible if we follow through on our commitment to shift from deadweight, inefficient and avoidable taxes on work and value added, to more efficient and unavoidable charges on unearned wealth and value removed.

Thankfully we now have a Leader and a Shadow Chancellor who understand this and are increasingly articulating it as a progressive and sustainable strategy for our party and our country.

Henley just shows that we must move further and faster in this morally just, economically sound and undoubtedly vote-winning direction.

by Andrew Duffield on June 27, 2008 at 11:01 pm. Reply #

Of course. Abolish income tax! What could be more popular? Not to mention morally just, economically sound and divinely ordained.

How could we have been missing the obvious answer to all our problems for all these years?

GO BACK TO YOUR CONSTITUENCIES AND PREPARE FOR GOVERNMENT!

by Anonymous on June 28, 2008 at 12:22 am. Reply #

The cuts that Mark refers to will be partly offset by more expenditure in he pupil premium (and there is a concern that the amount we are suggesting is not enough to make the changes we want) and in the running costs of government. I also notice that my reference to global warming does not ellicit a serious response.
It seems to me that this trendy neo-liberalism is ill-equiped for dealing with the scarcity issues we face today. Commodity prices are shooting up, partly because of the supply/demand ratio and partly because markets tend to overeact. Ruth Kelly said recently that “no one could have predicted the rise in oil prices recently” and I am thinking why not?
The answer of course is the lazy assumption that technological innovation will save us from shortages, but for now that has not happened and the consequences are very serious indeed. It is predicted that fuel prices will increase by 40% this winter. Even if it is (say) 20%, that is an astonishing rise in 1 year. How much will it be the year after? When Nick Clegg (rightly) bangs on about fuel poverty, he is campaigning against the shortcomings of the market yet for some reason I do not understand, he does not make the connection. He advocates that the government do something, not the market. Well how much will that cost, year on year?
Has anyone calculated this?
It is true that since 911 until 2007 the global economy did experience remarkable economic growth that was evenly distributed, and no doubt that persuaded many people including Liberals that we should be neo-Liberals. However one of the main flaws of neo-liberalism is short-termism. There are many such economists who know little about ecology, and yet can arrogantly laugh off and dismiss environmental concerns as being “Malthusian” and therefore not worthy of consideration. Well their alternative hypothesis has turned out to be even more shaky, and the economics of the future will have to account for the fact that th energy intensive lifestyle will live today is not sustainable.

by Geoffrey Payne on June 28, 2008 at 12:27 am. Reply #

Andrew, it is not practical to replace income tax with the green tax switch. If the green tax switch works, then we change our behavior and pay less tax.
Government cannot function like that. We need a more predicable income stream of revenue.

by Geoffrey Payne on June 28, 2008 at 12:32 am. Reply #

passing liberal wrote: “Like you, I don’t have a problem with the name Liberals, I am one. but our party is called the Liberal Democrats and Brown and many others have set out a deliberate strategy to call us “The Liberals” I have been told by someone in the Labour party that the intention is to make us sound old fashioned. Now, why would someone committed to our party play in to their hands by saying it themselves?”

That sounds like a daft strategy from the part of Labour, if it is true. The only reason why somebody could think that “Liberal Party” sounds old fashioned is that that name isn’t anymore used by Lib Dems. If Lib Dems would take the old name in use, that problem would disappear.

Besides, if Labour would really like to make Lib Dems sound old fashioned, it should call them “Whigs”.

by Anonymous on June 28, 2008 at 3:56 am. Reply #

Jo White – Must be a different head of press we both worked for…don’t remember that being the case at all…

I think Andy Mayer once described Mark as ‘not a part loyalist’ and ‘he never wants to stand for us’. So more of a journalist/commentator than a member then, which is fine, but don’t make out he’s anything but that…

by Pob on June 28, 2008 at 7:18 am. Reply #

Sorry – should be ‘party’ not ‘part’ obviously

by Pob on June 28, 2008 at 7:18 am. Reply #

yawn…

by Anonymous on June 28, 2008 at 9:23 am. Reply #

Mark’s lack of blind loyalty to the party line is in my view one of his most admirable qualities. And whether he’s a PPC or a commentator in this instance I think it rather more important that his analysis is spot on.

A quality of good leadership and strategic judgement is to pick battles you can win, and deploy your troops accordingly. It was entirely evident to the outside world that C&N and Henley were not serious targets for victory in the current climate of Conservative popularity.

It is also evident that the Conservatives can match Liberal Democrat tactics and bodies on the grounds in by-elections these days so short of a terrible Tory candidate (and being nice to developers is hardly a 4-jobs Bob error) there is very little reason to believe a solidly executed local campaign (as both by-elections were) would overcome national trends.

We should be saving our money and firepower for Labour by-elections where we are in a good second and getting used to deploying skeleton crews to others ready to ramp up if circumstances on the ground permit.

I am not aware if we use good quality polling techniques to assess our likely vote before deciding what resources to commit, if not, perhaps we should.

But ultimately we should stop fetishising by-elections as though that’s all that makes us relevant. We have a Parliamentary party of over 60 and many more in the Lords, we have thousands of Councillors and hold power in many. That is the source of our political relevance these days. We need a taxi fleet not a taxi and should perhaps start behaving like a political party to whom the normal rules of gravity and campaigning apply, not a protest group obsessed with our own parorchial history.

by Andy Mayer on June 28, 2008 at 10:07 am. Reply #

Mark Littlewood may be a sufferer of a horrendous case of short man syndrome, but he is spot on on the tax issue. It would provide us with a wedge issue to wrong foot the Tories. Lower taxes are a core Tory issue. There is no reason why we couldn’t decide to not re-spend all the money that could saved from the areas we want to makes cut, taxes are currently too high, just as pubic expenditure in the 90’s was too low. We are not ideologically a high tax party. Income tax really is one of the worst forms of taxation; people shouldn’t be taxed for selling their labour and on hard work, but on wealth. We should shift the tax burden onto assets, circa Liberal party 1906.

by B.Hope on June 28, 2008 at 10:13 am. Reply #

I’m 5’9 1/2″ tall. And am not hung up about it at all. Sometimes I feel so relaxed about my height, I don’t even bother to mention the extra 1/2 inch 🙂

by Mark Littlewood on June 28, 2008 at 10:39 am. Reply #

“pubic expenditure in the 90’s was too low”

???

by Anonymous on June 28, 2008 at 11:01 am. Reply #

I return to Mark Littlewood – the proposals listed do not all amount to cuts in public expenditure: scrapping ID cards means not increasing it further.

Advocating a reduction in the overall tax burden is not a massive change of direction because when we began advocating an increase in the taxation to match expenditure levels the overall tax take hadn’t yet increased as it has in the intervening period – as you point out.

I find it funny when someone pipes up to talk about raising or lowering any rate of this or that almost as though there is no natural balance which can be found and all economic activity must be either public or private.

Absolutely nobody (at least not in the LibDems) believes that there is not a role for both public and private sectors and that a satisfactory balance can and must be found. So it is absurd, to say the least, that anyone should suggest we are wedded to any particular doctrine on the issue.

Commenters need to remain constantly vigilant over how they use their language to describe any proposals they support, for if we don’t use adequate caveats and qualifiers to draw our picture accurately then we also fail to pass the standard for communicating our ideas.

Each idea that can be proposed can be fully justified on its own terms, but I think we collectively need to look at how each good idea fits together and can combine to forge and fit with our full programme of reforms.

Ultimately this pattern reflects our strategic outlook too.

In comparing by-elections we need to compare all the relevant factors, and in measuring the scale of our achievement we must weigh the relative strengths and weaknesses on each side.

As we grow our representation the significance that can be attached to each contest reduces and we look beyond the immediate.

So what Henley means coming after C&N is the completion of a 30 year political cycle and we have reached a point which even the most senior MPs cannot recall.

by Oranjepan on June 28, 2008 at 11:15 am. Reply #

Geoff said “it is not practical to replace income tax with the green tax switch. If the green tax switch works, then we change our behavior and pay less tax.”

We seem ok with a pretty practical 4p switch already – and not all “green taxes” erode their own base. There are plenty of economically sustainable options for raising revenue from resource usage which, phased in over 2 parliaments say, could replace taxes on jobs completely. Practical AND progressive.

by Andrew Duffield on June 28, 2008 at 12:32 pm. Reply #

Wonderfully progressive for the rich. certainly.

Not quite so good for the poor, who will gain little or nothing from the abolition of income tax, but will be hit hard by “green” taxes and their ramifications.

But maybe it’s OK to be redistributionist, provided you’re redistributing wealth _from_ the poor _to_ the rich?

by Anonymous on June 28, 2008 at 12:43 pm. Reply #

“But maybe it’s OK to be redistributionist, provided you’re redistributing wealth _from_ the poor _to_ the rich?”

Unfortunately Anon, that’s exactly what income tax does – passed on in higher sales costs, with greatest incidence on those least able pay.

Collecting economic rent (whether indirectly via carbon levies or directly at source) is what fair taxation is about. Society’s free lunchers would pay most! Progressive, practical and poorly understood – as you clearly demonstrate.

by Andrew Duffield on June 28, 2008 at 1:21 pm. Reply #

Oranjepan – scrapping the DTI and the Child Trust Fund are current expenditures.

In any event, my understanding of how this works is as follows:

The government projections at the next election will be the baseline (there is an argument to be had about whether such projections are reliable, but that’s a separate argument). Assuming economic growth, this will mean increasing returns to the Exchequer. You can swell or reduce this pot by advocating different tax policies and spending priorities.

To illustrate the point (with entirely hypothetical and rather over-simplified figures), let’s say there’s projected annual growth of 2% per annum from 2010-2015 and that this is anticipated to generate £100bn in extra tax revenues. Labour’s tax plan could be to say “We won’t raise or cut taxes, we will spend £40bn of this new revenue on Trident MkII, £40bn on ID cards and £20bn on increasing military operations in Iraq”. Whereas we might say “We wouldn’t spend a penny on Iraq, Trident or ID cards. We also reckon we can save a further £10bn by abolishing the DTI and scrapping the Child Trust Fund. That gives us £110bn to play with. £25bn will be spent on the pupil premium and £25bn on free personal care for the elderly. We’d use the other £60bn to reduce the basic rate of income tax.”

This is obviously a back-of-a-fag-packet budget, but illustrates the basic principle I think.

by Mark Littlewood on June 28, 2008 at 4:42 pm. Reply #

Yes Mark, that’s why I only mentioned scrapping ID cards.

The other noted subjects we can be less unequivical about because they are not simple ‘baseline’ increases, but inefficient substitutions and ineffective distractions.

Trident money could partly be used to bolster defence spending where it is vital and urgently required, DTI money ought better be used for regional development, while the Child Trust Fund is educational support in all but name.

This government is addicted to ‘big ticket’ initiatives to try to prove that it isn’t failing, but these headlines detract from the actual story going on underneath.

I don’t think there is lasting political value in simple opposition for oppositions sake, nor do I think it is worth coaligning with our competitors in order to do so.

by Oranjepan on June 28, 2008 at 5:29 pm. Reply #

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