The first poll since the Telegraph began reporting the details of MPs expenses suggests the public are taking a plague on all your houses approach (or at least, a plague on both your houses, since the Liberal Democrats haven’t suffered).

The topline figures, with changes from Populus’s last poll, are CON 39%(-4), LAB 26%(-4), LDEM 22%(+4). Other parties are at 13%, up four points (though it’s worth noting that this isn’t some sort of unprecedented boost which that might imply, Populus have quite often had “others” up at 12% over the last year).

This is the first poll of 2009 to show the Conservatives below 40%, and leaving aside ICM, who always give them a higher level of support, it is the highest level of support the Liberal Democrats have recorded since 2006. It is the highest figure Populus have given them since 2005. It’s tempted to ascribe this solely to the expenses scandal, though it’s worth remembering that this is also one of the first polls since the government’s defeat over Gurkhas, an issue that the Liberal Democrats lead upon.

The poll was conducted between Friday and Sunday, so after the Telegraph had begun publishing Labour expenses, but prior to them turning the focus onto the Conservatives. Whether that means the Conservatives will suffer more damage in coming days is debatable, given that the public already seem to be putting just as much blame on them as the government. Asked specifically if “all the parties were as bad as each other”, 86% of people agreed. 79% of people also rejected the defence that MPs were acting within the rules, agreeing with the statement “if MPs had any integrity they would never have claimed for the cost of many things they did”.

Finally Populus asked their regular question of asking the public to rate the party leaders out of ten. Gordon Brown’s rating stands at 4.47, down from where it was at the end of last year when it got up to 5.04, but substantialluy above the depths it reached in the summer of 2008. David Cameron stands at 5.39 the highest of any Tory leader since Populus began the question 6 years ago. Nick Clegg is at 4.71, his highest figure so far and now above any score that Ming Campbell achieved, though Charles Kennedy was more positively regarded.

135 Responses to “Labour and Conservatives both suffer in first post-expenses poll”

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  1. As long as there are not revelations about the likes of Clegg, Huhne or Cable then this was always going to work out for the Lib Dems. Not only because they have far fewer MP’s but also because they can play their favourite role of painting the two main Parties as two sides of the same coin and not real change.

    I think the fall in the Tory lead even before the expenses revelations is probably about right. There was a sense that after the budget and after Brown becoming such a figure of ridicule that the public were getting a bit uncomfortable with the Tories being given a smooth ride to government. It really doesn’t play well with the British electorate when you get politicians saying “when we win the next election….” 12 months away from it.

    That said, given that most people associate the expenses scandal with all Parties anyway I don’t see the Tory lead dropping much more even after the latest revelations, especially as Cameron seems to want to take the lead on the issue much more than Gordon Brown. I also take a different view to most Labour-minded people in that I think once the campaign starts and the debate moves onto major policy then I think the Tory lead will actually increase and not contract as some have predicted.

  2. John – When the debate kicks off properly, how can the tpries or any MPs bang on about cutting waste when they’ve already been seen to have feathered their own nest eggs so spectacularly?

    If you sack half the civil servants to cut waste, that’s one thing, but it’s not going to look good if you’ve claimed off the state for your own private servants.

  3. I did make this point before, but there will be other “revelations” to come from the press. It seems that the Liberal Democrats will be in the firing line tomorrow.

    The full details will be published in July. Expect the vultures to gather! Besides, I may not be alone in finding that it is rapidly becoming “democracy by the press”.

    Difficult to extrapolate on trends when all may become mired.

  4. I suspect the bigger dangers for Cameron are a general lack of belief in all politicians (contrast to the upswelling of hope in 1997 that Blair rode particularly well) along with a wider media scrutiny on political funding issues in general. As I said earlier, there are lots of Tory issues still out there regarding second jobs, party fund raising, accepting cash and giving honours to people who consistently refuse to confirm UK residency etc. I always believed these issues would kick off at some stage but thought it would probably be after the GE, but now I suspect there is a danger that these issues will gain a higher public scrutiny than before. As Cameron’s regular line is he’s new and ultra clean, this will hurt him.

    On a wider point, his reaction today to this story is indicative I believe of a Cameron government. He has had ample opportunity to nail the expenses issue among his own MPs and has completely failed to do so, only blustering about disciplinary action once the DT breaks the story. Do I believe this reaction is genuine? Of course I don’t – if it was he would have made absolutely clear to his party months ago and in private what he expected, and the money would be back in the public coffers alread. The next 5 years will again be characterised by ceaseless reaction to headlines. Oh dear.

  5. Well Cameron has just played a blinder, announcing that Shadow Cabinet ministers with dodgy-sounding claims will all repay the money.

    If Brown wasn’t so washed up and apparently clueless, he’d have done the same thing only sooner.

  6. James – I absolutely disagree. If he had arranged this quietly six months ago, along with a vigorous camaign to reform expenses, and today announced the fact and it was all done and dusted and the money repaid – that would have been a blinder. If he had forced his shadow cabinet to give up second (and third and fourth) jobs that would been another positive sign. Merely reacting to events once you have been caught with your hand in the till is ultimately unimpressive. It’s one of the worst aspects of Cameron’s approach to politics – remember the photo shoot in the Arctic? He share’s this approach with Blair, and it’s why we are in such a mess now. I see great disappointment ahead for the British voter, as with 1997.

  7. To back up my previous point, can we all agree that Harriet Harman has done exceptionally well to ask the House authorities to set up a system for the repayment of excessive expenses claims? She did this a full hour before Cameron made his announcement (which funnily enough only seems to apply to his front bench), so we can all laud Harriet for ‘playing a blinder’?

    Somehow I think not.

  8. I read an article the other day which points out that in some ways MPs’ behaviour reflects that of a large segment of society, since most people with paid expenses try to squeeze as much out of them as possible, coming up with all sorts of excuses why it’s justified, such as (a) everyone does it, (b) it doesn’t harm anyone, (c) big companies are so wealthy they can afford it, and so on, etc.

  9. @ Alec – his response is infinitely more decisive than Brown’s and that’s what will count. While Brown has mithered and apologised and blamed “the system” without actually doing anything, Cameron has taken action. That will play better with voters, for obvious reasons.

    As for your 1997 comparison – I don’t think voters have anything like the (in retrospect quite absurd) expectations of the Tories that they had of New Labour in 1997. Nobody thinks the Tories are going to usher in some sort of new Golden Age. And, after 11 years of Labour, it”s just as well that the Tories aren’t attempting to promise one because cynicism would surely be the only response. As far as I can see, people just want shot of Brown and this government and 40+ per cent evidently think the Tories will do a more competent job. Low expectations, certainly, but rather more realistic too.

  10. James – you’re quite right about Brown dithering, although to be fair, at least he saw this coming and got on Youtube to announce something, however crass that was. However, this doesn’t mean ‘he’s playing a blinder’. It just means he’s crawling out of the hole a little faster than the others.

  11. Alec is right and Radio reporters are already asking why react now and not months ago to Tory spokespeople (Theresa May did not know how to respond); let’s see if this is the line on TV news particularly BBC and ITN (Dave’s friends)
    This could be the tipping point in the media. Whilst they will never lay off GB we may see more scrutiny of the Tories.
    They may come through the scrutiny well but there must be a doubt?

  12. You miss the main point regarding Cameron’s instructions to his party. Cameron is more than likely to be the next Prime Minister and will be able to dole out the positions for his party. Thus he can enforce his position. Any Conservative opposing his command will soon regret his or her actions from the backbench.

    Brown, on the other hand, is a dead sheep with no ability to enforce such a response. Most Labour MP’s are facing oblivion or are in seats that are safe ( a diminishing amount to say the least) and with Brown dropping like a stone in the polls, will ignore any edict. Those on the way out will take what they can before shown the door. Brown knows this. That is why he will not issue the same call. The refusal of the Labour ranks, articulated by the Speaker, would only make matters worse.

    Cameron has played a blinder and Brown has no response that will not play worse than the current debacle.

  13. @ Alec – fair enough. I’m having a hyperbolic Tuesday.

    @ Jim Jam – wishful thinking, IMO. MPs from all parties are involved in this (Lib Dem revelations presumable coming next) and obviously the same criticism can be fielded at all the parties. But the bottom line is that only one of those parties is the current government and it’s the man that the current government shoehorned in as Speaker who has abjectly failed to get a grip on this. I can’t see Michael Martin surviving calls for his resignation this time round.

  14. Another thought I have is the surprising article by Poly Toynbee openly stating Labour needs to ditch Brown and go with Alan Johnson. Its not a winning strategy, but a damage limitation one. He’s come out of the expenses debacle rather well, and has solid working class roots, in a nice contrast to Cameron. Might be interesting.

    I would also want to record my admiration for a number of MPs who have been utterly honest in the face of an easy to abuse system. John Mann and Dennis Skinner spring to mind, but I’m sure there will be many Tories and others who are fundamentally decent.

  15. Colin

    “Given that this is for the meaningless & very poorly attended EU elections, I think that is a good idea for a warning shot across the bows of the Westminster elite.”

    Unfortunately, though many agree with you, the elections are not meaningless. Granted, the EU parliament seems to have only one power – to dismiss the Commissioners – which they used a few years ago to little effect, but it is important to the many who oppose Britain’s UK membership to make their feelings known.

    I agree with those who think that the minor parties will do very well in the EU and Council elections. Even more voters will abstain from voting for the major parties, and some will switch their vote. The fly in the ointment is rife electoral fraud, which make results even more unpredictable. Perhaps there should be a poll question that asks “Do you intend to commit electoral fraud”?

  16. Doonhammer you make a very interesting point.

    I thought Cameron was impressive & demonstrated real leadership today.

    Yes all the party leaders have waited too long on this, but post DTrevelations , DC has been most positive-and recognised what is now blindingly obvious-the Fees Office have totally failed to use the Green Book in accord with it’s Fundamental Principles-so the Party will have to do the job.

    As you say Doonhammer it may be difficult for GB to respond similarly-even if he wanted to-if you agree with La Toynbee he is incapable of that sort of deftness anyway !

    There is more for Cameron to do:-
    When does his Scrutiny Committee start getting cheques from Davis et al?.
    When does he stop wealthy MPs claiming second home allowances?

    but his edicts on “Flipping” & CGT hit the button precisely.

    Next up is the outcome of the Kelly review underway-it needs to nail this topic for once & all-Cameron said he has spoken to Kelly so presumably is happy at the way it is going.

    It will be interesting to see how the Polls respond to this-
    Has “Tory Toffs out of touch” reared it’s head again?-
    Will ” Angry Cammo sorts it out” resonate?-
    Does Gordon have an ace card up his sleeve?

    It’s all a bit like “The Weakest Link” tv show.

  17. Pete B-

    When MEPs stop milking taxpayers for expense entitlements which would make the Daily Telegraph need a Special Edition…….when MEPs start recognising that they are accountable to the people who fund their ridiculous gravy train-……when EU starts taking fiddling, fraud, waste, & profligacy seriously, recognises it’s lack of democratic legitimacy, and stops sacking financial whistleblowers from it’s Audit Office, and starts listening to them….then I just might begin to think that it’s so called “Elections” have some purpose.

  18. PAUL-HJ

    ” But many will have taken his statement as encouragement to vote BNP, not UKIP.”

    No they wont-well not if they listened to what he said they wont, rather than relying on heresay.

    He said -don’t vote for BNP.

    I just cannot understand how you can make the statement quoted.

    He wants Conservative voters ( and Labour voters) to vote for “minor parties” -excluding BNP-in the EU elections as a protest-thats what he said-I watched him say it on BBC TV News.

  19. “When the debate kicks off properly, how can the tpries or any MPs bang on about cutting waste when they’ve already been seen to have feathered their own nest eggs so spectacularly?”

    Well I’m talking about actual substantive policy not just the slogans which are used 12 months before the election.

    “you’re quite right about Brown dithering, although to be fair, at least he saw this coming and got on Youtube to announce something, however crass that was”

    Eh? A year ago Brown didn’t even vote on whether to remove the John Lewis list whereas Cameron introduced a three line whip on getting rid of it. Before his YouTube appearance Brown had rejected Cameron’s request for a meeting of the leaders to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. I’m struggling to understand how you think Brown saw this coming while Cameron is only reacting to events? Past records seem to suggest the exact opposite.

  20. having just seen a comment from daves h.q via e-mail it seams as if he will sack any member of his party for a clear abuss of the system andany candidate who fails to abide by the tories new rules

  21. When will Cameron stop his Millionare MPs from having second jobs, If you are elected as an MP you should act as one, not just use it as a title and a way for new chandeliers and to get you moats cleaned free off charge at our expense…
    The LibDems expenses are small compared to the other two parties!

  22. Let’s have another poll; I get bored with the above partisan comments. I liked this best when it was analysis of polls and implications…

    (And yes, I know I indulge but only in response to irritant people who wish fulfil and think that’s analysis…)

  23. @ Bill

    The Lib Dems did take quite abit of the cake themselves, so to speak, but yes, compared to Labour and the Conservatives, the Lib Dems must be looking like saints, the full details in the telegraph tomorrow will be worth a read.

  24. Anthony – apologies if I’m wrong or this was covered earlier in the thread, but you say that this poll “is the highest level of support the Liberal Democrats have recorded since 2006”. Didn’t they get 22% in April’s Ipsos MORI poll?

  25. John – I was actually talking about his particular eruption – there’s no doubt I think that Brown got wind of a major media investigation and tried to position himself.

    Overall however, I would side with the analysis on The World Tonight on BBC R4 which highlights Brown’s attempts to get something changed about this, compared with Cameron coming late to this particular story. Ben Brogan says a similar thing at the DT. Brown may have been ineffective in this, but he saw the problem long ago.

    I’m not partisan about this and I’m not saying anyone in particular comes out of this well, but for those who think Cameron has demonstrated his leadership qualities I am suggesting that he is only demonstrating better short term media manipulation skills than Brown – Brown on Youtube vs Cameron today. Cameron missed this issue, like he has missed many others. He has good short term tactical skills but strategically he is most often all at sea, and this will trip him up rapidly once in government.

  26. What will also be very interesting in terms of the effect on polls will be the economic numbers. Very quietly over the last few days, and largely buried by the expenses shambles, there has been a string of much better news on the UK economy. It looks like the Q1 GDP figures will be revised upwards and Credit Suisse are already saying that the UK recession could in fact already be over. I think that’s a bit bold, but if Darling regains some credibility and things turn out not as bad as expected – what then for the polls?

  27. Warren – no, you’re right. It’s only equalling their highest. I must have missed that one when scanning down the list.

  28. The Lib Dems will not be affected as much becausehey have less MPS in the Commons and the vast majority of those already publish their expenses on the web, albeit not in receipt by receipt format. These expenses seem to be mostly taken up by staff costs…
    Also, some of the most persistent campaigners within parliament for transparency come from the Lib Dems, but they were rebutted by the speaker, Michael Martin. I would not be surprised if they put on more points.

  29. @Warren It is the first time the Lib Dems have polled 22% since July 2005 from POPULUS. Incidently, this was their first poll after the election where the Lib Dems gained 23%.

    Lib Dems have polled 22% four times since February this year.

    Despite this poll I think that any negative long term impact will solely be for Labour. Cameron has come across in the media since this poll as being more firm and decisive on the issue than Brown, in my opinion.

    Important is the fact that the minimum wage is set to rise by a mere 7p an hour while Brown has spent £6000 of their taxes on having one of his homes cleaned.

    Also due to the increase of duty this rise in the minimum wage will effectively be nothing. For this and other reasons and am becoming increasingly confident that Labour will see a drop of at least 30% of votes in at least half of the seats that they presently hold.

    Thus only a relatively small increase in Cons and Lib Dem vote would see Labour losing about half of their seats.

  30. Anthony, can you point us to an actual detailed breakdown of the Populus poll anywhere? The Times story doesn’t have a link to it and if you go to Populus’ own website, “most recent poll” takes you to their April one. It’s very frustrating, because we can’t possibly know how that 13% for “others” is broken down otherwise. It’s allowing both UKIP and the BNP to crow about it when one or both of them may not be justified in doing so. By the way, if I was either of them I would not get too carried away when the subject of the moment is abuse of allowances. UKIP are pretending that their problems in this respect are limited to their two extreme cases who’ve got into legal trouble, but anyone who has followed them knows that their fondness for Brussels gravy is pretty institutionalised across most of their MEPs, Nigel “Ruthless-Not” Farage most definitely included, having written in 2003 “in these days of cheap travel it is easy to fly to Strasbourg for £40 and to be reimbursed for £700 from the European Parliament”. (see here: And whenever a BNP scumbag gets onto a local council, you can be sure that an expenses “issue” is never very far behind.

  31. @ Alec – “He has good short term tactical skills but strategically he is most often all at sea, and this will trip him up rapidly once in government.”

    I think it’s precisely the fact that in recent years government has become all about political “tactics” and “strategy”, rather than just running the country competently, that so many voters are turning away from Labour.

    Surely it’s partly Brown’s long established reputation for plotting and scheming (against members of his own party as well as the Opposition) that’s behind his incredible unpopularity.

  32. I think some of the liberal element will be raising a glass or two to a showbiz bust up this morning!

  33. @James – I think we agree in part. Like Cameron, Brown thinks tactics all the time, which results in silly ‘initiatives’ and sound bit announcements. Where they both seriously lack is in the overall strategic direction that makes government hang together. Essentially its government by headline. My disappointment it that Cameron has copied Blair, who was the master of this. I’ve said many times before that he has no underpinning principles other than following headlines. It will end like New Labour and Brown. My concern for the Tories is that their honeymoon will be very short, and looking at the crop of new MP’s they are likely to have their popularity will plummet very soon after the next GE.

  34. Colin – how is it that offering to get the chaps to pay bak £20k between them (not each) demonstrates “leadership?” When a £400k mortgage can pass the smell test (£20k per annum interest all allowable and OK by The Leader)

    James – I don’t think “spin” was ever going to be the same as sleaze as a by-word for Govt unpopularity. There’s a big difference between tactics or “wordmanship” and being completely two-faced (which is what Brown appeared to be by bottling the election)

  35. @John TT – very good point. In terms of impact on the polls this could well unravel for Cameron, to a degree at least. His claim for £24K mortgage interest denotes a huge second home, bought by a man worth millions who presumably has done this as an investment part funded by the tax payer. He won’t be alone in this, but this morning the BBC has been qustioning why a few hundred pounds on light bulbs is immoral but extending a property portfolio on our expense is not. Even Anne Widdicombe implicitly criticised Cameron on this score. I don’t think this is where Cameron wants to be, and there is a very personal element to this for him if the media searchlight moves on.

  36. John tt

    Whatever you say the general perception this morning is that Clegg and Cameron get it whilst Brown is playing catch up and Speaker Martin does not get it at all.
    Bad luck this scandal will not change the scenario of a looming Labour electoral disaster.

  37. Great reception for Camerons stance across all the media this morning. Even the BBC seemed to give it a positive spin!

    I like the way Labour have been painted as being on the back foot (even though I’m not sure they really are on this) in almost every paper. It makes the Tories appear to be leading the way on an ‘issue’ so goes some way to fighting Labours ‘do nothing’ attacks of late.

    A thrashing of Labour at the Euros, and the positive glow it imbues, should see my prediction of hitting 50% in the next few weeks still a good possibility.

  38. john-

    By leadership I mean the opposite of this :-

    Speaker Martin is responsible for the House authorities who draw up , and manage the operation of the Green Book rules. for all MPs.Through the gathering storm of public outrage Martin has , first attempted to circumvent FOI legislation on transparency, then to emasculate data ordered under FOI, then call in the police because of a leak, then continue to rail against the media & any MP who dares to be contrite about this whole mess. T
    The Fees Office under Martin has utterly failed to do the job required of it-ie throw out these claims-so Cameron decided they are a waste of space & produced his own rules for his MPs including “no more furnishings” , no more “flipping”, CGT liability & disclosure requirements. That is leadership.

    Gordon Brown has fiddled & faddled with this whole thing, constantly being evasive , & party political-finally playing catch up-he has not required anything of his MPs-he has supported Speaker Martin throughout.
    That is the opposite of leadership.

    Now -your point about whether mortgage interest on second property should be allowed or not-Cameron was asked at his Press Conference about this. His reply was that he awaits the Kelly Review for a fundamental relook at the principles.
    You may not be happy with that-I may not be-but the Kelly Report will make reccomendations for all MPs-not just Tory ones & I think he is right to defer to its findings.

    We can take up cudgels again when Kelly reports & MPs vote on it. I fully expect that you & I will be of the same opinion about mortgages on large “second homes.”

  39. @ Alec – I disagree with you on Cameron but there’s little point in arguing the point as neither of us will be convinced by the other. The bottom line is that all one can ever do is vote for the party that seems best at the time one is voting. Right now, it seems clear to me and , presumably, 40+% of voters that the current crop of Tories is preferable to the current government. 5 years down the line, who knows, but we can all worry about that then. I’ll take a chance on the Tories over the certainty of more New Labour catastrophe any day of the week :)

  40. One up to Clegg-he will insist second home property profits go back to the tax payer.

    Ahead of Cameron-on a different planet to Brown-he gets it.

  41. On the second jobs issue. Why shouldn’t MPs have a second job? Isn’t one of the problems in politics the ‘career politician’? These are people who have never been in the employ of a private company yet go around setting rules that seriously affect day-to-day business.

    Wouldn’t it be better for MPs to spend time in the private sector to actually understand what is happening? Perhaps if they spent a day stacking shelves at ASDA and then realised that a fifth of what they just earned goes to the treasury they would understand quite why people are so angry with these expenses.

    Out of interest – is Gordon Brown still PM? I haven’t seen him for a few days, when his CD seemed to be skipping on “it’s the system’s fault, not ours”.

  42. if they spent a day stacking shelves at ASDA

    Good idea – the non-exec directorships however don’t really give much insight as to “what’s really going on” – that type of second job is part of the great con, along with “you should all aspire to own vast country piles, therefore let me keep mine tax free” and other nuggets that the “elite” offer as common sense.

    Brown’s suggested all receipts during the four years of this govt should be passed over for re-appraisal. As long as it’s done before the next election, it should raise more than the £20k from the Tories and the £13k from Hazel Blears.

    Has more aof a smack of fairness than Cameron’s “let’s give back £20k between us and don’t do it again” approach.

  43. (and £41k from Phil Hope) It’s all adding up, eh? We’ll be able to pay a bit off the national debt at this rate.

  44. NEW POLL:

    Populus/The Times

    “The Tories are put on 34 per cent, against 25 per cent for Labour and 20 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.

    This leaves 21 per cent spread between the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the UK Independence Party, the British National Party, the Greens and tiny fringe groups.”

  45. Mark M – as John says, I think you need to look at what these second are. They don’t add to real world experience. In you look at the history of them it’s interesting that the number of second jobs held by MPs of any political party increases as they look to be entering government, and drop sharply once they are in opposition. Its about companies gaining access to decision makers. Holding these posts is unacceptable. I still think this whole area, along with second homes interest payments and equity gain, will blur the Tories current perceived lead on this issue. As I said earlier, some Tory backbenchers are already openly criticising Cameron’s approach and pointing to his enormous wealth etc. There is a long way to go before this issue settles.

  46. Populus/The Times
    Euro voting intention
    Con 34%
    Lab 25%
    Lib 20%
    UKIP 6%
    Green 5%
    BNP 2%

    So, if UKIP + Grn + BNP = 13%

    … and total “Others” = 21%

    … then are the SNP/PC on 6% – 8% ?!?

    Surely that is impossible? Scotland only accounts for about 8% – 9% of the Great Britain electorate!!

  47. Are the SNP on about 66% of Scottish Euro voting intention? Even I must express profound skepticism.

  48. Now that all three parties expenses have been exposed by the Daily Telegraph and have been/are been poured over by the media what do people think will be the impact on voting intention when the next polls are conducted and then released presuably in the coming days?

  49. Go for it Alec.
    I agree with ITT this time ,though, except for the 50% bit that whether fair or not the BBC (less Sky though) have ran on GB trying to catch up to DC. Was surprised with Nick Robinson on last nights 0900 news in his summary mentioned light bulbs and CGT but strangely no mention of the Chandeliers, manure and moat repairs (post Mc Bride boldness perhaps)
    Snow on C4 challenged May on whether the types of claims meant the Tories are still nasty.
    This is the main question in my view will this issue precipitate a mood swing over the coming months about the Tories regarding Toffs and out of touch etc etc.
    FWIW – I think it may well but not enough to stop their victory but enough to stop a landslide.
    Whilst we know 34% is an ethemeral number it does suggest around 1/4 of Tory support is not solid and that a different ‘catastrophe’ could impact close to the GE.
    Hope for straw clutchers yet!

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