The detailled legislation for the boundary review and the AV referendum is now out – if you are not a hardcore political anorak, you may wish to skip this post! For those who are left, here are the details.

Alternative Vote is the more straightforward section. The referendum is May 5th and the question is “Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the “alternative vote” system instead of the current “first past the post” system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?”. There is no minimum turnout or anything on the referendum and it is binding – if the referendum is won, the minister must bring the provisions introducing AV (which are all in the Bill) into effect.

Rules for boundary changes are much more complicated. First, the legislation proposes boundary reviews every five years, significantly speeding up the current timetable where they occur between 8 and 12 years apart (normally at the latter end). With fixed term Parliaments of 5 years, that means seats would change every Parliament (though it would also mean that the changes were normally quite small).

There will one national UK quota, rather than seperate quotas for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is, however, an exception to this for Northern Ireland, where if the number of seats Northern Ireland is entitled to is more than a third away from a whole number (as it probably will be this time round), they will have their own quota to aim at, which prevents the boundary commission in Northern Ireland being left with an impossible task.

The quota will indeed be based around the electorate of the UK, minus the two protected seats, divided by 598. All seats must be within 5% of the quota, with three exceptions: the two preserved seats (the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland), Northern Ireland under the circumstances discussed above, and any seat with an area above 12,000 sq. kilometers where the commission is satisfied it is not possible to get it within quota. As proposed before, there is a cap of 13,000 sq km on the size of consistuencies.

The Commissions may still take in account special geographical considerations, like size and shape, local government boundaries, local ties and minimal change (except, that is, for the coming boundary change, when they should not pay heed to minimising disruption). They may now also take into account the European electoral regions (making some of the possiblities I wrote about in this post less likely). All these considerations are subject to the rule on seats being within 5% of quota, which means that the boundary commissions will have to cross county boundaries if it is necessary in order to get within 5% of quota.

There is no mention of splitting council wards, but then, the old legislation doesn’t refer to them outside Northern Ireland either. In practice, the rule about seats being within 5% of quota may compel Boundary Commissions to split wards in places like Birmingham with very large wards.

In terms of speeding up the review process, the Bill is pretty brutal. Local inquiries on boundary changes are abolished – though it is slightly balanced out by the period for written representations being extended from 1 month to 12 weeks.

All of this is, of course, subject to whatever amendments get made as it trundles through the Commons. I expect some bits may have a tricky passage.

361 Responses to “AV referendum and 600 seats”

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  1. I note that the AV scheme proposed would work as follows:

    For the first candidate eliminated, votes are redistributed in accordance with second preferences (if any) only.

    For subsequent eliminated candidates, if the second preference has already been eliminated then the third preference (if any) is counted, and if the third preference has also been eliminated then the fourth preference shall count and so forth.

    I cannot see this being allowed through: consider allotting a voter 100 votes to spread among candidates. Second, third and fourth preferences would likely attract substantially lower votes – allowing these to rank pari passu with first preference votes is not supportable. Perhaps an enterprising pollster might try to estimate the real strength of feeling of support for lower choices by having responders weight them.

    Q1: How would you vote at a GE
    Q2: On a scale of 1 to 10, how strong is your support for your Q1 choice?
    Q3: Under AV you may also make a second preference vote. If your first choice vote doesn’t do well overall, then your second preference vote will count instead towards deciding the winner: your first choice vote won’t have been wasted because your second choice will also count. Would this make you consider voting for a different party as your first preference? Which party?
    Q4 Which party if any would be your second choice? How
    strong is your support for that choice on a scale of 1 to 10?

    It will be important in polls for the AV system to ensure that those polled really understand how the system works before giving their potential voting intentions. A key concept is that AV means that a first preference vote for a minority party is never wasted, because if they don’t win (or at least come second), your second preference will also count.

  2. Recovery and Growth Growth Growth..

    These fantastic figures of 1.1% groth for the Q2 are superb.
    It is without doubt that the change of government has had a “take off of confidence” within the country.
    I have been saying on here for weeks that we will be seeing growth, growth growth during the coming months and much better economic data. I have been prooved right once again.
    I also said you will see a corresponding rise in the governments popularity. This has already started to happen as well… We are seeing the Torys hit 43/44% quite regurlarly now.
    I forecast that they will hit 46-48% before the end of the year!
    Exciting times yes and please don’t try to rubbish my comments,because to date I have been right as I have a brilliant economic brain and fantastic political emotional intelligence !

  3. @WAYNE
    You do make me laugh. Bad news is the previous government’s fault, good news the present.
    Of course I’m not blessed with a brilliant economic brain like you so to a simple guy like me it looks exactly like wishful thinking. ;)

  4. @Epochery
    I think you may have underestimated Labour losses re boundary changes. There is some excellent research available on Scotland and Wales by the Electoral Reform Society and for England Labour will almost certainly lose more seats than the Conservatives with the North being affected more than the South. My estimates are as follows.
    England Lab -16 Con -12 Lib -2
    Scotland Lab -4 Lib -1 SNP -1 Con -1
    Wales Lab -7 PC -1 Lib -1 Con -1
    Totals = Lab -27 Con -14 Lib -4 SNP -1 PC -1
    This would leave the new House of Commons based on 2010 results as follows:
    Conservatives 292 (plus 1 speaker)
    Labour 231
    Liberal 53
    Others 23
    I must add the obvious caveat that of course these are only estimates, but that since the Boundary Commissions must make the numbers the most important criteria, we can perhaps rely on the maths.

  5. @Amber + Sue

    With regard to be rigorously unpartisan: At the last general election the Tories had an average votes per seat won of 34,865, Labour’s was 33,370 (the LDs was 119,944 as way of contrast). The suggested 23/16/7 split for seats lost would make this 36,782 for the Tories vs 36,636 for Labour which is as near to fair as your likely to find. As ever the inequities remain for the third parties and others – The libs would now have an average of 136,736 votes per seat.

  6. @ALEC
    Some really good figures in the last week or two on various things e.g. crime, employment.

    All these derive from Lab’s policies.

    The coalition’s fanatical desire to slash and burn looks even more ridiculous and unnecessary. AD had it right.

  7. @WAYNE
    Us mere mortals are blinded by your light.

  8. Am I not right in thinking that Q2 is from April to June. Is someone trying to attribute the figure to the new Government, having first formally taking office more than half way through May? Have we lost our ability to reason?

    In any case, on what basis could one attribute economic growth or the lack of it to any national government, except perhaps Germany or USA?

  9. I distinctly don’t heart Amber for that comment. The Boundary Commissions have all always been rigorously non-partisan.

    You can criticise them for odd proposals sometimes, and they produce some shocking constituency names… but they have never been anything but rigorously non-partisan.

  10. Epochery
    Earlier i asked a stupid question. I am sorry I did not realise that obviously the larger figure should be the one in brackets – apols, must try harder.

  11. @wayne – highly entertaining.

    “It is without doubt that the change of government has had a “take off of confidence” within the country.”

    Except one minor point – the poll data has been quite clear that economic confidence has been falling sharply since March. Of course, these figures could change that, but your analysis is as ever, selective yet engagingly amusing.

    On a more serious note, these GDP figures will be grist to the mill for the ‘Battle of the Legacy’. Attempts to paint Labour as having left an economic disaster will now have to contend with the counter attack that Darling avoided the worst social affects of recession and set up a much faster initial recovery than expected with three quarters of growth provisionally showing 0.3%, 0.4% and 1.1% GDP growth, all against a very poor global background.

    Labour will be entitled, quite fairly, to claim that while they left a huge budget deficit (I won’t go into arguments about the balance of responsibility for this) they did leave a rapidly expanding economy which should have been able to accomodate a reasonable draw down of the structural deficit in a more relaxed time frame if handled correctly, without resorting to further spending cuts than those already planned.

    If Osborne’s cuts do slow growth to a noticable degree there will be a case to argue that the government messed up a difficult balancing act by being too aggressively ideological in their approach to cuts.

    Lots will depend on events, and the government has plenty of weapons to use also. I’m quite satisfied that the government will be happy to completely ignore my advice, but if I were them I would hedge against such uncertainties by moving away from the ‘it’s all Labour’s fault’ PR line to a more nuanced ‘we’re in a finely balanced situation that requires difficult decisions’ angle. Constantly blaming Labour, even if it were justified, gives you no escape route if things get worse, whether or not it’s your fault.

  12. Does the Q2 figures mean that the UK is formally out of recession? If so and there is a return to recession it will be wholly atributable to Con policies and cannot be construed as a double-dip.

  13. @Woolymindedliberal – “In any case, on what basis could one attribute economic growth or the lack of it to any national government, except perhaps Germany or USA?”

    Governments, through public spending and the fiscal stimulus, have had quite a big impact on GDP figures. Mike N is correct in that many of the much more positive economic and social outcomes from the recession (or at least much less negative) can be attributed to the previous government.

    It is worth remembering that most posters here when it tended to be dominated by pro Tories, confidently predicted that unemployment would soar beyond 3m by Christmas 2009. Many said this benchmark would be hit much earlier, and a few were just as forthright in their view that 4m would be nearer the mark by the time of the GE.

    In fact it has been below 2.5m and stable or falling for some time now. Compared to previous recessions, this is staggering. Equally, crime has shown a shockingly good trajectory when compared to other recessions and has continued to fall sharply on every independent reading of the statistics. Again, equally staggering.

    I don’t want people to get overly partisan about this, but this recession has so far been markedly different from other recessions in the last 40 years in terms of the translation of economic woes into social impacts.

    Labour hasn’t presided over many recessions in recent decades. That tended to be the Tory specialism when they took the clear view, as now, that the fiscal deficit matters more than the social impacts. The previous government took an alternative view.

    The real disaster for Labour would have been running up a huge deficit while also seeing huge social impacts. As it turned out, their goal in minimising the social impacts was largely successful in the short term, but what we don’t yet know, and probably will never know conclusively now the government has changed, is quite whether the fiscal price paid was worth it. That judgement is what the political process is designed to resolve.

  14. @Mike N – any quarterly growth means you are formally out of recession. We’ve now had three quarters of growth.

  15. @Alec

    I’m obviously confusing this with the defintion of recession which is two consecutive quarters of nil or negative growth. (I think.)

    But as I mentioned on another thread, there continues to be references in the media to the UK (still) being in recession.

    Anyway, these Q2 figures should dispel such nonsense. But t will be interestign to see if the Cons claim the UK left recession while it is on office.

  16. WAYNE

    To give any credit to the coalition for the 1.1% April-June growth is rubbish.

    Every business decision taken which contributed to this figure would have been taken before the middle of May.

    These figures are quite simply further evidence that Alistair Darling and Labour were getting right on the economy.

  17. IMO, the Q2 figures will worry the LDs that they shoudl not have accepted the Cons’ slash and burn ideology.

  18. I cannot imagine why the LibDems would continue in coalition merely in order to obtain this AV bill.

    It will gain them far less than they are going to lose by being in the coalition.

    Why, oh why, didn’t Clegg hold out for Full PR? He could have – and for me should have – held both main parties to ransom and forced a fairer system on the UK.

    But no. He plumped for this AV bill. Which is barely worth the time and trouble to have a referndum on for all the difference it will make!

  19. I have been looking at the implications of the proposals in the Bill.

    Of the reduction of 50 constituencies, I have done my own calculation based on the (D’Hondt) formula that the Bill proposes. There could be controversy about this method of calculating, since it seems to be worse for Scotland and Wales than other methods of calculating. Contrary to what Anthony said in the previous 600 seats thread, it looks like Wales will lose 11 (or maybe 10). Northern Ireland will lose 3 (and is closer to losing 4 than only 2 if my calculation is correct), while Scotland will lose 8 or perhaps 9: or maybe 10 if the legislation is amended so Scotland has to make up for low electorates in Na H Eil… and Ork & S, rather than that difference (about 1 and a quarter constituencies) being made up across the UK.

    Most of the uncertainty comes from uncertainty about electorates: for those calculations I have used the figures on Pippa Norris’ spreadsheet of constituencies, with the EONI figure for NI. Differences from the figures Anthony gave in his earlier calculation are probably because I have used D’Hondt to calculate, as the Bill specifies, whereas I think he used a pre-set quota.

    An increase in Welsh electorate so they only lost 10 would mean England would lose a seat, while a small reduction in the Scottish electorate to mean they lost 9 would mean England would gain the seat, as would a reduction in the NI electorate to mean they lost 4.

    This leaves 504-506 constituencies for England, I think. I have been working out what that means in terms of numbers of constituency per county, likely pairings of counties, etc. More on that in a later post.

  20. @Chris Todd

    I don’t think he would ever have got a full PR bill on these election results. The Tories would never have offered it, Labour might have but even then the coalition would have been unworkable and the sight of the Lib-Dems holding out for PR while the country waited would have been disastrous for them as well. I don’t think AV was the only or even the main selling point of the coalition (tax threshold, reforming the Lords, civil liberties etc…) but agree that there must be some regret amongt the Lib-Dems about accepting the Tory timescale for cuts now. At the time, it did probably look the best deal available. I think otherwise, we would have had a Tory minority government and further ammunition to the hung parliaments don’t work rhetoric which would also have damaged the Libs in the long-run. I said at the time that in many ways Clegg was in a no win situation.

  21. Re those GDP figures

    That growth has been re-established is exactly why Jean-Claude Trichet (President of the ECB) has today called for all nations to adopt exactly the sort of measures that the Coalition has.

    To quote Trichet:

    “But there is little doubt that the need to implement a credible medium-term fiscal consolidation strategy is valid for all countries now.”

    Bear in mind that Trichet is not a small state, axe wielding neo-con.

  22. Thanks for that Ben – I didn’t mention the d’Hondt bit in my post because the image for the formula wasn’t coming up when looking at the legislation online. I assumed it was probably d’Hondt, but didn’t want to make an arse of myself if it turned out not to be.

    The fixed numbers for each country is interesting. Normally, outside Northern Ireland there is no consideration of the total number of seats in the country, the number of seats ends up purely as the sum of what the application of the quota to individual areas results in.

    A hard target for the number of seats has implications for how the boundary commission do their work. They will need to look at every country (or paired counties) at the beginning of the exercise and then allocate seats, leaving no room for later increases or decreases in the numbers of seats given to a county at the revising stage (or at least, not without adding or subtracting a seat elsewhere).

    Changes in the number of seats given to a county at the revised stage are rare anyway (I vaguely recall it not happening at all in the 4th review, but can’t recall if there were or not in the 5th review), so in practice it may not make much difference, but it will require the commissions to go about the job in a slightly different way.

    That’s the best explanation I’ve seen yet for the puzzle (to me at least) as to why the LDs went into coalition with the Tories.
    But it doesn’t explain why they didn’t plump for Confidence and Supply. No-one could have accused them of holding the country to ransom and they would have been able to still claim to be independent and a third force in UK politics.
    I still don’t understand their decision.

  24. At the last general election the Tories had an average votes per seat won of 34,865, Labour’s was 33,370


    A quick bit of maths follows….

    Con achieved 10.7 million votes. Which does equate, roughly, to 34,865 per seat won.

    Lab achieved 8.7 million votes. Which does equate, roughly, to 33,370 per seat won.

    And in order for Labour to win 306 seats (as the Conservatives did) – at 33,370 votes per seat – they would have needed to gain 10.2 million votes.

    So any discrepancy in the electoral system would seem to be just 0.5 million votes. It takes the Conservatives 10.7 million to win 306 seats and Labour 10.2 million to win 306 seats.

    So what is the fuss about?

    That seems a pretty balanced system to me already.

    I guess I’m missing something.

    But what?

  25. @MIKE N
    The difference between Wayne and yourself is that Waynes intends to be funny. You make some silly pro Labour comment in all seriousness. Do you think 1% growth as apposed to .6 % growth is going to settle the amount of debt this country has. You are as deluded as Gordon Brown. As for crime figures, as with anything to do with New Labour, they are so open to question regarding honesty and probity, who believes them ? Well clearly Labour supporters like you, but not the general public.

    I take it that David B and your self would on the basis of £200 per month pay rise buy a new Aston Martin for £120,000 with HP payments of £3500 per month. Thats your economics.

  26. It’s like batting one’s head against a brick wall. I am right in thinking Q2 is from April to June am I not?

  27. Roland
    Wayne intends to be funny

    Are you totally certain Roland?

    I expect after this discussion on who takes credit for the growth in April to June, to hear from one or two of our colleagues that black really is white after all.

  28. @Chris Todd

    It’s easy to underestimate the huge amount of pressure that all involved in were under to get a deal done, and get a deal done *quickly*.

    To me, one of the failings of the UK constitution, is that election results are enacted immediately. This means that governments have to be ready to go into place in a matter of days, and coalition negotiations like this have to happen under high pressure, because coalition has never been taken seriously by the two major parties so there were no real “contingency plans” in place other than a handful of platitudes and a few civil service memos.

    Compare it to the US, where the election is in November, but the government doesn’t actually change hands till Janurary. Allowing for a much more relaxed hand-over period.

  29. Anthony
    Back on thread topic, is there an estimate of what the original Con proposal of 500 seats would have meant?

    Incidentally is there any insight as to why 600 is now proposed? I don’t remember seeing that in the 5 year Agreement?

    Most grateful to hear if I am ignorant on this.

  30. @ROLAND
    I just love your posts!
    keep them coming, please.

  31. Jay,

    Just out of interest, the Dutch (elections were June 9th) have now gone back to trying to form a right wing Government but it would not be right wing without the PVV (Dutch UKIP).

    I think that will fail. Old premier Lubbers has now been appointed ‘informateur’ to report to the Queen.

    Lubbers is the man who amazed Margaret Thatcher by cutting civil servants salaries by 10% to cut debt and getting away with it.

  32. @Jay Blanc

    You can’t really compare the US presidential handover period to the UK system.

    The handover period in the US applies only to the president and the executive, who are of course separate from the legislature.

    It couldn’t work here because the executive is part of the legislature.

  33. If the growth is due to the coalition the gentleman must be the new emisarry from the Planet…..

    I’m in favour of PR therefore I will vot against AV it’s the worst possible thing to do as it inevitably creates a 3 party system with one party…no guesses who…in permanent government….After this expereice of them I feel there is a good reason to ensure it’s another 60 years before they get in again. Never have so many principles hit the ground so quickly in pursuit of so little.

    I wonder what happens to Mr Clegg if the loose the referendum?

    I think until next spring we’ll not see anything terribly significant but 20% VAT and a new Labour leader will clarify matters one way or other. Saw intesting piece that implied that Labour will ditch a looser quickly after this recent experience…of course they may all be losers…but then again the liberals may loose their collective nerve if things go sour…

  34. Isn’t it Sainte-Lague rather than D’Hondt?

    Don’t know if that makes any difference to the numbers though.

  35. Nick – no idea, the legislation on the Parliament website still has a broken image where the formula should be.

  36. @Chris Todd

    Averages don’t catch the nature of the problem, which only really arises in FPTP systems

    The problem is best explained in the article that this link takes you too:

    The summary is: Tory MPs are disproportionately returned in the larger constituencies and Labour MPs in the smaller ones

  37. @Julian Gilbert – “But it doesn’t explain why they didn’t plump for Confidence and Supply.”

    Remember the election? Cameron’s 48hr non-stop campaigning…the all night cliffhanger results. Clegg wanting to show how grown-up Europeans do things.

    LD fear of an October election.

    Clegg and Cameron could have both been vulnerable to claims that they had underperformed. This was the perfect mechanism for both leaders to shore up the off-centre position that they occupy in their own parties. Hence the need for a formal agreement to bind their MPs.

    I would love to hear a voice coach analyse NC. I am beginning to think that he is a very emotional politician… cf. his attitude to GB and the recent exchange with Jack Straw at PMQs. Perhaps the Tories found a way to rub him the right way.

    The portrait of GO pausing by the window during negotiations, to look impatiently into the back garden of No 10 is telling.

    However, Europeans usually take weeks rather than days to reach such an agreement, and LDs may repent at leisure that they did not take the option you suggest.

  38. Spelling lesson number 327.
    Loose – not tight. As in a loose noose.
    Lose – not win. As in lose hope.
    Not a comment on the coalition. Honestly.
    I’m a teacher BTW, so I’m allowed to be patronising.

  39. Cheers Nick – and yes, you are right, it’s Sainte-Lague not d’Hondt. I’ll have to do the sums to work out if it makes much difference.

  40. @Billy Bob “…cf. his attitude to GB”

    I have been thinking that NC allowed his personal dislike of GB to influence his decisions about a coalition with Lab.

    Coupled with NC’s ‘revelations’ at PMQs suggest to me that he is out of his depth.

  41. “But it doesn’t explain why they didn’t plump for Confidence and Supply.”

    There is also an argument that both sides felt that a coalition was more stable, therefore more reassuring to the markets and therefore in the national interest.

    Plus it is undoubtedly true that the Libs could have more of their agenda enacted through a coalition than confidence and supply with a Tory minority. The biggest pull on a minority government would have been their own backbenches pulling to the right. Certainly no raising of tax threshold, electoral reform, etc…

  42. Mike N – It still rankles with him. He even referred in PMQs to the difficultly he had being heard when he used to stand ‘down there’. But that was just GB’s way, a bit of a steamroller. :)

  43. @ Anthony,

    You misunderstood what I meant.

    I know the Boundary Commissions are always non-partisan. Therefore an even split in losses between Conservative & Labour won’t happen, except by accident.

    Maybe I should have said:
    Accidently – while being rigorously non-partisan – arrive at an outcome that is 20/20/8. 8-)

  44. @Roland – “As for crime figures, as with anything to do with New Labour, they are so open to question regarding honesty and probity, who believes them ?”

    Please Roland – a bit of self regulation wouldn’t go amiss. British Crime Survey figures are highly regarded- under all governments. Under Labour, changes they introduce to actual police crime figures had the impact of increasing crime as they wanted a more accurate measure of real crime after 18 years of figure fiddling to try to stem the rising tide.

    Its a similar record on unemployment stats – I think it was Tebbit who introduced 18 separate changes to the employment count, with strangely each one reducing headline unemployment. Very early on Labour moved to internationally accepted methods and have stuck with these ever since.

    I don’t claim Labour are statistical saints, but their record is better than their predecessors.

    @The last Fandango – ” there is little doubt that the need to implement a credible medium-term fiscal consolidation strategy is valid for all countries now” – indeed, and higher growth would mean that Darling’s more measured approach could well be seen as credible.

  45. @John Murphy

    You said “…I’m in favour of PR therefore I will vot[e] against AV…”

    This argument is difficult to defend logically: a vote against AV will be taken as support of the status-quo and bury PR stone-dead for decades.

    * If you genuinely want electoral reform, vote “Yes” and increase the chance of it happening.
    * If you genuinely don’t want electoral reform, vote “No” and reduce the chance of it happening (effectively to zero).

    Your contention that PR will be promoted by a “No” vote is in the “It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it” class of logical fallacies.

    Regards, Martyn

  46. For the Conservatives and Nick Clegg the Coalition works better than ‘Confidence and Supply”? It guaranteed 5 years of government for the Conservatives while it avoided a GE for the hard-up Lib Dems. Of course, a Lib Dem agrement with Labour would have meant Nick Clegg fighting Sheffield Hallam as a pseudo Labour candidate and certain defeat at the next GE? The price the Lib Dems will pay even with AV is a massive loss of seats. A price worth paying so Nick Clegg can go into the history books? Let’s hope David Cameron isn’t writing them! The USA joined WW2 in Dec 1941, 22 months after the war began! Clearly, the Oxford Uni PPE course is not as rigorous as it used to be?

  47. Billy Bob – I think MPs and aspiring MPs have got to have a pretty tough hide, lots of self belief, and most importantly pragmatism.

    When a person gets that close to governing the country they should set aside personalities to advance their party and country.


  48. The woderful thing about this site is the way some people refuse to accept TRUE facts, ie:

    I have been saying for weeks that the growth rate is going to exceed expectations, and sure enough the Q2 figures are 100% better than the 0.6% that most economists predicted…. thanks largely to the increase in business confidence brought about by the tough fiscal policies of the new government, reducing employers NI contributions and reducing corporation tax proposals. These all create growth, growth, growth

    The increasing Tory poll share since GE day is following the good news of economic growth and future prosperity. I said expect a Tory share of 46/48% by christmas and we are already seeing 43/44% shares. I told you all so !

    The above facts confrim that “exciting times” are ahead !!

  49. Nick

    By my reckoning these are the current allocations using Sainte-Lague, and what they would be under d’Hondt in brackets.

    England 503 (505)
    Scotland 50+2 (49+2)
    Wales 30 (29)
    Northern Ireland 15 (15)

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