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Labour, John McDonnell and the New Economics

John-McDonnell-red-flagOnce the surprise and the shock of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader had sunk in, many (including me) became impatient for policy initiatives and membership involvement in policy formation to come to the fore. Clearly cutting through media hostility is a major task but I find it difficult to see that more could not be done. For a start, direct communication through Labour Party channels has so far, to my knowledge, not been much used – as far as I can see, looking at things from a branch and CLP point of view. A case in point is Emily Thornberry’s excellent defence discussion paper. This does not seem to have been promoted throughout the Party with a request that the issues be debated. I cannot understand why not. And where is Seamus Milne’s communications team in all this? Labour’s communications effort to be ramped up a notch or two.

In one area at least, the economy, a systematic effort to develop policy along with discussion about the basic ideas involved, is being made by John McDonnell and his team. The problem here is that the left doesn’t seem much interested. Since McDonnell’s New Economics road show was launched on the 14 January it has featured several times on LabourList but has gone without mention on Left Futures. I find this difficult to understand.

The New Economics road show may not be the critical examination of economic concepts that some of us would like. Some of the celebrity economists involved are definitely not socialists (e.g. Joseph Stiglitz), so there is an awful long way to go to reach a critical socialist view of the economy. Nevertheless this is an important start. And if this material is made widely available it will provide an opportunity for the critical debate on economics that some of us believe to be a vital necessity. It is up to us to respond.

Here are details of the New Economics programme with some links to transcripts and recordings (where available).

The first announcement of the New Economics programme of debates appeared on Labour’s New Economics website where you will find video links to some of the lectures/debates that have already taken place.

  1. January 26, Economic Policy: from market fixing to market creating and shaping, Mariana Mazzucato, Royal Institution, London (video)
  2. February 3, Technology and the future world of work, Francesca Bria, Alex Srnicek and Daniel Susskind, House of Commons. (video)
  3. February 16, The new economics, John McDonnell, London School of Economics. (video, transcript)
  4. March 2, Rewriting the rules of the market economy to achieve shared prosperity, Joseph Stiglitz, Birkbeck College, London.
  5. March 8, Housing, John McDonnell in conversation with Danny Dorling. Bracknell.
  6. March 10, A balanced and sustainable economy, Ha-Joon Chang and Johanna Montgomerie,  The Space, Roundtree Way, Norwich.
  7. March 20, The Scottish economy in 2050, panel debate with Lesley Brennan (economist and MSP) and Christine Cooper (Professor of Accounting, Strathcylde University), Bonar Hall, Dundee.
  8. March 30, Finance, Yanis Varoufakis and Anastasia Nesvetailova, London.
  9. April 7, Framing the economic narrative, Simon Wren-Lewis and Ann Pettifor, Trinity Centre – Trinity Rd Bristol.
  10. April 20, Economic policy amid global slowdown – a view from the North, Paul Mason (author of Postcapitalism) and Adrienne Roberts (University of Manchester), Manchester.
  11. May 21, 11am – 5pm, Annual ‘State of the economy’ conference, John McDonnell, details to be announced.

The events all require registration. Demand is high and some events are fully booked already. Registration details and other information can be found at

This series of lectures and debates is an important effort to stimulate discussion of the economy but the materials need to be made widely available and should be drawm to the attention of Labour Party members. I hope that audio and/or video recordings will be provided for all the events. It is also really important that transcripts are made available.

I suggest that Left Futures should organised a booklet with all the lectures and possibly some additional notes by John McDonnell. That would be a whole lot more interesting than those awful booklets produced for One Nation Labour by the Policy Review led by Jon Cruddas. If the transcripts are not available then those who believe in the importance of developing a strong economic analysis should volunteer to do them. If Left Futures will take this on then I will offer to do one of the lectures + debate. Any other offers? Does not the Labour Party have any staff that could be enlisted to help in this? Perhaps all this is already in hand. If so that’s great but if not …

It would be a real shame if all this work were to disappear without being brought before the largest possible audience. So, how about it Left Futures?


  1. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

    A brilliant Start David, There is a small group of us in Gloucestershire that are proposing support for a structure where ordinary members can express ideas and gain support. We met will Momentum’s Adam Krug last week at the Gloucester and Cheltenham Momentum group, there we explained that the Grass roots members with ideas are unable propagate those ideas throughout the country as a whole, and asked what he would do to create the kind of structure essentially to deliver the level of democratic expression which is so badly needed.

    Time is of the essence as the Neo-Liberal agenda has accelerated to finish the job that was started by Milton Friedman over forty years ago.

    Whilst I applaud Jeremy’s and John McDonnell’s excursions around the country, it is not enough to create the kind of momentum that Momentum was set up to achieve.

    Sadly all of this is early days and Rome wasn’t built in a day. Left Futures should now start as you say David, offer a sounding board for ideas and reach out to a wider audience, we could also seek to explain those ideas in the public domain by inviting local BBC radio and at the very outside chance of getting programmes like channel 4 along, in order to promote the visions from the left.

    We should have a roving platform which discusses how the Neo-Liberal agenda has destroyed the world economy and invite University student audiences to attend and debate how that rolling agenda has transformed their lives and future prospects.

    We should also have our own means to record such events and share across the whole of the social media.

    Finally, we have locally met with resistance from people within the party that have their own agendas, because these people don’t openly declare political bias, we can only deduce that they are pro business and luke warm support for the public sector, but they use every blocking measure that they have at their disposal to thwart our objectives.

    We do persevere and are at least making progress whilst enlightening the membership as we go along.

    The NHS is a strategically vital issue, I believe is also an outright vote winner, so we have campaigned locally to make the NHS reinstatement bill party policy.

    We have therefore been jogging around the county seeking to address local parties that would adopt our motion, which not only encompasses the NHS reinstatement bill but takes back any area that has devolved powers to provide NHS services. So far Stroud and Cheltenham, have been receptive to our motion and Gloucester are due to debate it at our next AMM.

    This is the motion in full, and we would welcome this going viral throughout the country, as Labour appear luke warm in it’s support for the bill, once it becomes party policy we can really start the campaign that we can take to the country, instead of allowing the Neo-Liberals in the party who accept privatisation as a given and public provision a desperate fall back, as an example, Blair said we could not afford to take the railways back into public ownership, then after the rail disasters and mounting deaths was forced to prove himself wrong and took back Rail Track into public ownership.

    “We the members of Stroud Labour Party call on the National Executive to institute the following as a national health policy for the next Labour government to enact:

    That the Labour Party on coming into government will fully reinstate the NHS under the 2015 NHS Reinstatement Bill, with amendments that reincorporate the Manchester Health Service devolved powers back into the NHS nationally and any other such area of England that might be under similar devolved powers; that the NHS will become a fully integrated health and social care provider, fully funded, publicly owned, publicly provided, publicly accountable service and free at the point of use; further that those services privatised under the health and social care act of 2012 and 2013 should be returned into public ownership and reinstituted into the National Health Service at the earliest possible moment.”

    We would like as many local parties as possible to send this motion to conference to become party policy.

    This is also some supporting information relating to the bill.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Whilst I can only applaud both your sentiments above and also all your hard work on this, unfortunately I along with many other people strongly believe that the TTIP agreement (currently being rubber stamped over our collective national heads and regardless of public opinion by the EU,) will almost certainly now render all that illegal and therefor redundant on the grounds that the UKs traditional publicly funded, publicly owned and publicly operated NHS would be anti competitive; to private, run for profit, businesses and we certainly wouldn’t want that now would we ?

      Dear me no.

      The only purpose of a national health service should properly be to provide the maxim profit for the smallest number of people, all other considerations need to considered as peripheral to this and must be subordinated to this goal and TIPP seems to do this.

      But then it isn’t as if any of the people who were so clearly responsible for, (potentially,) perhaps as as many as 1200 premature and unnecessary deaths at Mid Stafs have ever been fired, prosecuted or even seriously reprimanded as a result of their incompetence and indifference.

      From the preamble to the Francis report.

      “Building on the report of the first inquiry, the story it tells is first and foremost of appalling suffering of many patients.”

      “This was primarily caused by a serious failure on the part of a provider Trust Board.

      “It did not listen sufficiently to its patients and staff or ensure the correction of deficiencies brought to the Trust’s attention.

      “Above all, it failed to tackle an insidious negative culture involving a tolerance of poor standards and a disengagement, (what a brilliantly tactful way of putting it, it’s basically just a euphemism for; couldn’t really give a fuck,) from managerial and leadership responsibilities.

      “This failure was in part the consequence of allowing a focus on reaching national access targets, achieving financial balance and seeking foundation trust status to be at the cost of delivering acceptable standards of care.

      “The story would be bad enough if it ended there, but it did not. The NHS system includes many checks and balances which should have prevented serious systemic failure of this sort.

      “There were and are a plethora of agencies, scrutiny groups, commissioners, regulators and professional bodies, all of whom might have been expected by patients and the public to detect and do something effective to remedy non-compliance with acceptable standards of care.

      “For years that did not occur, and even after the start of the Healthcare Commission investigation, conducted because of the realization that there was serious cause for concern, patients were, in my view, left at risk with inadequate intervention until after the completion of that investigation a year later.

      “In short, a system which ought to have picked up and dealt with a deficiency of this scale failed in its primary duty to protect patients and maintain confidence in the healthcare system.”

      This report, along with the others which had preceded it has been comprehensively ignored by everyone who is involved in washing thier hands of any responsibility for the NHS from Andy Burnham and Jeremy Hunt downwards, so really how much notice is anyone at all supposed to take of any pious resolution passed by, for example. the Cheltenham and Gloucester Labor party however admirable in principle.

  2. David Ellis says:

    Corbyn and Co have already had their Syriza moment when they overnight embraced the bosses’ EU and decided to vote with Cameron in the referendum rendering McDonnell’s economic approach moot because the Labour Party is on its way out as a result. But as David says in the piece none of it is remotely socialist in any case.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      I completely agree with you.

  3. Laurie Rhodes says:

    Absolutely brilliant piece.
    The inability of a mechanism for fresh ideas to be circulated and discussed by the left is probably the biggest problem we face. Economics is the core problem any progressive government will face but it seems to have little interest from the left.

    In that spirit, the link below is for a discussion paper I wrote in regard to Corporate Tax avoidance with a potential solution for closing the loopholes while supporting local business without the use of tariffs. I would love to think there are also others who consider the topic important.

    1. James Martin says:

      I agree that the huge boost in the numbers of socialists and strength of the left in the Labour Party has outstripped our organisational structures when it comes to inclusive debates. Of course the traditional way the right (Progress et al) do it is via undemocratic and unaccountable ‘think tanks’ (witness Jarvis’s vague speech about nothing in particular last week), which many of us on the left are instinctively hostile to, but we need to really up our game (better websites, discussion magazines etc.) although McDonnell’s economics road show is a great idea in itself.

    2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      “Ceci n’est pas une socialiste.”

  4. Verity says:

    Lest there are some who are inclined to think that somehow there has been discussions within the Momentum membership, I can assure that the overwhelming number signed up to Momentum hear and see nothing at all, ever.

    The Media for their own reasons have chosen to portray the ‘Movement’ as displacing the Labour Party in organisational, influence or discussion forms. However, outside of what may amount to a dozen or so (perhaps a few more) groups, the Momentum membership is similar to what I imagine it is like to be a member of the Conservative Party. Completetly impotent. It is especially surprising that the internet or websites have not been employed to attempt to connect with ‘Supporters’. Although I believe that these people could be enlivened in the event of a leadership contest in the near future, they are neutralised at the current time with few signs of any progress. Why the ‘organisation’ does not at least attempt a pale reflection of the Progress Conference over this last period is difficult to grasp. Progress no doubt continue in their patient, sturdy, slogging form. even the Labour Representation Committee cannot muster website or any alternative forum.

    It is not difficult to understand why. The ‘Left’ rise did not arise from a mass movement of ideas it grew up around an individual (or two). There is a limit to what a couple of people can do when preoccupied by those who have nothing else to do except snipe or oppose or most likely want some attention. The Left is, and was waiting, for the ‘leaders’ to tell them of the way ahead. This is especially marked in the EU campaign. So when ‘the leaders’ fail to offer any challenge to the Establishment, the Left becomes disoriented and neutralised. The Left in the Labour Party has not mobilised in any other form than ‘follow the leader’. Corbyn and McDonnell are busy protecting the best in the Labour Party, there is nothing stopping others activating Left wing initiatives.

    1. David Ellis says:

      It does seem that Momentum was established to divert and defang and lock in the closet the movement that got Corbyn elected. And whilst they while away their time in darkness and irrelevance labour’s left opportunists as ever cave in to the right on every possible issue except an irrelevant one like Trident which is supposed to make everybody think `he’s still got it’ when clearly he hasn’t.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Once again, I completely agree with you.

    2. James Martin says:

      I agree Verity, although I think that the Momentum experience has so far been different depending on what area you are in, where there have been local groups things have been a lot more involved than for those of us where it seems being a Momentum supporter equals a top down email once in a blue moon. I would like to see us doing some of the better and more productive things from the last left surge in the 1980s, and in particular something like Tony Benn’s open Chesterfield conferences where people could get together in a fraternal atmosphere and debate socialism. One of the key problems for socialists when it comes to economics is how you can create socialism or a transition to it within the confines of capitalism. The reformist left has traditionally resolved that in the unsatisfactory way of arguing for a nicer or kinder form of capitalism – and in many ways McDonnell’s recent statements look like a repeat of that. But without debate and a way of doing that debate in a meaningful way the real danger we face is that we become observers to what a few people in the PLP do or say, rather than being the real driving force in a socialist movement from below.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        This is Momentum?

        One of Momentum’s four full-time staffers is James Schneider, 28, who helped run 17,000 volunteers during the Corbyn leadership campaign.

        He is now involved in building up Momentum with the aim of turning it into a mass social movement engaged with community organizations, which is Corbyn’s objective too.

        (Community organizations; what about people who work?)

        Schneider, from London, does not fit the stereotype of a hardened leftwinger.

        He was educated at Winchester and Oxford, studied theology, worked as a journalist covering Africa, volunteered to work on the Corbyn campaign and stayed.

        He was previously a member of the Liberal Democrats.

        1. James Martin says:

          Weston, unless you can show what you are doing to build a better alternative your constant attacks on this site on the Labour Party and the socialists in it are nothing more than Daily Mail cheer-leading, although I actually suspect that this is your intent.

          1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            My only intent here is to express the opinions, (and yes the criticisms,) that I choose to express, (although I’m sure that someone more articulate would do it far better,) but to my mind the Labor party has been been reduced to little more than cheap middle class racket promoting only their own narrow self interest and moral nihilism under pretext of a achieving a false and unconvincing consensus.

            Most socialist are, like myself, probably now far more comfortable outside and increasingly silly and irreverent labor party, (post Blair,) and are increasingly wondering what if anything the point of the Labor party now is, and as I’ve pointed out previously there are now more members of RSPB than their are of all the political parties put together.

            You clearly didn’t appreciate my comments, but the only response you had was some tired, clichéd and risible crap about the daily mail, which says it all really.

  5. Bazza says:

    Yes from our small left at the top and from the large left grassroots upwards.
    Also hone up the political attacks.
    For example upper class Osborne is proposing allowing those on poverty pay to get £50 per month if they can put away £50 per month but believe me the working poor are struggling and yet Osborne as Chancellor gave 13,800 millionaires an extra £2,000 er month in tax cuts!

  6. David Pavett says:

    I tried in my piece above to highlight the importance of economic debate and the contribution that John McDonnell road show is contributing to that debate. At the same time I indicated that the debate so far has some significant limitations in that it is largely reduced to a (partial) Keynsian critique which argues for greater government intervention and regulation while leaving the capitalist infrastructure of the economy in place.

    My view is that a left Labour government based on nothing but this view will ultimately fail in the same way as previous Labour governments. There has to be a perspective on a longer term transition to different type of society namely a socialist one. That thought is so far not part of the debate and on the rare occasions that it is mentioned it is muttered sotto voce.

    The ideological triumph of the capitalism over the last fifty years has been so strong that its effect even colour what people feel able to say (or even think) on the left. Do we believe in a fundamentally different form of organisation of society or do we think that Keynsian-type regulation of the capitalist economy is the last word in human history. The answer from the left is far from clear.

    This lack of clarity even shows in the editing of my article. In it I wrote

    Some of the celebrity economists involved are definitely not socialists (e.g. Joseph Stiglitz, Ann Pettifor, Mariana Mazzucato)

    In the published version this became

    Some of the celebrity economists involved are definitely not socialists (e.g. Joseph Stiglitz)

    I was not asked about removing the other names and I think that I have the right to ask what was the motivation for the deletion.

    Ann Pettifor is very clear. She does not claim to be a socialist and rejects the idea that any sort of fundamental transformation of society is needed to sort out our economic and social problems (she does this, for instance in her book Just Money). So why was her name removed? I can’t imagine that she would be offended by having it pointed out that she is not a socialist.

    The effect of the deletion is to weaken my point that the current economic debate organised by John McDonnell, welcome though it is, nevertheless avoids the task of a fundamental critique of capitalism.

    P.S. And even on their own terms the Keynesian advocates of regulated capitalism fail to deal with issues such as the free movement of capital (basic EU doctrine) even though Keynes was of the view that economic regulation required the control of capital movement across borders.

    1. David Ellis says:

      In fact David I think McDonnell has bought these high profile bourgeois economists in precisely to shut down any debate about a socialist transformation.

      Under-consumptionism is the last refuge of the opportunist. Do these people really believe that if Keynesianism worked they capitalist wouldn’t do it? If it was just a matter of boosting conumption and investment that they would not grab that life raft with both hands? If it was that easy there would be no problems.

    2. Verity says:

      In my opinion you are right to raise the issue about the limitations on who has become involved in the economic debate thus far. I agree that there needs to be more challenging discussion amongst proclaimed socialists. However I am also content that McDonnell engages in what he feels he needs to do to raise that discussion, even where it involves a much wider audience. This is particularly important where he has to meet the needs of the non socialist attention – seekers in the PLP.

      What the changes raises in my mind is the multidimensional aspects to the role that McDonnell now has. Of course this should not left McDonnell off the hook in eventually addressing questions asked by Socialists. In my view McDonnell is not McDonnell, but is the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has to have much more scope to engage with huge numbers of people previously who not previously been involved. It is healthy that he moves on from the old reliable, repetitive gang. There is plenty of opportunities for other potential McDonnells to come to the fore to do his own old job for him. The eventual outcome will be the richer when the full inclusion occurs. I am regularly disappointed by the Labour Party culture of looking to their leaders to do things that we should all be doing ourselves without the need for these leaders. In that respect I welcome your initiative to develop parallel debates to what others choose at particular points in time.

    3. Danny Nicol says:

      Thanks David. We need a better Labour left blog which welcomes contentious posts rather than suppressing them, and which does not delete perfectly reasonable observations which it finds (rather inexplicably) inconvenient like the one about Ann Pettifor.

      When this blog would not publish my post on the implausibility of a social Europe I had to change it into a more detailed academic piece and get it published on the UK Constitutional Law blog, which welcomed it and immediately contacted someone with the opposite view and got him to pen a reply. That’s how a proper blog should work, encouraging controversy not expunging it.

      1. David Pavett says:

        To be fair to Left Futures I would like to say that it generally has quite an inclusive policy on contributions. I wondered if it might have problems with my criticisms of it in the first part of my piece. It did not and they appeared as written. That’s a good sign.

        And, frankly, I don’t know where else I would get my stuff published. I suggest that LF has a role but that it needs more contributors. Some writers appear far to frequently and often not particularly usefully. Those who want a wider range of views should get writing – it’s a great way of clarifying one’s own ideas!

        I think that the deletions were probably based on a desire not to upset people supporting Corbyn. (If so it was inconsistent because they should have removed Stiglitz as well.) We have yet to establish really open and inclusive forms of debate on the left. In practice we tend to be as manipulative and as exclusionist as the right and as based on the decisions of a tiny group at the centre of things. So I guess that the removal of the names was done without a lot of thought. I will certainly ask LF not to make changes of content like that again without asking me (or any other author) first.

    4. Laurie Rhodes says:

      With Murdoch’s media salivating at a chance to portray Labour’s parliamentary leadership as delusional, I don’t believe John McDonnell really has any ability to promote a particularly radical agenda.

      Tony Benn once said that real change is like a wave, it starts in the community and grows with parliamentarians being the very last to come on-board. For Labour to start adopting a more radical policy platform, pressure would need to occur from broad grass-roots discussion and consensus amongst membership. A mechanism that promotes broad and open discussion is a priori for party leadership being associated with anything more radical than what we have. To that ends, John McDonnell must be applauded for trying to do something!

      Any government that attempts to decrease the power of the most powerful interests can expect the full force of that power to be used against it. History has shown increasing pressure being brought against democracies that move against the consolidated power of private ownership. The election of Jeremy Corbyn, as with the finance ministry of Yanis Varoufakis has itself been enough for an unrelenting media campaign to erode support for any departure from status quo. Labour’s current hurdle is to forge enough solidarity for an alternative policy platform that the corrosive influence of the media becomes impotent. If the party was successful and took the government benches with a progressive policy agenda, the next hurdle would be economic. A radical incoming government could look forward to an economic assault with capital flight, currency volatility, foreign exchange shocks and possibly even trade embargoes.

      France’s foreign exchange crisis in 1983 or the European currency crisis of 1992-1993 showed just how vulnerable countries like France, Britain and Ireland are in trying to regulate capital movement. Yet, without controlling capital and regulating against market volatility, we can’t expect anything fundamentally different to what we have now. Apart from Allende’s Chile, there are very few examples of democratic nations where domestic support for a left wing government has grown in spite of an international destabilisation campaign.

      In 1984, New Zealand was launched into a simultaneous constitutional and economic crisis. The country had just elected a Labour government with a traditional policy platform of increased spending in healthcare, education and national infrastructure. In response to the election, a run on currency reserves almost bankrupted the economy as speculators shifted every bit of capital they could out of the nation. The constitutional crisis was that the incoming government wasn’t even sworn in and was powerless to act against the withdrawal of capital. There is no reason to believe international investors and speculators would act any differently if their interests were threatened in Britain.

      There is a lot we take for granted purely because so much control has been transferred to “markets” over the past 30 years. We are not forced to regularly think about tax regulation, foreign reserves or exchange controls as the post-depression generation were forced to do. We have come to ignore core elements of economic policy because they have been out-of-sight and out-of-mind for so long. To make it worse, these “market mechanisms” have been rocked with ongoing scandals from the GFC to the Libor, Municipal derivates, Gold and Silver price manipulation, that all show their routine manipulation in the interests of the powerful players.

      The absence of broad discussion mechanisms external to Labour’s hierarchy is a very real issue – especially in regard to economics.

  7. Bazza says:

    On the Left’s top down, bottom up organisation. I head someone from a campaigning organisation recently say that you need a BRAND, A STRATEGY, OBJECTIVES, (and I would add) and a WHAT WE WANT.
    In short structure.
    We have a BRAND in Momentum.
    Our STATEGY should be perhaps something like: to build a left wing democratic socialist Labour Party and to help elect this to Government for the benefit of the working class/working people in the UK and internationally.
    Our OBJECTIVES (how we are going to do this)could include: a Momentum National Committee; a monthly Momentum email/e bulletin to keep members informed; Momentum local groups; a Momentum website with a blog etc. where members can discuss ideas; Momentum regional and national conferences and events to share ideas to help develop grassroots bottom-up policy; the promotion of left wing democratic socialist candidates for the NEC; the promotion of left wing democratic socialist policies for Annual Conference; the promotion of left wing democratic socialists as potential Labour MPS and Councillors; more diverse representatives including working class men and women; the promotion of trade unionism including unionising migrant workers; more face-to-face discussions and e consultations.
    WHAT WE WANT – could be things like: decent and affordable homes for a all; a free NHS for all; the elimination of poverty; global cooperation and international peace; a redistribution of wealth; empowering communities and people at work; the promotion of equality; shorter working weeks and earlier retirement, more democratic public ownership, an end to austerity etc. You add your own.
    But we do need to improve the flow of information top-down, and bottom up, and I believe Jeremy and John hopefully as leaders more importantly will be facilitators of grassroots power.
    Just some food for thought.
    Yours in solidarity.

  8. Danny Nicol says:

    Meanwhile, the EU is going to accord an even greater legislative role to large corporations and – to crown it all – to the US authorities. How can socialists tolerate this?

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