Theresa May and the Conservative Party’s Alarming White Fascist Aspirations

8.10.16

Theresa May, Britain's Prime Minister, making her first speech as PM. I slightly edited the banner behind her.It was always worrying that Theresa May, on being handed the leadership of the Conservative Party, unelected by either the Party or, more crucially, the British public, was immediately positioned as a safe pair of hands by the corrupt mainstream media, an illusion that was widely embraced by ordinary members of the general public. Immediately, it became apparent that a strong-looking woman in charge of the Tory party — and suddenly the ghost of Margaret Thatcher was back amongst us — appeals not just to Tory boarding school inadequates, but also to the British people in general, as a result, I believe, of the deep damage caused to the British psyche by centuries of class division and Puritanism.

Metaphysically, Theresa May was the only senior official left standing after the brutal denouement of the EU referendum — with David Cameron gone, George Osborne doomed, Boris Johnson disgraced for having campaigned to win something he didn’t even believe in, and Michael Gove just plain creepy — but that didn’t mean she should have been anointed to lead, after the last irritant, Andrea Lettsom, was disposed of.

As I hope I made clear in my article, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration, she is not a safe pair of hands at all, but an alarming authoritarian, with a track record on counter-terrorism that is dangerously Islamophobic — remember her obsession with deporting Abu Qatada, rather than putting him on trial if he had committed a crime (see here and here), remember how she crowed about extraditing a Muslim British citizen with Asperger’s to the US, but refused to extradite a white British citizen with Asperger’s (see my Al-Jazeera article here), and remember how she stripped British citizens in Syria of their citizenship so that they could be killed in US drone attacks (see here and here).

As a result of the above, it is no surprise that removing Britain’s human rights obligations has become one of the priorities of May’s government, even though it is idiotic, as I explained in my 2015 article, What Does It Say About the Tories That They Want to Scrap Human Rights Legislation? At the time, however, it looked considerably more difficult than it does now, because withdrawing from European human rights legislation (the European Convention on Human Rights, written in 1949-50, and with a prominent role in its drafting taken by the British Conservative MP and lawyer Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, who had been a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials) means withdrawing from the Council of Europe, and EU membership is dependent on CoE membership. So we leave the EU and we can also join the dictatorship Belarus as the only countries in the whole of Europe (as conceived in its widest sense) that do not subscribe to European human rights legislation.

The bonfire of rights continued at the Tories’ conference last week, with promises to exempt soldiers from pesky human rights legislation, via Theresa May’s chilling promise that “we will never again in any future conflict let those activist left wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave: the men and women of our armed forces.”

While British soldiers continue to face calls for them to be held accountable for torture and extrajudicial murder in Iraq, May’s plans — conceived with the not entirely bright defence secretary Michael Fallon — are deeply worrying.

Beyond the assault on human rights, the Tories’ conference was also notable for Theresa May, nominally a pro-Remain MP, enthusiastically endorsing an extremist Leave position, and presenting the UK as a bastion of white isolationism — with exceptions made for supportive non-white citizens, and, of course, any foreigner with money, whatever their colour.

For Politics.co.uk, Ian Dunt described the change in his article, “The Tories have finally become UKIP,” noting how, after May “confirmed on Sunday that she would pursue a hard Brexit and pull Britain out of the single market, [w]hat even 12 months ago would have been considered economically insane is now a cosy consensus.” As he also explained, May’s “hard Brexit” policy “actually goes further than that which Nigel Farage’s allies once held in the past. Even Aaron Banks, the aggressively eurosceptic donor to UKIP, not so long ago supported the Norway option [in which Norway has access to the single market but no vote over EU rules], which apparently now is some sort of wishy washy betrayal of the democratic will.”

And in this idiotic vision of an isolated white Britain, the assault on immigrants also fully embraces the UKIP position. In the last week, the Tories have, as Ian Dunt described it, “pledged to phase out foreign doctors, cut down on the numbers of foreign students, put landlords in jail for not checking their tenants’ residency papers and ‘name and shame’ companies for hiring foreign workers.”

On foreign doctors, Theresa May suggested, as the Guardian described it, that “foreign doctors will only be working in the NHS for an ‘interim period’ until more UK-trained physicians are available.” On BBC Breakfast, “[a]sked whether she could reassure foreign NHS staff they were welcome to stay for now,” she said, “Yes. There will be staff here from overseas in that interim period – until the further number of British doctors are able to be trained and come on board in terms of being able to work in our hospitals.”

Describing people working in the NHS, for years or decades, as “interim” workers is spectacularly insulting, of course, but it is typical of this government’s post-referendum racism and xenophobia.

At the Tories’ conference, Amber Rudd, the new home secretary, also promised to clamp down on foreign students — a favourite ploy of May’s when she was home secretary. As the Independent described it, Rudd “said there had to be ‘tougher’ regulation for students on lower quality courses and raised the prospect of English language tests for people coming to study here. Under her plans, taxi drivers will have mandatory immigration checks, landlords could face jail if they let a flat to someone in the country illegally and more EU criminals would be deported.”

And yet, as Martin Vander Weyer pointed out in the right-wing Spectator last month:

In the post-Brexit landscape … one thing is clear: soon we’ll have to … start pushing British products the world wants to buy. One such is education, at our universities, independent schools and English-language colleges — an export sector calculated in 2011 by the now defunct Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to be worth £17.5 billion.

Not only does this sector attract foreign exchange, plug funding gaps for cash-strapped universities and support thousands of jobs, it also lays the ground for future relationships with students who return home to embark on business careers. And as the global population of international students grows by 6 per cent a year, it’s a great ‘soft power’ opportunity to bolster British influence around the world.

However, under Theresa May as home secretary, “UK visas granted to non-EU foreign students actually fell by 6 per cent a year, to 187,000 in 2014. Behind this were two much-bandied claims: that many colleges were ‘bogus’, and that up to 90,000 non-EU students a year were outstaying their visas. A report this June by the campaigning organisation ExEdUK pointed out that of the more than 800 colleges which lost their licences to sponsor international students, many fewer deserved the ‘bogus’ label: lots were ‘legitimate, quality-assured institutions who have found the sponsorship compliance system too complex’. And Destination Education, published this week by the IPPR thinktank, concludes that the 90,000 figure for overstayers is ‘not reliable enough to be used as a guide for policy.’”

Amber Rudd also caused consternation to business leaders by proposing to force companies to disclose how many foreign workers they employ. As the Guardian described it, “senior figures in the business world warned the plan would be a ‘complete anathema’ to responsible employers and would damage the UK economy because foreign workers were hired to fill gaps in skills that British staff could not provide. One chief executive of a FTSE 100 company, whose workforce includes thousands of EU citizens, said it was ‘bizarre.’”

The Guardian added that “[t]he proposals, which are subject to consultation, have also been questioned from within the Conservative party. Lord Finkelstein, the Tory peer, told the BBC it was a ‘misstep’, while Tory MP Neil Carmichael, chairman of the House of Commons education select committee, said the policy was ‘unsettling’ and would ‘drive people, business and compassion out of British society and should not be pursued any further.’”

The most powerful criticism of Rudd’s stance came from James O’Brien of LBC, who read out what he said was an excerpt from Rudd’s speech: “For the state must draw a sharp line of distinction between those who, as members of the nation, are the foundation and support of its existence and greatness, and those who are domiciled in the state, simply as earners of their livelihood there.’ That sounded exactly like what Rudd had been saying, but O’Brien then reveals that it was actually from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

In his article, Ian Dunt also made a point of focusing on the Tories’ bullying arrogance” and their “thinly-concealed hatred of immigrants.” Adding, “I used that word specifically,” he explained, “Over this conference, the veil of respectability has slowly being lifted away. This is not even really about immigration anymore. It’s about immigrants themselves. Look where the constant ‘othering’ of immigrants has taken us.”

He continued:

Take the company listing policy. The implicit assumption in the idea we would ‘name and shame’ companies who hire migrant workers is that there is something shameful about having done so, that there is something morally wrong about having foreigners on your pay roll.

Take the foreign doctors policy. Doctors are to be ‘allowed’ to stay until we train up sufficient indigenous workers. As if these people, who have often been here for decades, treating, caring for and saving us, are here at our tolerance. Because after all, what other possible attitude could you have towards an immigrant? Certainly not equality. Certainly not human co-existence. Certainly not friendship. They are different, a foreign infection. At best we allow them temporary residence. And that is us at our kindest.

Take the language used by Brexit secretary David Davis, as he talks about “our own population”. What does he mean by this? Those who have citizenship? Those who were born here? Those with both parents from here, or just one? White people? “Our own” is us, so who is them? We all know. Wink wink.

For many, let’s go ahead and admit it, it’ll be white people. And they will hear a secretary of state validating their view. For others, maybe one parent is enough. For some — oh how liberal — anyone born here. But it’s clear which game is being played. The us vs them game. The game whereby there are ‘our people’, our tribe, our group, and then the others. Who will never be us.

Take Liam Fox and his admission that the rights of EU citizens in the UK are “one of our main cards” in EU negotiations. Just stop for a moment and take that in. They’re not people, with families and friends and lives and careers here, not people who say hello to the man at the shop when they buy the milk, not people who do research or start companies, or fund the NHS, or teach kids. They are things. They are a tactical advantage. They are a means, not an ends. Our people are ends. European migrants? They are one of our main cards.

And what happens when we misuse our “main cards” as Theresa May and her hapless, dimwit ministers have misused everything else? After all, deciding when to trigger Article 50 was one of the UK team’s main pieces of leverage, and she threw that away by casually saying when she’d do it on the Andrew Marr programme. Only after having done so did she ask Europe for preliminary talks, like a gunman throwing down his weapon and then telling his opponent to surrender. Europe of course said no.

What happens if they fail to leverage these cards like they did the Article 50 card? What is the logical consequence of Fox’s comments?

Mass deportations. It sounds alarmist doesn’t it? No, it wouldn’t involve Nazi officers banging on doors. It would all be very polite and English. A very polite but firm Home Office letter would come through the letter box and it would have a deadline. If you don’t make that deadline — or if the authorities say they have reason to believe you won’t — the immigration enforcement vans come.

The sudden exodus of three million people from the UK. That is the suggestion. That is the threat. That is what is implicit in Fox’s card game. It might be the most shameful policy Britain has considered in living memory. It is so shameful no-one dares say it out loud. They only imply it. But that is what he is proposing. That is the reality.

In conclusion, Ian Dunt pointed out that, although Theresa May told her supporters that “the Tories are the new centrist party, [i]n actual fact they have drifted further to the authoritarian nativist right than at any point since Thatcher and arguably before then,” and added, “We are entering a profoundly dangerous moment in British political history.”

Is this over the top? I wish I could say that it is, but I can’t. After all, it was Theresa May who, as home secretary, conceived and implemented the blunt and insulting racism that involved vans with a message for immigrants to “go home” that she sent around the streets of London, it was Theresa May who showed a disgusting lack of sympathy for immigrants last September, after the photo of three-year old Ayman Kurdi, drowned on a beach, went viral and generated huge sympathy for the plight of refugees. At the time, I noted her hardline approach, when, as I put it, she “was refusing calls for an EU quota for refugees, and disagreeing with a suggestion by the EU’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, that ‘no migrants’ intercepted at sea should be ‘sent back against their will.’”

I have also despised Theresa May ever since, as I also described it this summer, she refused “to grant visas to the foreign spouses of UK nationals if the latter do not earn £18,600 a year, which, it should be noted, is more than the national median income for the UK, and roughly the same as the median income in London.” As I explained, “I have friends who have been affected by this, and am shocked and appalled that this arbitrary decision that love can only cross national boundaries with a price tag has been allowed to stand, tearing apart tens of thousands of blameless families and causing untold damage to the children affected.”

And yet, this kind of callousness is, it seems, typical of Theresa May and the party she and her ministers are gleefully dragging to the far right. All decent people should be worried, and we should — we must — find a way to make our voices heard on the suicidal rush to a “hard Brexit” and an isolated UK before it is too late.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the disturbing lurch towards the far right that was evident at the Conservative Party conference last week, with unelected PM Theresa May now supporting a “hard Brexit”, and the Tories as a whole adopting Nazi-like racism, xenophobia and isolationism, telling 3.6m EU citizens in the UK that they are nothing more than “bargaining chips” in negotiations with the EU, telling foreign doctors living here and working for the NHS that they are only welcome until British-born replacements can be trained, promising further clampdowns on foreign students, and preventing British soldiers from being subjected to irritating human rights legislation. We should all be very worried, and we need to work out how to resist this hijacking of the decent, tolerant Britain that so many of us want to uphold.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s a joint statement on the need for progressive parties to resist the Tories’ toxic politics, signed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the Leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood, and Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, the co-leaders of the Green Party:

    The countries of the United Kingdom face a spiralling political and economic crisis. At the top of the Conservative Party, the narrow vote in favour of leaving the EU has now been interpreted as the pretext for a drastic cutting of ties with Europe, which would have dire economic results – and as an excuse for the most toxic rhetoric on immigration we have seen from any government in living memory.

    This is a profoundly moral question which gets to the heart of what sort of country we think we live in. We will not tolerate the contribution of people from overseas to our NHS being called into question, or a new version of the divisive rhetoric of ‘British jobs for British workers’. Neither will we allow the people of these islands, no matter how they voted on June 23rd, to be presented as a reactionary, xenophobic mass whose only concern is somehow taking the UK back to a lost imperial age. At a time of increasing violence and tension, we will call out the actions of politicians who threaten to enflame those same things.

    This is not a time for parties to play games, or meekly respect the tired convention whereby they do not break cover during each other’s conferences. It is an occasion for us to restate the importance of working together to resist the Tories’ toxic politics, and make the case for a better future for our people and communities. We will do this by continuing to work and campaign with the fierce sense of urgency this political moment demands.

    Signed by:

    Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
    Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
    Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
    Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru
    Steven Agnew, Leader of the Green Party of Northern Ireland
    Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Green Party
    Alice Hooker-Stroud, Leader of the Wales Green Party

    See: http://www.snp.org/cross_party_statement_on_resisting_the_tories_toxic_politics

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. It has been a genuinely disturbing week, not least because it has become evident that we have no united opposition to the Tories’ rightward drift that is significant enough to make a dent in it. We ought to get out on the streets, in significant numbers, but we no longer seem able to contemplate doing so. Instead, we must hope that judges will endorse challenges to Theresa May’s Brexit plans, demanding that MPs get to vote on leaving the EU, or that MPs do so themselves. The Observer reports that a cross-party alliance of MPs “says it should be consulted over future trade decisions, saying referendum was on EU membership; not single market.”
    The article states, “Theresa May is under massive cross-party pressure to grant MPs a vote on any decision to leave or limit UK involvement in the European single market, amid growing outrage at the prospect that parliament could be bypassed over the biggest economic decision in decades. Tory MPs joined forces with former leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Greens to insist that parliament have a say and a vote, pointing out that, while the British people had backed leaving the EU, they had not chosen to leave the biggest trading market in the western world.”
    See: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/08/mps-demand-vote-hard-brexit-single-market

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Another worrying article in the Observer, about the Tories’ complete lack of a coherent plan, despite last week’s “hard Brexit” rhetoric from Theresa May: “[W]hile the momentum is towards a full-blown exit, contradictory noises are coming from chancellor Philip Hammond and business secretary Greg Clark, who favour Britain retaining its place inside the single market. Business leaders are increasingly frustrated at the lack of a coherent plan: is it even possible, they ask, for the UK to extract concessions over access to European markets while also taking back control of immigration?”
    See: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/08/after-sterlings-terrifying-plunge-bosses-plead-for-clarity-on-the-future-of-brexit

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    The only good news – although not for the right reasons. As the Daily Telegraph reports, “All EU nationals currently living in Britain will be allowed to stay following Brexit, after the Home Office discovered that five in six could not legally be deported. There are around 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK, more than 80 per cent of whom will have permanent residency rights by the time Britain leaves the union in early 2019, official research has concluded. The remainder – more than 600,000 people – will be offered an amnesty, with several Cabinet ministers telling The Telegraph that those citizens will be offered the right to stay permanently, in a policy that may prove controversial.”
    See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/07/every-eu-migrant-can-stay-after-brexit-600000-will-be-given-amne/

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Rehaan Raja wrote:

    That was a brilliantly written article! Salute!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Rehaan. Your support is greatly appreciated. I’m hoping my reflections on the Tories positioning themselves on the far right are getting out to people. I know others are writing about it, and are concerned, but with a few exceptions commentators in the mainstream media are not as shocked as they should be – and, of course, we’re up against some corporate-sponsored editorial positions that are actually hugely supportive of our isolation and xenophobia.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Joelle Sprung wrote:

    we are very worried

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Joelle. Yes, there are so many of us who are shocked and appalled, and have been since June 23, and yet, sadly, a strong united front against the Tories simply doesn’t exist. I think we have been very badly let down by the Labour Party, and I’m also disappointed that the Stronger In campaign has only reinvented itself as Open Britain, with a narrow focus on keeping us in the single market: http://www.open-britain.co.uk

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Congratulations to the Observer for this headline yesterday: “The ill-thought ideas emanating from the hard Brexiters are alarming and unpleasant. This people know only what they do not like. They have little idea how to replace the hard-won principles and institutions they traduce. They convey an undertone of intolerance and xenophobia. They are a testament to what looks increasingly like a retreat from Britain’s liberal, inclusive and open-minded tradition and a return to a narrow, delusional world of Little England.”
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154637108028804&set=a.10150687732288804.452718.738143803&type=3

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Karina Barker wrote:

    Excellent journalism, no holds barred, what it’s supposed to be about.
    Although in my 15 years as a journo, I never once used, or even heard, the word “traduce”.
    Fair play, Observer.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I was very pleased to see such bold journalism, Karina. It’s sadly a rarity these days, as much of the mainstream media is content to pander to extreme positions that can secure readers/viewers rather than accepting that they also have an obligation to make sure that more moderate views are heard.
    And yes, “traduce” is definitely out there journalistically these days!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Yann Riguidel wrote:

    In France all our mainstream media are owned by billionnaires and all speak the same way. other voices ridiculed or insulted without rationals. Using words like “racism” or “xenophobia” take the disussion out of the rational realm of what I think a political debate should be, and take it straight to the emmotional arena. It also makes a pressuposition that pro europe are not racist or xenophobic which I think is ridiculous.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Yann – and thanks for letting me know that the state of the French media is just as corrupt. You know, we’re encouraged to know so little about each other’s countries that I didn’t even realise that was the case, although of course it doesn’t surprise me. It’s another reason we should be cooperating more closely, not splitting off into backwards-looking factions.
    Your point about bypassing rational thought and appealing to the emotions is spot-on – and you’re also right to mention that just because people are pro-EU doesn’t mean that they’re not racist or xenophobic. Unfortunately, recognition of that just splits us still further. I can’t recall a time with so many fundamental divisions in my lifetime, and it really does seem to me that rational people need to prioritise opposition to the direction that right-wingers and a corrupt media are taking us, otherwise history has some lessons for us, as to where we’ve ended up in the past …

  15. anna says...

    Hi Andy, have been away for a while and this is your first article I dug into since back. I’m reeling with what our world is becoming: an increasingly opaque web of ever-changing political positions, coalitions and feuds, with only one constant feature standing out : complete, unabashed arrogance. Politicians pointing that one middle finger at us, as they by now have realised that they can get away with practically anything that a dozen or so years ago they at least seemed vaguely ashamed about. Looks like all the cards are being reshuffled of a world we had somewhat logically organised after WW II.
    The EU has failed its first real-life tests, practicing Apartheid and Human Trafficking : 8 bilion to Turkey to keep refugees out of our life, 15 to Afghanistan where the civil war continues to expand, a planned 20/yr to ‘Africa’ (as if that was one country) and their Valletta Summit deal last year with African heads of state, with its publicised plan to ‘support development in Africa’, but rather hushed-up one to curb the remittances sent by Africans working in Europe to sustain their families back home.
    Just saw Jolly Johnson fumbling & mumbling about an ‘Anti War Coalition’ that should protest in front of the Russian embassy ?!?
    Will never understand how that woman could put this Clown as you correctly call him in charge of foreign relations. Even his Polish counterpart seems a paragon of professionalism compared to this.
    Not to mention the electoral charade in the US, the result of which will harm all of us, no matter who wins.
    So as usual, thanks for synthesizing some of our world’s madness in a digestible manner. Even the most alert ones among us every now and then need some outside help to make any sense at all of this madness.
    We are dancing on a vulcano and the longer our politicians choose to ignore that or fuel the multiple fires rather than seriously trying to quench them, the more dramatic waking up will be.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Very good to hear from you, Anna. I’d just been thinking of writing to you as I realised I hadn’t heard from you for a while.
    The madness, I think, is so much worse than it was in summer, which is scarcely credible. Back then, the doors were shutting on refugees across Europe, in a haphazard but ultimately massively selfish manner that shames anyone who knows what empathy and sympathy are, and sensible people in Britain were reeling from the EU referendum, Theresa May becoming PM without an election, and the clown Boris being given the completely inappropriate role of foreign secretary.
    And now? Well, the refugees have almost been forgotten by the selfish amnesiacs of Europe, and the UK economy is in freefall, but even as MPs finally demand to be consulted by Queen Theresa, and the pound hits a 168-year low, she continues to insist that Brexit means Brexit – or breakfast means breakfast, as one of the many jokes here has it.
    What are we to do about her?

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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