May 2, 1997 – June 27, 2007
|Preceded by||John Major|
|Succeeded by||Gordon Brown|
Leader of the Opposition
July 21, 1994 – May 2, 1997
|Prime Minister||John Major|
|Preceded by||Margaret Beckett|
|Succeeded by||John Major|
Member of Parliament
June 9, 1983 – June 27, 2007
|Preceded by||New Constituency|
|Succeeded by||Phil Wilson|
|Born||6 May 1953 (age 70)|
|Children||Euan, Nicky, Kathryn, Leo|
|Alma mater||St John's College, Oxford|
|Website||Tony Blair Office|
Anthony Charles Lynton "Tony" Blair (born May 6, 1953) is a British politician, who served as Prime Minister from May 2, 1997 to June 27, 2007. He was Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007 and the Member of Parliament (MP) of the United Kingdom for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007. On the day he stood down as Prime Minister and MP, he was appointed official Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East on behalf of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia. Blair was elected Leader of the Labor Party in the leadership election of July 1994 following the sudden death of his predecessor, John Smith. Under Blair's leadership, the party abandoned many policies it had held for decades. Labor won a landslide victory in the 1997 general election.
He was the Labor Party's longest-serving Prime Minister and the only leader to have taken the party to three consecutive general election victories. Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer during all Blair's ten years in office, succeeded him as party leader on June 24, 2007 and as Prime Minister on June 27, 2007. Blair was largely discredited by his actions over the Iraq War, and has been repeatedly accused of lying to the country about the reasons for war. In 2003, Blair told MPs that he would have resigned had there been any truth to a BBC report that his government had embellished the intelligence dossier on Iraq with dubious information. It was later established that the government did in fact embellish the Dossier. Blair has been accused of war crimes as a result. Biographers describe him as the man who "lost his smile."
Background and family life
Leo Blair, the illegitimate son of two English actors, had been adopted by a Glasgow shipyard worker named James Blair and his wife Mary as a baby. Hazel Corscadden was the daughter of George Corscadden, a butcher and Orangeman who had moved to Glasgow in 1916 but returned to (and later died in) Ballyshannon in 1923. The Blair family was often taken on holiday to Rossnowlagh, a beach resort near Hazel's hometown of Ballyshannon in south County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.
Tony Blair has one elder brother, Sir William Blair, a High Court Judge, and a younger sister, Sarah. Blair spent the first 19 months of his life at the family home in Paisley Terrace in the Willowbrae area of Edinburgh. During this period his father worked as a junior tax inspector while also studying for a law degree from the University of Edinburgh. His family spent three and a half years in the 1950s living in Adelaide, Australia, where his father was a lecturer in law at the University of Adelaide. The Blairs lived close to the university, in the suburb of Dulwich.
The family returned to Britain in the late 1950s, living for a time with Hazel Blair's stepfather William McClay and her mother at their home in Stepps, near Glasgow. He spent the remainder of his childhood in Durham, England, his father being by then a lecturer at Durham University. After attending Durham's Chorister School from 1961 to 1966, Blair boarded at Fettes College, a notable independent school in Edinburgh, where he met Charlie Falconer (a pupil at the rival Edinburgh Academy), whom he later appointed Lord Chancellor. His teachers were unimpressed with him: his biographer, John Rentoul reported that, "All the teachers I spoke to when researching the book said he was a complete pain in the backside, and they were very glad to see the back of him".
After Fettes, Blair spent a year in London, where he attempted to find fame as a rock-music promoter, before going up to the University of Oxford to read jurisprudence at St. John's College. As a student, he played guitar and sang for a rock band called Ugly Rumours. During this time, he dated future American Psycho director Mary Harron. He became influenced by fellow student and Anglican priest Peter Thomson, who awakened within Blair a deep concern for religious faith and left wing politics. While he was at Oxford, Blair's mother Hazel died of cancer which was said to have greatly affected him.
After graduating from Oxford in 1976 with a Second Class Honors BA in Jurisprudence, Blair became a member of Lincoln's Inn, enrolled as a pupil barrister, and met his future wife, Cherie Booth (daughter of the actor Tony Booth) at the Chambers founded by Derry Irvine (who was to be Blair's first Lord Chancellor), 11 King's Bench Walk Chambers. He acted predominantly for employers or wealthier clients, as in Nethermere v. Gardiner where he unsuccessfully defended employers that had refused holiday pay to employees at a trouser factory.
Blair married Cherie Booth, a practicing Roman Catholic and future Queen's Counsel, on March 29, 1980. They have four children: Euan Anthony, Nicholas John, Kathryn Hazel, and Leo George. Leo was the first legitimate child born to a serving Prime Minister in over 150 years, since Francis Russell was born to Lord John Russell on July 11, 1849.
Early political career
Blair joined the Labor Party shortly after graduating from Oxford in 1975. During the early 1980s, he was involved in Labor politics in Hackney South and Shoreditch, where he aligned himself with the "soft left" of the party. He unsuccessfully attempted to secure selection as a candidate for Hackney Borough Council. Through his father-in-law, the actor Tony Booth, he contacted Labor MP Tom Pendry to ask for help in pursuing a Parliamentary career. Pendry gave him a tour of the House of Commons and advised him to stand for selection as a candidate in the forthcoming by-election in the safe Conservative seat of Beaconsfield, where Pendry knew a senior member of the local party.
Blair was chosen as the candidate; at the Beaconsfield by-election he won only 10 percent of the vote and lost his deposit, but he impressed Labor Party leader Michael Foot and acquired a profile within the party. In contrast to his later centrism, Blair described himself in this period as a Socialist.
In 1983, Blair found that the newly created constituency of Sedgefield, a notionally safe Labor seat near where he had grown up in Durham, had no Labor candidate. Several sitting MPs displaced by boundary changes were interested in securing selection to fight the seat. He found a branch that had not made a nomination and arranged to visit them. With the crucial support of John Burton], his political agent, he won their endorsement; at the last minute he was added to the shortlist and won the selection over displaced sitting MP Les Huckfield. Burton later became his agent and one of his most trusted and longest-standing allies.
Blair's election literature in the 1983 UK general election endorsed left-wing policies that the Labor Party advocated in the early 1980s. He called for Britain to leave the EEC, though he had told his selection conference that he personally favored continuing membership. He also supported unilateral nuclear disarmament as a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Blair was helped on the campaign trail by soap actress Pat Phoenix, his father-in-law's girlfriend. Blair was elected as MP for Sedgefield, despite the party's landslide defeat in the general election.
Blair stated in his maiden speech in the House of Commons on July 6, 1983: "I am a socialist not through reading a textbook that has caught my intellectual fancy, nor through unthinking tradition, but because I believe that, at its best, socialism corresponds most closely to an existence that is both rational and moral. It stands for cooperation, not confrontation; for fellowship, not fear. It stands for equality". The Labour Party is declared in its constitution to be a democratic socialist party, rather than a social democratic party—Blair himself organized this declaration of Labour to be a socialist party when he dealt with the change to the party's Clause IV in their constitution.
Once elected, Blair's ascent was rapid and he received his first, front-bench appointment in 1984 as assistant Treasury spokesman. In May 1985, he appeared on BBC's Question Time arguing that the Conservative Government's Public Order White Paper was a threat to civil liberties. Blair demanded an inquiry into the Bank of England's decision to rescue the collapsed Johnson Matthey Bank in October 1985, and embarrassed the government by finding a European Economic Community report critical of British economic policy that had been countersigned by a member of the Conservative government. By this time Blair was aligned with the reforming tendencies in the party, headed by leader Neil Kinnock, and was promoted after the 1987 election to the shadow Trade and Industry team as spokesman on the City of London. In 1987, he stood for election to the Shadow Cabinet receiving 77 votes.
After the stock market crash of October 1987, Blair raised his profile further when he castigated City traders as "incompetent" and "morally dubious," and criticized poor service for small investors at the London Stock Exchange. In 1988, Blair entered the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and the following year he became Shadow Employment Secretary. In this post he realized that the Labor Party's support for the emerging European "Social Charter" policies on employment law meant dropping the party's traditional support for closed-shop arrangements, whereby employers required all their employees to be members of a trade union. He announced this change in December 1989, outraging the left wing of the Labor Party. As a young and telegenic Shadow Cabinet member, Blair was given prominence by the party's Director of Communications, Peter Mandelson. He gave his first, major platform speech at the 1990 Labor Party conference.
In the run-up to the 1992 general election, Blair worked to modernize Labor's image and was responsible for developing the controversial minimum-wage policy.
When Neil Kinnock resigned as party leader after Labour's fourth successive election defeat, Blair became Shadow Home Secretary under John Smith. The Labor Party at this time was widely perceived as weak on crime and Blair worked to change this, accepting that the prison population might have to rise, and bemoaning the loss of a sense of community, which he was prepared to blame (at least partly) on "1960s liberalism." On the other hand, he spoke in support of equalizing the age of consent for gay sex at 16, and opposed capital punishment. He defined his policy, in a phrase coined by Gordon Brown, as "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime."
In 1993, while still Shadow Home Secretary, Blair attended the annual, invitation-only Bilderberg conference.
John Smith died suddenly in 1994 of a heart attack. Blair beat John Prescott and Margaret Beckett in the subsequent leadership election. After becoming Leader of the Opposition, Blair was, as is customary for the holder of that office, appointed a Privy Councillor, which permitted him to be addressed with the style "The Right Honorable."
Leader of the Labor Party
Blair announced at the end of his speech at the 1994 Labor Party conference that he intended to replace Clause IV of the party's constitution with a new statement of aims and values. This involved the deletion of the party's stated commitment to "the common ownership of the means of production and exchange," which was widely interpreted as referring to wholesale nationalization. The clause was replaced by a statement that the party is one of democratic socialism. A special conference approved this highly symbolic change in April 1995.
Blair also revised party policy in a manner that enhanced the image of Labor as competent and modern using the term "New Labor" to distinguish the party from its past. Although the transformation aroused much criticism (its alleged superficiality drawing fire both from political opponents and traditionalists within the "rank and file" of his own party), it was nevertheless successful in changing public perception. At the 1996 Labor Party conference, Blair stated that his three top priorities on coming to office were "education, education, and education."
Aided by the unpopularity of John Major's Conservative government (itself deeply divided over the European Union), "New Labor" won a landslide victory in the 1997 general election, ending 18 years of Conservative Party government with the heaviest Conservative defeat since 1832. Blair became the youngest person—at age 43—to attain the office of Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812, at age 42.
Blair became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on May 2, 1997, serving concurrently as First Lord of the Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service, Leader of the Labor Party, and Member of Parliament for the constituency of Sedgefield in the North East of England and Privy Counsellor. With victories in 1997, 2001, and 2005, Blair was the Labor Party's longest-serving prime minister, the only person to lead the party to three, consecutive, general-election victories.
Blair is both credited with, and criticized for, moving the Labor Party towards the center of British politics, using the term "New Labor" to distinguish his pro-market policies from the more collectivist policies which the party had espoused in the past.
In domestic government policy, Blair significantly increased public spending on health and education while also introducing controversial market-based reforms in these areas. Blair's tenure also saw the introduction of a National Minimum Wage, tuition fees for higher education, and constitutional reform such as devolution in Scotland and Wales. The British economy performed well, and Blair kept to Conservative commitments not to increase income tax, although he did introduce a large number of subtle tax increases referred to as stealth taxes by his opponents.
His contribution towards assisting the Northern Ireland Peace Process by helping to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement after 30 years of conflict was widely recognized. Following the Omagh Bombing on August 15, 1998 by dissidents opposed to the peace process which killed 29 people and wounded hundreds, Blair visited the County Tyrone town, and met with victims at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.
From the start of the War on Terror in 2001, Blair strongly supported United States foreign policy, notably by participating in the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. He encountered fierce criticism as a result, over the policy itself and the circumstances in which it was decided upon, especially his claims that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction (which have not been discovered in Iraq). For his unwavering support of the United States government's foreign policy, Blair was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal on July 18, 2003.
Following pressure from the Labor Party, on September 7, 2006 Blair publicly stated he would step down as party leader by the time of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference which was held from September 10-13, 2007, having promised to serve a full term during the previous general-election campaign.
Relationship with Labor Party
Blair's apparent refusal to set a date for his departure was criticized by the British press and Members of Parliament. It was reported that a number of cabinet ministers believed that Blair's timely departure from office would be required to be able to win a fourth election. Some ministers viewed Blair's announcement of policy initiatives in September 2006 as an attempt to draw attention away from these issues. Upon his return from his holiday in the West Indies, he announced that all the speculation about his leaving must stop. This stirred not only his traditional critics, but also traditional party loyalists.
While the Blair government introduced social policies supported by the left of the Labor Party, such as the minimum wage and measures to reduce child poverty, Blair was seen on economic and management issues as being to the right of much of the party. A possible comparison was made with American Democrats such as Joe Lieberman, who had been accused by their party's "base" of adopting their opponents' political stances. Some critics described Blair as a "reconstructed neoconservative" or Thatcherite. He was occasionally described as "Son of Thatcher," though Lady Thatcher herself rejected this identification in an interview with ITV1 on the night of the 2005 election, saying that, in her opinion, the resemblances were superficial. Blair himself has often expressed admiration for Thatcher.
Blair forged alliances with several conservative European leaders, including Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, Angela Merkel of Germany, and later, Nicolas Sarkozy of France. This earned him criticism from trade-union leaders within the Labor Party, most notably over the political alliance with Berlusconi, who was engaged in disputes with Italian trade unions.
Relationship with Parliament
Blair changed Parliamentary procedures significantly. One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to replace the then twice-weekly, 15-minute sessions of Prime Minister's Questions, held on a Tuesday and Thursday, with a single, 30-minute session on a Wednesday. This reform was said to have led to greater efficiency, but critics have noted that it is easier to prepare for one long set of questions than for two shorter sessions. In addition to PMQs, Blair held monthly press conferences, at which he fielded questions from journalists. Other procedural reforms included changing the official times for Parliamentary sessions in order to have Parliament operate in a more business-like manner.
Relationship with the United States
Along with enjoying a close relationship with Bill Clinton during the latter's time in office, Blair has formed a strong political alliance with George W. Bush, particularly in the area of foreign policy. At one point in 2003, Nelson Mandela described Blair as "the U.S. foreign minister." Blair has also often openly been referred to as "Bush's poodle." Kendall Myers, a senior analyst at the United States Department of State, reportedly said that he felt "a little ashamed" of Bush's treatment of the Prime Minister and that his attempts to influence U.S. government policy were typically ignored: "It was a done deal from the beginning, it was a one-sided relationship that was entered into with open eyes…. There was nothing, no payback, no sense of reciprocity."
For his part, Bush has lauded Blair and the UK. In his post-September 11 speech, for example, he stated that "America has no truer friend than Great Britain."
The alliance between Bush and Blair had seriously damaged Blair's standing in the eyes of many UK citizens. Blair has argued it is in Britain's interest to "protect and strengthen the bond" with the United States regardless of who is in the White House.
One of Blair's first actions in joining the Labor Party was to join Labor Friends of Israel. In 1994, a friend and former colleague of Blair at 11 King's Bench Walk Chambers, Eldred Tabachnik, Q.C. (one time president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews) introduced Blair to Michael Levy, later Lord Levy, a pop-music mogul and major fundraiser for Jewish and Israeli causes, at a dinner party hosted by the Israeli diplomat Gideon Meir. Blair and Levy soon became close friends and tennis partners. Levy ran the Labor Leader's Office Fund to finance Blair's campaign before the 1997 General Election and received substantial contributions from such figures as Alex Bernstein and Robert Gavron, both of whom were ennobled by Blair after he came to power. Levy was created a life peer by Blair in 1997, and in 2002, just prior to the Iraq War, Blair appointed Levy as his personal envoy to the Middle East. Levy has praised Blair for his "solid and committed support of the State of Israel" and has been described himself as "a leading international Zionist".
In 2004, Blair was heavily criticized by 50 former diplomats, including ambassadors to Baghdad and Tel Aviv for his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq War. They stated they had "watched with deepening concern" at Britain following the U.S. into war in Iraq in 2003 also stating, "We feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment," and asked Blair to exert "real influence as a loyal ally." The ambassadors also accused the allies of having "no effective plan" for the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the apparent disregard for the lives of Iraqi civilians. The diplomats also criticized Blair for his support for the road map, which included the retaining of settlements on the West Bank stating, "Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land."
In 2006, Blair was heavily criticized for his failure to call for a ceasefire in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, with members of his cabinet openly criticizing Israel. Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons and former Foreign Secretary stated that Israel's actions risked destabilizing all of Lebanon. The Observer newspaper claimed that at a cabinet meeting before Blair left for a summit with President George Bush on July 28, 2006, a significant number of ministers pressured Blair to publicly criticize Israel over the scale of deaths and destruction in Lebanon.
In May 2006, The Daily Telegraph reported that Blair's personal approval rating had dipped to 26 percent, lower than Harold Wilson's rating after devaluation of the pound and James Callaghan's during the Winter of Discontent, meaning that Blair had become the most unpopular, post-war Labor Prime Minister. Of all post-war British Prime Ministers of both parties, only Margaret Thatcher and John Major have recorded lower approval (the former in the aftermath of the Poll Tax Riots). Previously Blair had achieved the highest approval ratings of any British Prime Minister or party leader of either party in the months following his election in 1997.
On May 10, 2007, Blair announced during a speech at the Trimdon Labour Club in his Sedgefield constituency his intention to resign as both Labor Party leader and Prime Minister the following June. On June 24, he formally handed over the leadership of the Labor Party to Gordon Brown at a special party conference in Manchester.
Blair tendered his resignation as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Queen on June 27, 2007, his successor Gordon Brown assuming office the same afternoon. He also resigned his seat in the House of Commons in the traditional form of accepting the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds to which he was appointed by Gordon Brown in one of the latter's last acts as Chancellor of the Exchequer. (It is impossible to resign from the UK Parliament, so this device is used for MPs wishing to step down.)
The resulting Sedgefield by-election was won by Labor's candidate, Phil Wilson. Blair decided not to issue a list of Resignation Honors, making him the first Prime Minister of the modern era not to do so.
Post-Prime Ministerial career
Middle East envoy
When Blair officially resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he was officially confirmed as Middle East envoy for the United Nations, European Union, United States, and Russia. Blair originally indicated that he would retain his parliamentary seat after his resignation as Prime Minister came into effect; however, he resigned from the House of Commons on being confirmed for the Middle-East role, by taking up an office for profit. President George W. Bush had preliminary talks with Blair to ask him to take up the envoy role. White House sources stated that "both Israel and the Palestinians had signed up to the proposal."
During the first nine days of the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict, Blair spent Christmas and New Year with his family, and attended an opening of the Armani store at Knightsbridge.
In January 2008, it was confirmed that Blair would be joining investment bank JPMorgan Chase "in a senior advisory capacity" and that he would advise Zurich Financial Services on climate change. His combined earnings then reached over £7m a year.
Critics and admirers tend to agree that Blair's electoral success was based on his ability to occupy the center ground and appeal to voters across the political spectrum, to the extent that he has been fundamentally at odds with traditional Labor Party values. Some left-wing critics have argued that Blair has overseen the final stage of a long term shift of the Labor Party to the right, and that very little now remains of a Labor Left. There is also evidence that Blair's long- term dominance of the center forced his Conservative opponents to shift a long distance to the left, in order to challenge his hegemony there.
Blair raised taxes (but did not increase income tax for high-earners), introduced a minimum wage and some new employment rights (while keeping Margaret Thatcher's trade union legislation), introduced significant constitutional reforms (which remain incomplete and controversial), promoted new rights for gay people in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, and signed treaties integrating Britain more closely with the EU. He introduced substantial market-based reforms in the education and health sectors, introduced student tuition fees (also controversial), sought to reduce certain categories of welfare payments, and introduced tough anti-terrorism and identity card legislation.
On May 22, 2008, Blair received an honorary law doctorate from Queen's University Belfast, alongside former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, for distinction in public service and roles in the Northern Ireland peace process.
On January 13, 2009 Blair was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. The President stated that Blair was given the award "in recognition of exemplary achievement and to convey the utmost esteem of the American people," and cited Blair's support for the War on Terror and his role in achieving peace in Northern Ireland as two outstanding services which qualified him for the award.
The Tony Blair Sports Foundation
On November 14, 2007, Blair launched The Tony Blair Sports Foundation, a charity which aimed to increase childhood participation in sports activities, especially in the North East of England, where a larger proportion of children are socially excluded, and to promote overall health and prevent childhood obesity. The foundation closed in 2017, with Blair saying that it had "reached the end of its natural life."
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation
On May 30, 2008, Tony Blair launched the Tony Blair Faith Foundation as a vehicle for encouraging different faiths to join together in promoting respect and understanding, as well as working to tackle poverty. Reflecting Blair's own faith, but not dedicated to any particular religion, the Foundation aims to "show how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world." Since December 2016, its work has been continued by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which aims to help "make globalization work for the many, not the few."
Tony Blair has been criticized for his alliance with U.S. President George W. Bush and his policies in the Middle East, including the Iraq War, the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Blair was also criticized for an alleged tendency to spin important information in a way that can be misleading.
Critics also regard Tony Blair as having eroded civil liberties and increased social authoritarianism, by increasing police powers, in the form of more arrestable offences, DNA recording, and the issuing of dispersal orders. Blair's response to the updating of antiquated laws that had not been changed since the 1970s was simple: "The rules of the game have changed."
Blair was sometimes perceived as paying insufficient attention both to the views of his own Cabinet colleagues and to those of the House of Commons. His style was sometimes criticized as not that of a prime minister and head of government, which he was, but of a president and head of state, which he was not.
Blair has criticized other governments for not doing enough to solve global climate change. In 1997, Blair in a visit to the United States made an comment concerning "great industrialized nations" that fail to reduce greenhouse gas-emissions. Again in 2003, Blair went before the United States Congress and said that climate change "cannot be ignored," insisting "we need to go beyond even Kyoto."  His record at home tends to say something different. Blair and his party promised a 20-percent reduction in carbon dioxide but, during his term the emissions rose. The Labor Party also claimed that by 2010, 10 percent of the energy would come from renewable resources, but in fact it reached only three percent.
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- Blair, Tony. 2000. Superpower: Not Superstate? (Federal Trust European Essays). London, UK: Federal Trust for Education & Research. ISBN 9781903403259.
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- Richard D. Heffner, A Documentary History of the United States (New York, NY: Signet Classic, 2002, ISBN 9780451207487), 522. "America has no truer friend than Great Britain. Once again, we are joined together in a great cause—so honored the British Prime Minister has crossed an ocean to show his unity of purpose with America. Thank you for coming, friend."
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ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
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- Beckett, Francis, and David Hencke. The Blairs and their court. London, UK: Aurum, 2004. ISBN 9781845130244.
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All links retrieved April 30, 2023.
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