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Thanks to ‘Working Mum’ for highlighting this video on the comments section of this blog yesterday. I think it’s worthy of its own post.

It’s a video of Rabina Khan’s campaign launch featuring among others Lindsey German, of the Stop the War Coalition and former member of the SWP’s ‘Central Committee’.

They all get very excited and praise Lutfur Rahman’s “integrity” before the Great Man himself makes the late entrance of a Grand Dame from stage right to express righteous indignation at the consequences of the legal process: he singles out disqualified Alibor Choudhury, apparently standing at the back of the room, for a special shout-out.

The audience are all very excited by this stage but when it comes to Rabina’s speech, they look a bit bored: Lindsey German can be seen picking imaginary fluff from her jumper in the way people do when they’re irritated and distracted.

Meanwhile, you can also see Oli Rahman and Shahed Ali – the former speaks and the latter claps – and I wonder what those two now feel about having joined in the political charade.

At the time of the PwC report and as soon as the Election Court verdict came through they and one or two others had the chance to choose wisely and break away from the Tower Hamlets First Muppet Show.

Instead, they chose…..poorly.

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As I’ve done in previous years, I’ll make this post yours: an open thread. Please add sensible, detailed and accurate comments about what you’ve seen at polling stations, e.g. turnout, atmosphere etc etc. Please don’t libel anyone.

In the meantime, below are the latest returns for postal votes:

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So of the 29,581 postal votes issued to households for the mayoral election, 15,956 had been returned as of yesterday. That’s 54%. Of those returned 1,114, or 7%, have been rejected for various reasons, e.g. an incorrect signature, or too many crosses. So 14,806 will count. More will come in today.

I can’t find the full/actual figures for last year’s election so if anyone has them please send them to me. (And if anyone does have knowledge of how people have voted in the samples of ballots opened, please keep that to yourself: it’s an offence to disclose them.)

I’ve only been able to find these percentages from the Electoral Commission

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Over to you..

…and here’s the first pic showing a canvassing exclusion zone outside Ben Jonson Primary School polling station. This is what it’s come to..  

 

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This is a guest post by Vanessa Hudson who is standing for the Animal Welfare Party (she is the leader) in tomorrow’s Tower Hamlets mayoral election.

Vanessa-Hudson-300x200Ten years ago, if someone had told me I’d be running for Mayor of Tower Hamlets in 2015, I’d have told them they were terribly mistaken. I am an accidental politician. I only ever have and still do make my living purely from my other life as a freelance producer / director in the media industry.

Today I am the leader of a small political party and I’m running for Mayor of Tower Hamlets because I’m amazed and appalled in equal measure at the way other politicians of all parties, at both local and national level, have either no awareness of or no appetite to tackle some of the most serious challenges facing our society today – climate change and environmental degradation, the rise in preventable diseases and the increasing number of animals, now in their billions, suffering at hands of man for reasons that are pretty hard to justify.

The last challenge is of course a moral one. Disagree with my moral stand point on that and it’s easy to reject it – and of course people do and will. But the environmental and health challenges we face are realities that will affect all of us and quite possibly our children and grandchildren, regardless of whether they end up living in London, Rio de Janeiro or Shanghai.

The point our party makes and the reason I feel forced to speak out is that these three challenges are all connected and they stem largely from one issue – the way we’re choosing to feed ourselves.

Since the 1950’s, with increasing wealth, there’s been a rise in animal product consumption across the globe. Meals based around meat and fish are now the norm not the exception. Many people know that our human population now stands at 7 billion but we hardly ever hear about our global livestock population, now standing at 23 billion. It’s our gigantic and rapidly growing livestock population and the feeding and watering of these animals that is both a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming and which also causes huge resource consumption and environmental degradation around the world.

Livestock farming actually now produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the transport sector combined. Rainforest is being cut down at a rate of an acre per second to grow soya beans to feed livestock and fish. Almost one third of the planet’s land is becoming desert – with the vast majority due to livestock grazing.

As the world population is set to rise to 10 billion by 2050, the livestock population is set to rise too, further exasperating these problems. If we carry on like this without making any changes to the way we feed ourselves, we’re going to need between three and four planets to sustain ourselves. AWP believes we face a very stark choice between addressing these issues now or accepting that the planet we hand over to our children and grand children may well not be habitable.

Of course, with every food choice we make, those of us living in Tower Hamlets are playing a part in this environmental degradation too but, should we decide we want to, we could play a world-leading role in its solution.

If the environmental consequences of our eating habits don’t alarm us yet, perhaps the health ones should, because there’s no other London borough that exemplifies the terrible health consequences of poor diet more than Tower Hamlets. We have the worst life expectancy in London, a huge problem with diabetes, younger than average cancer deaths, younger than average deaths from heart disease, a higher number of strokes than the national average and, in some of our wards, mortality rates for cardiovascular disease which are close to twice the national average.

And when it comes to the health of our children, the statistics beggar belief – by the time they’re just five years old, 15% of our children are already obese. By the time they’re eleven, the proportion has risen to almost 25%. At the same time, we know that 85% of those eleven-year-olds are not eating the recommended five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day.

And that’s the point. The causes of such ill health are not unknown to us. These are chiefly preventable conditions and diseases. Although not the sole cause of our ill health, would reducing our reliance on animal products alleviate some of these problems? Science suggests yes. In fact, nationally, projections are that we could save 45,000 early deaths and the NHS £1.2 billion in funds per year if we cut down on meat consumption to three times per week.

We know what causes the terrible poor health of people living in Tower Hamlets and we know how to solve it but look for the real political will to do so and it’s hard to find. It’s almost as if inequality of health takes a back seat to other forms of inequality.

Are unhealthy and unsustainable food choices and inactivity two areas that local government can influence? I think they are and our addressing them should not be perceived as optional or in some way incompatible with the other important work the new Tower Hamlets administration will have to do.

So, in addition to our policies on creating a safer, cleaner, greener borough, building sustainable housing to be proud of and promoting sustainable environmentally friendly business, we’re giving priority to creating a healthier community living more sustainably.

We want to combat preventable disease, save NHS funds and protect the environment by promoting healthy, plant-based diets across the borough.

We believe we must reduce public spending on products known to have a negative effect on human health, the environment or animal welfare. And we must ensure sustainable, plant-based options are available on every menu and at every meal in schools, nurseries and care homes.

Voters have two choices for Mayor on Thursday. I hope some will use one of them to show there here in Tower Hamlets there is an appetite for and a belief in a better future for people, the environment and animals.

My Key Policies

•A Safer, Cleaner, Greener Borough

Increased policing, tougher action on gangs, ASB, dumping and littering. Real action against businesses that contribute towards the pollution and degradation of the local environment. Further greening of urban areas and the development of urban growing.

•A Healthier Community Living More Sustainably

Combat preventable disease, save NHS funds and protect the environment by promoting healthy, plant-based diets across the borough. Reduce public spending on products known to have a negative effect on human health, the environment or animal welfare. Ensure sustainable, plant-based options are available on every menu and at every meal in schools, nurseries and care homes.

•Housing to be Proud Of

Raise the standard, quality and quantity of social housing and make low cost housing available to more people. Push for new build social housing to go further than minimum requirements for living space and building materials to create solidly constructed homes using sustainable, environmentally-friendly methods of construction.

•A Future to Look Forward To

Promote sustainable, environmentally-friendly businesses for the long-term benefit of society. Advance the availability of apprenticeships, including within East London Tech City to broaden and diversify employment opportunities for young people leaving education.

To find out more about AWP’s policies, visit: animalwelfareparty.org

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This is a guest post by John Foster, who is standing for the Greens in Thursday’s election.

john fosterHaving attended the coronation of Rabina Khan by outgoing mayor Lutfur Rahman, I felt a bit sad that the perpetual factionalism of politics in the East End is still alive and well in Tower Hamlets. Despite a parade of supporters queuing up to vouch for the integrity of Luftur Rahman, the appeal he and his supporters made was still to a narrow part of our community. We need to go beyond this.

I think that a Mayor of Tower Hamlets needs to represent every part of society, I am passionately against the divisions that the politicians of all flavours in this election are trying to artificially impose and exploit in the Borough. There are so many dog whistles being blown by Ukip, the Conservatives, Labour and whatever Tower Hamlets First evolves into, that the people of Tower Hamlets will be plagued with the yapping and howling of strays long into the night over the next 40 days.

Regardless of who wakes up on 12 June as the new Mayor, they must remember that the majority of people in the Borough did not vote for them, in fact – if this by-election follows the pattern of other by-elections in the UK – the majority of voters would not have even bothered to vote at all. It will be fantastic if we can change this, just as a start. Re-engaging people in Tower Hamlets with the political process will be tough, but it will reap its own rewards.

Whoever becomes Mayor will still have to govern in an unbiased way for the good of all the people of Tower Hamlets and will inherit a fractured council chamber and represent what for many in the Borough is a discredited office. If that person continues or accelerates the politics of division and the pattern of factionalism they will have failed all the people of Tower Hamlets and failed democracy.

Which brings me to another point: A lot of the rhetoric at Rabina Khan’s coronation was about democracy – or the denial of it. But fundamentally the office of the mayor and the confrontational system that it establishes is in itself anti-democratic. I’ve never agreed with elected mayors as in my opinion they just add another level of costs and create another opportunity for graft and corruption; they also dilute the power of the Council and councillors which is also anti-democratic.

That’s why I’ll act a Mayor for all residents in Tower Hamlets; and work to bring our communities closer and try and salve the poisonous nature of politics in this Borough. I know – if elected – I won’t have a ready-made faction on the Council chamber to force through legislation, and this is good. It’s good as I’ll have to compromise with all sides to make things happen, and I’d want to work with the best and the brightest elected officials from any party to craft the best of legislation for all the people of Tower Hamlets.

It’ll also give me the opportunity to strengthen the committee system in the Council chamber with an eye to the dissolution – through referendum in five years’ time (the earliest statutory date possible under the law) – of the office of elected mayor and a return to a more direct and democratic cabinet system based on a democratically elected Council.

But in the next five years I’d come with the Green’s own ideas and initiatives. The development of the London Chest Hospital for example is something I’d aim to turn to the benefit of the wider community. We’re losing a core health facility, and are in danger of getting another unaffordable soulless apartment complex for rich, non-resident investors. I’d look to turn this into social and council housing – we’d also work with the local residents affected by the Bishopsgate Goodsyard to find sustainable alternatives.

I would support the residents of Holland Estate and other tenants in the Borough being forced out of their homes and work with a cabinet to drive down unfair leaseholders charges; control rents on social rented homes; and deal with blights on our housing including abandoned scaffolding.

Health would be a priority in any Green administration I was involved in and I would fight to protect our GP surgeries from closing; challenge the government on PFI schemes with a view to suspending any new PFIs; and invest in local social care for elderly and vulnerable residents.

I’d also have at the core of my administration the ethos of community – our greater community – and unite all of our residents in opposition to austerity and protect and expand successful community initiatives including Rich Mix.

The kind of Green Mayor I aim to be would champion small local businesses over large multinational corporations. I’d encourage local content and local suppliers and sustainability to all Council businesses where possible and ensure that all businesses in Tower Hamlets become good corporate citizens, encouraging and supporting businesses established by young people and women.

I hope that this election is fought in good spirit and honourably. The issues need to be addressed. We need to look into problems to do with ballot rigging that have haunted Tower Hamlets since at least 2005. I’d love to be involved in a democratic process that is held up across London and the UK as exemplar and hope the other candidates will stand with me on that.

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This is a guest post by Andy Erlam, who initiated the election petition that brought down Lutfur Rahman. He is a former Labour ministerial adviser who lives in Bow and who is now standing on behalf of the Red Flag Anti-Corruption Party for the Tower Hamlets mayor election on June 11.

andy erlam

By Andy Erlam, ‘the man who makes it happen’

My Resolutions

Tower Hamlets has been through a very difficult period, when its local government machine has been in absolute crisis. A local council should simply be a source of help to individuals and the local communities, not a source of irritation, controversy, injustice and sheer dysfunctionality. The problems are not new.

“Divide and rule” is the oldest form of repression. The Election Petition High Court judgement, especially the order for new mayoral election, provide a unique opportunity for Tower Hamlets: to build a new high-quality local government machine worthy of the people and controlled by the people. This is an opportunity in our lifetimes to create outstanding local government here in Tower Hamlets.

It’s not rocket science but it is very important and it will take many people working together to achieve a transformation of the Council, under a new form of leadership – leadership from the front, co-operative and collaborative leadership and leadership with a clear vision and determination to achieve major results.

I am standing for election as not only the mayor of Tower Hamlets but as a new kind of mayor. The people of Tower Hamlets must get back in control of their local council and stay in control.

I am making these resolutions now as a benchmark of what will be achieved. I will:

  1. Ensure that team-working is adopted universally in council business, in the same way as my cross-party team brought about the defeat of the previous mayor in the High Court in April. When people work together co-operatively so much can be achieved. I will ensure that factional in-fighting is minimised.
  2. Ensure that my considerable experience of working in national and international government and in grass-roots community work over many years is applied in the most useful way to our local government, working, of course, as a full-time mayor, with no big political party interfering with my actions.
  3. Ensure that the new permanent Chief Executive is encouraged to act under political direction but without political interference, so making the town hall a happy place to work.
  4. Ensure that the views of all citizens are recognised, making the maximum possible use of direct democracy and respecting the traditions of the British constitution.
  5. Ensure continuous interaction with all councillors, guaranteeing their position as the first point of contact for their supporters. All councillors should be brought into the decision-making processes.
  6. Ensure that new forums for the widest range of interest groups and communities must be formed to keep the Council in touch between elections.
  7. Ensure that the Cabinet is cross-party made up of councillors from all the political parties and that Cabinet and Council decisions comply with the highest standards of transparency and integrity. Power will be delegated.
  8. Ensure that new checks and balances introduced to ensure that the elected mayor is accountable to the Cabinet, the Council and the public. These are needed to ensure good decision-making in the interests of the whole community. Power should be shared with the Cabinet, the whole Council and the whole community. Some believe that the elected mayoral system places too much power in one pair of hands. The arrangements can be modified and Tower Hamlets can return to a more shared system of leadership. All these things need careful review and reform.
  9. Ensure, in particular, that the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee of the Council is treated with respect and that the mayor attends regularly and provides as much information and asssitance as possible. With the right relationships, everyone benefits.
  10. Ensure that the Council recruits staff from the widest range of people, so as to reflect the communities in a balanced way, including the recruitment of disabled people.
  11. Ensure that subsidised public housing is not used as a source of private income or otherwise abused. New systems of accountability to tenants and leaseholders are needed. The role of local social housing providers must be reviewed. Problems and shortcomings must be exposed and dealt with.
  12. Ensure a continuing improvement in education by strengthening systems of support and recognising the central role of school governors. Education is about helping children and young people finding their niche in life.
  13. Ensure a fresh tradition of trust between the council, the police and the community. The Metropolitan Police have given priority to improving policing in the Borough. The police service should be equally good for all local people.   The new local senior police officers are open to reform and improvement.
  14. Ensure social cohesion by the strict adoption of a one language policy in all official business, with no sector of society taking preference over any other.
  15. Ensure religious independence by removing all political involvement.
  16. Ensure that the Borough’s reputation as having on the one hand the second highest average income in the country and on the other, pockets of severe poverty, is reflected by reinvestment in the community, such as supporting more children’s nurseries.
  17. Ensure that sensible, focused and appropriate business policies are introduced to foster dialogue with local big employers (e.g. at Canary Wharf) and small and medium-sized companies which have a key role of play in generating wealth and wellbeing. If we are serious about reviving ‘the high street’, then we must put a stop to victimising the customers of local shops through excessively punitive Tower Hamets council parking policies.
  18. Ensure the provision of impartial and useful information on council business to all Council taxpayers and stakeholders.
  19. Ensure that the government Commissioners, (paid by us), are encouraged to make the most useful contribution to a brand new system of government, especially in the management of grants.
  20. Ensure that a confidential “hotline” is established direct through to the mayor for anyone to raise concerns.
  21. Ensure that Tower Hamlets Council is transformed with the aim of it becoming known as the most effective and admired local authority in the country.

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It seems to be buried on the website for “Mayor Lutfur Rahman” (home page here) but it is there. This:

Lutfur appeal

Full text here:

Lutfur Rahman will be appealing the judgment made against him at last Thursday’s election court. He continues to reject all claims of wrongdoing and we hold that the integrity of the court system was marred by the bias, slurs and factual inaccuracies in the election judgment. There is a petition in his defence available here for those who wish to sign and a rally will be held on Thursday.

Tower Hamlets First councillors reject the election court’s claims that we are nothing more than a ‘one man band.’ We support Lutfur Rahman as a party because he has led in delivering record numbers of social and affordable homes, investing in our young people with maintenance allowances and university grants and standing up to Tory and Labour austerity. We support former Councillor Alibor Choudhury because of his record as Cabinet Member for Resources of doing the hard work needed to make these policies happen.

As such we will continue to serve residents. Whilst Lutfur Rahman appeals, Councillor Oli Rahman has stepped in as acting mayor and will be working to ensure that top quality Council services continue to be accessible to all residents. While other parties obsess over the politics of the past, securing decent jobs, fair housing and excellent support services for our borough will continue to remain our top priority.

We will also be deciding this week on a candidate to endorse in the forthcoming mayoral election and election for Stepney Ward, and we will make that decision based on who we believe is best placed to deliver stronger communities and a fairer future in Tower Hamlets.

At least they describe Alibor as a “former councillor”.

The grounds for his judicial review are not yet known. I’m not a lawyer but those who are say Richard Mawrey’s judgment looks “appeal proof”. For example, here is the view of legal expert David Allen Green who tweets as Jack of Kent:

More of this to come. At some point we will also no doubt find out who has been paying Lutfur’s hefty bills.

In the meantime, a quick update on the politics of Tower Hamlets First. Acting mayor Oli Rahman and Rabina Khan appear to be the frontrunners.

And it is Lutfur himself who will decide. He is, according to sources, “taking soundings from leaders of community groups”. Which groups these are have not been specified, but one will certainly be the Islamic Forum Europe. Anyone who underestimates the influence the IFE has on these things is mistaken.

Oli is not IFE. And neither actually is Rabina. However, she is helped in this respect by the position of her husband, Cllr Aminur Khan, who is. She is known to disagree with the IFE on many things and I’d be surprised if this hasn’t created lively conversations around the Khans’ dining table.

Rabina is seen by a section of younger Bengalis as bright, articulate and refreshing. She apparently knows how to charm on the doorstep, how to enter people’s homes and “have a cup of tea in the kitchen”, as someone put it to me last night. I suspect that were she to be selected there would be many in Labour’s camp who would say they were supporting John Biggs but who would not cast their vote for him.

But would she be the puppet that Lutfur would want while he fights to clear his name, or even after he fails in that task? What real experience does she have in running a large organisation? I’ve always thought her quite good in the council chamber when reading a prepared script. However, I’ve not seen too much evidence that she’s good at thinking on her feet. But I may be wrong.

As for Oli, he’s apparently loving his new role. He’s been having regular meetings with the two Government Commissioners and promising to work closely with them. I’m told they’ve respected him for that. It’s not something that Lutfur did. In fact, he would be a change from Lutfur in other respects. He’d scrap the mayoral car and chauffeur for a start and take public transport (and not cabs as he used to do…). He would also only hire mayoral advisers where “absolutely necessary”.

But while he’s enjoying the role, it’s not clear for how much longer he can carry on doing it. The executive mayoral role is full time and I’m told that Whitehall rules forbid civil servants from carrying out that job. Oli, of course, is a civil servant with the DWP. And the DWP has apparently written to him to say that Eric Pickles’s DCLG has highlighted this little headache.

Oli is enlisting the help of Unison, so watch this space, but it is possible that Oli may have to vacate his acting mayor role before the mayoral by election in which case someone else may have to step up.

Dropping like flies.

Meanwhile, as you all know, Andy Erlam has decided to stand. If the Tories choose Peter Golds, among the main contenders it will be one British Bangladeshi versus three or four white men. The divisions will no doubt continue.

I wish they’d all just hammer out a rainbow coalition deal.

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Last week, the Guardian’s Dave Hill speculated that Tower Hamlets First might field candidates in the forthcoming general election.

 

The article said:

For some time it has been thought likely that candidates from the local party led by Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman might stand in the borough’s two parliamentary constituencies, challenging Labour incumbents Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick. It’s been confirmed to me by a reliable source that this is indeed a definite possibility. There is no love lost between Rahman and Labour, on whom he and his allies have inflicted several defeats. Could Labour come unstuck in the East End?

Then this:

Names previously chattered about as THF runners are councillors Oliur Rahman (no relation), who is Rahman’s cabinet member for economic development, and Rabina Khan, who is his cabinet member for housing. They are generally regarded as two of the mayor’s most able lieutenants. They might not run at all and, if they do, it will be a big upset if they win. But Labour is well aware that they could not be easily dismissed.

The deadline for nominations for the general election is Thursday and it’s my understanding from sources within the Tower Hamlets First fraternity that Oli Rahman will definitely not stand against Jim Fitzpatrick in Poplar and Limehouse, not because he doesn’t want to fight Labour, but because he holds Jim himself in high regard. Those close to Oli may even help Jim with his campaign.

In Bethnal Green and Bow the story is slightly different, as I understand it. Rabina Khan is apparently chomping at the bit to stand against Rushanara, but it’s considered highly unlikely that Lutfur Rahman will let her go for it.

The verdict from Election Court Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC is unlikely to be delivered before Thursday and this is considered too complicating a factor. Another factor is that Tower Hamlets First, that shambolic mirage of a party, would only have 29 days to prepare an election campaign…and to establish something more than a “virtual bank” to fund it. The third factor is that they know Rushanara Ali is safe: she’s been working the doors hard for the past five years.

In any case, there could well be another general election campaign later this year if the mathematics of a hung parliament prove too difficult. THF might well feel that would be a better target, especially if Lutfur is cleared in his court case. They might have more of a story to tell then.

Cabinet reshuffles

Two other names who have apparently been jockeying for position in a potential THF raid on Bethnal Green and Bow are former Respect leader Abjol Miah and ex-deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed. Come next month, when Lutfur (if he’s still in office, of course) decides who’s in his next cabinet, the fortunes of these two men could change dramatically.

There is pressure on Lutfur to drop Ohid and bring in Abjol. Well, that’s the gossip anyway. Dear Cllr Selfie, Mahbub Alam, is also hoping for a position as cabinet member for social media, but I think he’s likely to be disappointed.

Not that cabinet positions matter of course, apart from the cash they earn for their incumbents. As I’ve written before, in Lutfur Land the power resides in the kitchen cabinet. This frustrates his colleagues and it has created divisions.

Throughout Lutfur’s first term from 2010-14, he did not once hold a group meeting of his then independent councillors. I’m told the same has been true since last May with the onset of Tower Hamlets First: there hasn’t been a single group meeting. He clearly doesn’t like being in environments where he can be questioned. It’s such an odd set up.

Commissioners

We still have only two commissioners, Max Caller and Sir Ken Knight. Eric Pickles’ department maintains its search for a third but this has so far been unsuccessful. – as have been the attempts so far by the other two to ensure the council appoints a permanent chief executive. In this, they have been frustrated by Lutfur’s efforts to make the current head of paid service, the charming Stephen Halsey, the permanent boss.

So much so that they wrote to Pickles last month to express their frustrations (in the most diplomatic language, of course). Eric has since replied to say he will give them extra powers to push this task along unless the council can supply reasons to him by next Monday saying why that won’t be necessary.

Meanwhile, the Commissioners say they have approved the approved the appointment of a new monitoring officer and a new chief financial officer. The swashbuckling motor-loving motor-mouth incumbent Meic Sullivan-Gould applied for the former.  But he didn’t get it. Drueni o’r fath, as they say in the valleys. Hwyl fawr!

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