'One Nation Labour' is an oxymoron

Jonathan Waddell

Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different time zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws … The Rich and the Poor.

Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil (The Two Nations)

Ed Miliband’s 2012 speech was an interesting one to say the least, and it goes without saying that for many members of the Conservative party such as myself, every time he said the words “One Nation”, a little piece of me died inside. Not just because he so obviously and admittedly stole the term from the Conservatives, not least because he greatly misunderstood the concept but largely because the concept of One Nation, is actually entirely incompatible with his and his parties politics. However, he has managed to continue the front of One Nation Labour on past the 2013 conference and will continue into 2014.

Please now draw your attention to the quote above from Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, a book written with the intention of outlining the great problems of working class Britain and the divide between the rich and the poor at the time. This quote is one of the best to outline exactly what he aimed to achieve in his political career and his writing, he explains that not only are the rich and the poor two different types of people, but they have no understanding of each other, no sympathy to each others ideals or lives but perhaps most importantly, no connection to each other. It’s with this that I must stress, there is no vitriol in this statement or message, nor is there malice to the rich or the poor, and for very good reason.

The ideals and purpose of One Nation, is to bring these two nations together, to find that missing connection and make two nations become One Nation. Just look at recent statements by Sir John Major let alone his entire career and compare them to statements Ed Miliband has been making his entire career. The fact of the matter is that while the focus for One Nation Tories is Social Mobility and making the poor richer, the focus of Ed Miliband is to make the rich poorer, to punish ambition and tax success. Social Mobility, in the eyes of One Nation Tories, is the link between the rich and the poor. Opportunity is what it takes to make the Two Nations become One.

Miliband and the Labour party want to attack the well off. Not just those who have inherited wealth but those who have worked for everything they have. That’s not One Nation, that’s class warfare. How does that encourage Social Mobility? How does that encourage someone to work hard, do better, achieve more if once you have achieved more than you ever thought you could, the government take half of your earnings? The simple answer is that it doesn’t, which is why a leftist like Miliband can simply not be a man of One Nation, nor can any leftist party like the Labour party be a party of One Nation. One Nation Labour is an oxymoron. Anyone who wants to persecute any part of society is not someone who subscribes to One Nation, how can they? They don’t see One Nation, they see multiple nations and instead of joining them together, they wish to simply eliminate one of them. Each to their own, but I know I do not want to live in a society that is that way inclined.

Today’s two nations are in fact not as clear as they were back when Disraeli made his observations in Sybil, where it was the middle class factory owners against the working class factory workers. Today we see a society that has wages that spread from the lowest possible to the highest imaginable and everything in between. If we use traditional terms like Working and Middle class, then the difference between them is as little as a Penny on your average wage.

Of course, we also have people who live desperately on the welfare state to get by, and these are now the desperate people in our society who need help. Labour and Miliband think that throwing money at it is the best thing for them, and of course, money will do them well in the short run; it will pay their rent and put food on their table - but what does it do for them in the long run? The reality is that nothing will help them better than opportunity, education, work and social mobility. Ed Miliband’s ‘socialism’ is nothing more than social welfarism, and as much as welfare helps people in the short term, it does little to help anyone in the long run. Today’s two nations is that of people on welfare with little or no way to get into work and young professionals in private sector jobs and working their way up their career ladders. If we wish to see One Nation, we must wish to help those who on welfare make their way onto a path of financial security and social mobility.

If Labour wish to be “the party of the working class” they can have it, because we all know they can’t be the party of One Nation, the party of One Nation has to be a party that encourages hard work, ambition, self-determination and your own path to prosperity, certainly not a party that preaches class-warfare and wants to punish success and ambition. A One Nation party is a party of all classes and backgrounds, not just singling out one and attacking another.

This post was originally posed on the site of Conservative Future Scotland North.

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A mixed education system is the best way to speed up Britain’s lagging social mobility

Andrew Thorpe-Apps

Sir John Major recently spoke out against our country’s “truly shocking” lack of social mobility and the consequent dominance, in politics and other fields, of a narrow section of society.

The term ‘social mobility’ is an unfortunate one, couched as it is in class terms. In reality, it is economic mobility and the ability to progress in one’s career that most concern us in 21st century Britain.

A great deal of attention was given to Sir John’s intervention, not least because many viewed it as an attack on David Cameron and the ‘Notting Hill Set’. Some on the Left have even praised the former Tory Prime Minister as a kind of class warrior. For those on the right of the Conservative Party, branding him as a class antagonist provides a convenient way of concealing Britain’s social mobility problem. Whilst Sir John’s beginnings were indeed humble, it is wrong to think he is calling for some idealist notion of equality.

Absolute social and economic equality are achievable only under authoritarian leadership. The reason for this is simple: equality is not a natural state of affairs; it must be artificially constructed through the workings of the state. Further, under such a system, there could be no social mobility as any individual disparity would represent a threat to state control. Whilst greater economic equality is a laudable aim, it should not be conflated with the means by which to achieve it.

Due to this preoccupation with egalitarianism, the Left are inherently opposed to social mobility. Labour’s attempt to close Britain’s grammar schools was a clear example of this. On the other hand, the Conservatives are the natural party of individual economic and social improvement, chartered under the banner of ‘equality of opportunity’. Yet a truly meritocratic society cannot be achieved when people’s life chances are largely determined at birth.

The issue is not that the majority of the Cabinet were privately educated; it is that individuals from less privileged backgrounds did not have an opportunity to even stand for election.

Sir John is right to raise the issue of ‘intergenerational mobility’, as economists like to call it. It is one of the greatest challenges facing this country’s politicians. Britain is one of the most unequal societies in the world, with statistics consistently showing it to be less socially mobile than other developed nations. A 2005 LSE study found that, whilst the gap in opportunities between rich and poor is similar in Britain and the US, in the US it is at least static, while in Britain it is getting wider.

Furthermore, social mobility is not a purely moral imperative. Britain is suffering an economic loss by not ensuring that the best and brightest are rising to the top. How many potential inventors and entrepreneurs have been lost simply because they did not have the financial means or social networks to flourish?    

Although family, social networks and attitudes will always play a role in determining an individual’s success, there are measures which governments can undertake to ensure that individual ability becomes more of a driving factor.

The greatest reason why Britain’s social mobility is in decline is because the better off have benefitted disproportionately from increased educational opportunity. Whilst the proportion of people from the poorest fifth of the population obtaining a degree has increased from 6 per cent to 9 per cent since the early 1980s, the graduation rates for the richest fifth have risen from 20 per cent to 47 per cent.

Education is the key to social mobility, and grammar schools are a beacon beside the lumbering behemoth that is comprehensive education. Michael Gove has made progress in shaking up the education system. Yet Gove runs the risk of fragmenting education in a way that could prove counterproductive to social mobility. Free schools, though perfectly laudable, are generally set up by middle class parents in the suburbs. 

Gove would do well to look at Germany. Here, secondary education includes five types of school. The school a pupil attends will depend on their academic attainment, but particular focus is also given to the type of vocational training which will best fit each child’s skills. Whilst in Britain there remains a preoccupation with academic success, in Germany it is recognised that academic and vocational education are equally valuable. It is no coincidence that Germany has been enjoying the kind of export-driven economic success that Britain can only dream of. Germany also performs far better in the social mobility stakes. By adapting the education system to account for the varied skills of its children, Germany provides greater opportunity to those from poorer backgrounds.   

A mixed education system, with strong independent and grammar schools, and comprehensive and free schools which channel the talents of their students, will help Britain to reverse its social mobility shame.

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If Britain is to tackle elitism, social mobility needs to move up the political agenda

Jack Smith

John Major’s intervention on social mobility has caused serious debate on the issue for the first time in far too long.

The former Conservative Prime Minister said that the loss of social mobility in Britain was “truly shocking”. It is clear that this message was intended to force the discussion about the background of the people who currently serve in the Government and the neglect of ordinary people in holding elite positions. Mr. Major – or the “poor boy from Brixton” as he was once dubbed – was state-educated and did not go to university. The intervention was most timely because this is an enormous issue that for far too long has only featured down the bottom rungs of the political agenda.

Social mobility is an issue which has mostly been swept under the carpet in a still class-obsessed society. One of the main problems is that social mobility itself is a concept which is incredibly broad and not easily measurable. Whereas it is fairly easy to rally against welfare cuts or a closure of services at a local hospital, it is very difficult to protest against the lack of state school backgrounds in elite positions because the issues behind it are so deep rooted and complex. It is much easier for a politician to side step the issue of appointing Old Etonians to high office than it is for him to ignore other public crises.

On face value, people are right to criticise the dominance of the privately educated and there can be no doubt that such a bias exists in British society. The deeply shocking reality is that over one-third of MPs, half of senior doctors and over two-thirds of High Court judges come from private school backgrounds despite these schools educating less than 10% of the population.

Britain is a nation with a deeply rooted class bias and this is evident in every aspect of our lives. In our society today, it is a valid question to ask just how many people themselves would overlook the state educated, accent-laden candidate in favour of the privately educated Oxford graduate if it was them burdened with the pressure of responsibility. As an aspiring adult from the Midlands, I’m well aware that my accent and state education could be a hindrance if I should choose to pursue an elite career. Perceptions about those who are from my background are undoubtedly a barrier to getting more people into senior roles.  

Solutions to this issue can only be truly advanced if social mobility is forced higher up on the agenda across all political parties. Radical action and much more political capital is needed to be dedicated on this issue alone because without it Britain will continue to exist as a closed shop for those without the right connections.

For a supposed ‘wonk’, Ed Miliband has surprisingly few ideas of his own

James Willby

You might remember that there was a break-in at Labour HQ. The joke was that the thieves had gone in looking for a policy but hadn’t come back with anything of note.

There’s been talk of “predators and producers”, of “the squeezed middle”, but the only clear instances where Miliband has produced anything like a coherent vision were with his use of Disraeli’s one nationism and his proposal for a freeze on energy bills. Then with the intervention of former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major, Miliband thought he had finally struck gold.

“Many people face a choice this winter between heating and eating” he quoted at a despairing David Cameron.  “These are the ordinary people of this country who this Prime Minister will never meet and whose lives they will never understand.”  It was, to quote a boxing term, a straight KO and the Prime Minister returned to Downing Street to lick his wounds. So, should we Conservatives be worried by such a performance? Does it herald the change of fortunes Labour activists have been so desperate to see? Hardly. 

The Labour leader’s use of Disraeli and Major, whilst good politics, illustrates his Party’s fundamental weakness – simply put, it has no idea who it is or what it’s for. From free schools to referenda, from reducing the taxation on the poorest to green investment, everything that is fresh and exciting is coming from the ongoing tussle between the Coalition parties. The fact Miliband is forced to rely on the words of former Conservative Prime Ministers in his battle with Mr. Cameron shows just how bad the situation has become. Nineteen months from a general election and Labour’s ideas factory is a wizened burnt-out old husk.

Despite endless internal reviews and conversations, it has produced nothing of substance and Miliband’s tenure has seen him hop from bandwagon to bandwagon in a vain attempt to capture the public mood. Chris Bryant’s attempt to get tough on immigration blew up in his face. Tristram Hunt is now floundering over free schools, first backing them then seemingly veering away, and on HS2 I doubt anybody within the Labour Party knows what their policy actually is.

In laying claim to Disraeli’s one-nationism and Major’s compassionate conservatism, Miliband invites us to judge him by their principles. Does his opposition to deficit reduction chime with Disraeli’s observation that “Debt is a prolific mother of folly and of crime”? If he becomes Prime Minister, will he seriously be able to claim that Labour “inherited a sick economy and passed on a sound one” as Major did?  Perhaps we can best sum up Labour’s dilemma by paraphrasing Thatcher. You see Ed; the problem with ‘Milibandism’ is that eventually you run out of other people’s ideas. It might be time to get some of your own. 

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Putting purity before power: how many Tories truly want to resist UKIP?

Giles Marshall 11.58am

With Tory cabinet ministers scrambling over each other to assure the party of their Euro-scepticism, one might wonder what the fuss over UKIP is all about. Aside from a matter of timing, it seems most Tories are united on the referendum.  Yet of course, there is more to it.

UKIP is not only a repository for Euro-sceptics. Indeed, Europe is just the hook on which to hang a whole panoply of concerns. UKIP is fundamentally a protest party. For disillusioned Tories in particular, UKIP offers an unrepentant leader in Nigel Farage who contrasts nicely with the more nuanced David Cameron.

Tory members and a significant number of backbench MPs are not happy in coalition, hate the notion of Tory ‘modernisation’ and dislike the thought of compromise. In their black and white - or blue and red - world, there is much virtue in Tory puritanism and Mr Cameron’s great crime is in failing to recognise this.

Mr Cameron, of course, is trying to operate in the real world. His Toryism derives from his upbringing rather than deep political conviction. It was never honed through a party activism that might have brought some deeper, grittier understanding of the party he leads. His Toryism is instinctive, and thus more inclined to accommodate itself to the demands and pressures of the world outside the bubble of the party. That lies behind his chaotic but worthy pursuit of ‘modernisation’ and it still lies behind his desire not to take knee-jerk approaches to such complex issues as EU membership.

Mr Cameron is, at heart, a Tory pragmatist of the type that used to dominate in the twentieth century heyday of the party.

The party he leads no longer resembles that triumphant machine. It is questionable as to how far this change is due to the legacy of the party’s first truly ideological leader - Margaret Thatcher - and how much would have occurred in any case as a result of a growing sense of alienation in the modern world.

Whatever the cause, the Conservative party today is a puritanical beast, railing against the iniquities of the world but struggling to find solutions. Like 16th-century puritans, today’s Tories take comfort in purity and isolation and want nothing to do with the murky waters of compromise politics.

Even before the halfway mark of the Coalition, many Tory backbenchers had been restlessly pushing against its constraints. They have managed to breach some, even to the extent of proposing Bills that challenge their own government.  In such times it is difficult to distinguish backbench Tories from a brand of opposition MP.

Europe - or rather its forced removal - is the great prize. Mr Cameron has tried to feed that appetite but has found its gaping maw remains open no matter how much he tries to satiate it. He is facing the same problem as John Major. Paul Goodman makes the comparison on Conservative Home, and puts the issue down to a failure of leadership on the part of both men.

This is not the whole story. It is not really possible for any outward-facing Tory leader to lead his party. No-one who is not a died-in-the-wool Euro-denier has a hope of gaining the support of Tory backbenchers, and yet when such men are put into leadership they fail to win over the country as a whole.

Europe merely represents the high water mark of the Tory party’s desire to become an unadulterated and unrestrained party of the right. Many members envy UKIP’s easy positions and rather want them for themselves. Many Tories now would prefer purity to power.

David Cameron is no longer simply struggling against the Euro-monster. He is struggling against a much bigger desire to retreat to a position of political comfort, a position that he has tried to force the party to vacate since 2005. It is possible that his failure is due in part to the incoherent nature of ‘modernisation’ itself, which was too Blairite in nature and should have taken stronger account of historic One Nation Toryism.

The big question is if Mr Cameron does indeed fail, whether there is going to be another chance for the Tory party to be a broad-based party of the centre-right, or whether it will simply assume UKIP’s mantle, and stay on the fringe.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

Set Europe aside, Mr Cameron, and reinvigorate a genuinely One Nation outlook at home

Giles Marshall 10.49am

I’m not sure "Fresh Start" is quite the right name for a group of Tory MPs busy re-hashing what is by now a pretty hackneyed message. The group is publishing a report calling for the repatriation of significant powers from the EU to Britain.

So the same call that has been made by Tory MPs since Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech – a fresh start indeed.

Yet, of course, the group’s report is newsworthy because David Cameron is himself entering the European maelstrom, with a speech due on Friday that advance spin suggests will be redefining the British relationship with Europe and calling for a referendum on the terms of our membership. Mr Cameron is going to complete the work that Sir John Major began with Maastricht it seems, though Sir John himself had rather assumed that the Maastricht agreement was an end in itself.

The problem for Mr Cameron is that of the few policy positions he does hold, a vague Euro-scepticism is among them. This is a Prime Minister viewed with deep suspicion by the majority right-wing of his parliamentary party, and he undoubtedly sees a new Euro-scepticism as just the sort of thing to appease them with.

He should beware. There is no beast so determinedly single-minded as the Euro-sceptic Tory MP, and they will not be appeased by some vague ideas about renegotiation. Nor shall they be too happy about what must seem a far distant prospect of a referendum on Europe under a majority Tory administration, especially given its current unlikelihood.

Hatred of the EU has become part of the DNA of many Tory MPs, to the extent that any rational debate about it is virtually impossible.

Take the Obama administration. After successful reciprocal visits between President Obama and Mr Cameron, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a transatlantic relationship built on the strongest of foundations. Back to the glory days of Reagan and Thatcher.

Well, in the sense that Reagan consistently belied his own rhetoric by following a US interest that typically denied Britain her own, I suppose it is. For all the bonhomie of Cameron and Obama, the administration has not been slow in making it very clearly known that it regards these European manouevres as unwise and potentially disastrous. A Britain isolated from Europe will not be able to rely on any special relationship with the United States. Her realpolitik views a single European unit as the most useful form of European ally. Any country standing outside of that – including Britain – will be marginalised.

American attitudes are nothing compared to those of powerful European countries such as Germany. Gunther Krichbaum, a key CDU ally of Chancellor Merkel, warned of economic disaster for Britain if she stood outside the single market. Just as British Tory euro-sceptics are vigorous in their call for ‘renegotiation’, so most European players are equally determined that Britain cannot keep treating the EU as a la carte.

Mr Cameron is more Euro-sceptic than Sir John Major. Yet he also appears to be a less effective diplomat. Andrew Rawnsley, in a thoughtful piece for the Observer on Sunday, recalled Major’s tenacious and canny diplomacy (“a gentleman”, according to one of his European adversaries, Ruud Lubbers), which yielded the opt-outs of the Maastricht Treaty.  But, as Rawnsley reminds us, such opt-outs benefited Major not a bit, as he watched his 1992 election triumph dissolve into the ashes of a disastrous party war.

David Cameron is not, as I’ve noted before, a leader with deep roots in the Conservative party. It is something that isolates him, and it would be foolhardy of him to think that he can ride the Euro-sceptic bandwagon. Europe wins few votes amongst the British electorate, but a perception that Britain is an isolated, marginal figure in world affairs does resonate, and in appeasing certain MPs, Mr Cameron is heading in that direction.

He should leave Europe alone, and appropriately enough on the day of the launch of a new book about Tory modernisation, look to reinvigorating a domestic One Nation policy. Therein lies our real chance of reversing decades of Tory electoral decline.

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There really is no credible reason to deny same-sex couples the right to marry

Nik Darlington 10.32am

The Prime Minister is right to say that society is made stronger by people’s commitment to each other. It should matter little whether those people are husband and wife, husband and husband, or wife and wife (admittedly, the same-sex marriage lexicon needs some work).

I was uncertain about the logic or need for the Government’s opening up the debate earlier this year. Few people were insisting on it, fewer still would place it highly on a list of public policy priorities in the midst of economic pain.

Yet now that the question has been put - i.e. should same-sex couples be allowed to marry? - there is no conceivable way that I could disagree, as a Christian and a citizen (the two aren’t incompatible, mind).

Several Conservative MPs cavil at the thought. One has been quoted as saying the policy would unnecessarily split the party. Considering this caucus consists of many who persist in splitting the party over other issues, not least the European Union, that’s a bit rich.

In a cogent and moving article today in the Times (£), Tim Montgomerie writes:

"Every Tory MP needs to think about how they want their vote on same-sex marriage to be remembered. Young people think homosexuality is as natural as ginger hair, skin colour or left-handedness. Tory MPs should think about the day that their children and grandchildren ask how they voted."

It’s been a while now since I was a schoolboy so maybe the ‘gay’ taunts that we would all chuck about are relics of the past. That aside, Montgomerie’s point is apt, however uncomfortably direct for some.

Many conservationist Tories (and non-political conservationists for that matter) will quite rightly insist on our not putting that Tesco megastore there, or that new ring road here, for the sake of future generations. As will environmentalists proclaim the precautionary principle.

So however guilt-inducing Montgomerie’s call to arms might be, the teleological line of argument is correct. There is no longer a convincing case (was there ever really?) for civil society to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to marry.

That this is a ‘civil’ matter is fundamental. Part of me had hoped that following the public consultation, the Government would hold firm on its ban on religious groups offering to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. Now it seems that they will be allowed to, should they so choose (the Quakers and some Jewish synaogogues have indicated they will). My fear is this will open up legal problems for the churches - such as the Church of England - that do not opt in. The Government, however, seems sure of its legal position and we should hope this is indeed the case.

Opponents within and without the Conservative party claim the Government has no mandate for the policy. Taking 2010 election manifestos into account, those opponents have a point. Nonetheless, the forming of a coalition has oft muddied those waters already and shall continue to do so for the duration of this Parliament.

Moreover, while opinion polling is nebulous (depends on how you ask the question), there does appear to be a broad acceptance of the policy in the country. This after one of the most extensive and lengthy public consultation processes in history (something many opponents that I’ve come across have for some reason remained unaware of).

Above all, if Members of Parliament are not our democratic representatives, what are they? Put the matter to a free vote and, as Sir John Major said over the weekend (£), “the Labour party will vote for it, the Liberals will vote for it, huge numbers of Tories will vote for it.”

You can conceivably wonder why the question was put at this point in time. Yet now it’s been asked, why on Earth not?

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Big game week on Lord Justice Leveson’s savannah

Nik Darlington 9.28am

The Leveson sideshow is on its way out of town after a stage run of more than 6 months. The press, to varying extents, has afforded the inquiry an importance it probably does not deserve, which is odd considering Lord Justice Leveson’s quarry is the press itself.

This week is ‘big game’ week, when the elephants, rhinos and other titans of the animal kingdom sit in the cross-hairs of the wooden inquisitor, Robert Jay QC.

Yesterday brought a rare sight indeed. Pine martens are seen in public more often these days than Gordon Brown, hidden away as they are in their Scottish refuge. I can drag this analogy further still. Pine martens are said to be reducing Britain’s population of invasive grey squirrels. The Murdochs are not grey squirrels, but for many they have an invasive characteristic; and Mr Brown grumbled into the hearing yesterday with one thing in mind, to eradicate the miserable memory of the Murdoch press.

I have enormous sympathy with Mr Brown for the coverage of his son’s cystic fibrosis. It was a reprehensible and unprofessional act by the NHS worker(s) who passed on the sensitive information to the Sun. And it was a despicable editorial decision by Rebekah Brooks’ to publish the story. On the front page. We have no reason to disbelieve Mr Brown’s assertion that he and his wife were presented with little more than a fait accompli by the Sun's editor.

But an innocent bystander in the vicious briefing wars that beset Tony Blair’s premiership and his? Gordon Brown is pulling a fast one of the highest order.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, also appeared yesterday, with an air of such relaxed insouciance to be bordering on blasé. The only moments of uneasiness centred on questions to do with his relationship with Andrew Coulson, whom Mr Osborne had a big hand in hiring, though even then he was let off lightly.

Today we have an appearance from the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, who I’m sure shall enlighten Lord Leveson with his sycophantic tailcoat trailing at smug News International cocktail parties.

We will also be hearing from another, greatly more respected, former prime minister, Sir John Major. If Gordon Brown is the leopard that never changes his spots (he might look like a grey elephant these days, but on yesterday’s evidence his memory is not up to a pachyderm’s exacting standards), then Sir John is the august old lion, long retired but still surveying the field.

You don’t have to be much in the know to know that Sir John Major has some very strong views about the role of the press. Who wouldn’t after the treatment unfairly dealt to him during the 1990s? It is unlikely to add anything of material note to the Leveson Inquiry’s proceedings - more colour than censure - but it could be one of the more fascinating sessions of one of the more miserable political inquiries.

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