During these tough economic times people are cutting back on spending especially on luxury items, but if you need to buy something then using discount vouchers can save you money. There are a wide range of websites offering discount vouchers to entice people to spend and it’s a good way of grabbing a bargain.

It is always a good idea to check discount voucher comparison websites before you buy anything online; these can be in the form of free shipping of money off specific products or services. Discount voucher comparison sites give you a list of different outlets and their current special offers and are usually posted by individuals who have seen and bought a bargain.

Discount vouchers tend to be time limited, so checking back regularly is recommended, so before you buy something online check out a comparison website and see if you can get a great deal.

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Amongst all the egregious failings of the last Government, one that annoyed me more than most was the continual elision of public spending with the economy – as if somehow the two were just interchangeable constructs. In the Gospel According to Brown, £6 billion cuts in public spending was ‘taking £6 billion out of the economy’.

That’s just madness. The money is still there – it’s just in the hands of the private sector rather than in the hands of the Government.

But then Labour always used the state to create jobs in a kind of mini communism. Take the unlamented Home Information Packs (HIPs). Originally, they were intended to be used as a way of getting house price data onto Government databases and store various other things that could have been useful to the Government. Then, watered down in the face of massive protest they became a way to garner an emissions report to comply with some EU regulation or other.

Whatever. They gave rise to an entire new career path – the HIP Consultant. Thousands of people trained to become such consultants, with attendant websites, business cards and everything else. So HIPs created jobs, that much is undeniable. But those jobs had no intrinsic value. No wealth was created by their existence and no social function did they perform.

Government has excelled in such jobs. Rare indeed is the council, quango or department that doesn’t have diversity officers (and yes, they are real, not merely a figment of the Daily Mail’s imagination) and so on. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of highly skilled people (such as my cousin) are taking up jobs in the Middle East, the USA, China and anywhere else there is real economic growth based on solid economic foundations.

Of course, the cuts that are coming will mean that jobs are lost in the public sector. Many, many thousands of jobs. But the private sector will grow as the pressures of tax and regulation are lifted. Cameron’s analysis is, ultimately, spot on. Watch below.

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government spendingGovernment spending has always been enigmatic. Ministers blithely stand at the despatch box to speak of a billion here and a billion there as if it means nothing to talk of money in these terms.

And somehow, this money – our money – vanishes into the complex world of Whitehall, and the number of people who can tell you where the money ended up is vanishingly small. Freedom of Information campaigners have sought for years to get access to details of government spending, only to be stymied at every turn. But now, in a bold reversal of that policy, the database used by the Treasury to overlook spending – the Combined Online Information System – has been published in open formats.

Such is the complexity of the database that the Government is anticipating that useful analysis will come from independent experts rather than Government mandarins. The BBC has the story covered in more depth here, but we already think this is a marvellous idea with huge potential to shift the relationship between people and their government in the people’s favour.

Perhaps the best early adaptation of the data can be found at wheredoesmymoneygo.org - which while lacking granular detail has amazing visualisations of where our money is currently being spent.

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Well the election was first disappointing (we like to see the new occupant taking over after a crushing victory) then enraging (Lib/Lab ‘coalition of the losers’)  and finally quite inspiring.

The love-in between Clegg and Cameron as described in the rose garden of Number 10 was really quite lovely. Whether it will withstand the storms and tides that will buffet the government as they try to force through unpopular but necessary cuts in public services remains to be seen, but for a few days at least we can all be proud to be British and that our unwritten constitution has once again proved flexible in the event of uncertain circumstances.

Best of luck to our new Government – we’re sure they’ll need it!

I know, I know. To us here in the UK, bingo is just a benign bit of fun your grandma plays (although its modern counterpart online bingo has quite a following among the kids) but in Alabama it has become the centrepiece of a tale of politicial chicanery, bribery and a debate about the role of the state within the US federal system.

The tale takes quite some telling but has its roots in Alabama’s stringent anti-gambling statutes. In common with many US states, Alabama has taken the view that gambling is not something that should be sanctioned or condoned.

Of course, the money involved in gambling is massive and huge corporate concerns are constantly at war with the legislature to test whether gambling bans are in harmony with the generally libertarian nature of US law-making. If people are free, the argument runs, then surely they are free to gamble if they so wish?

At the heart of Alabama’s problem lies the fact that while bingo is a game that is banned at the state level, it can be played as part of charity activities at local level. The allegation is that big companies are exploiting this anomaly to place electronic bingo games with high value prizes in community centres whilst covering it by making charitable payments from the revenue they generate.

Further muddying the waters is the fact that Alabama’s current governer (Republic Bob Riley) is alleged to have received campaign funds during his election campaign from big gambling interests from outside the state itself. The charges of hypocrisy have been as loud as they have been predictable. With the Gubernatorial election coming up soon, it’s sure to be a big big issue for the voters as they try to separate the various issues of corruption, free will, protecting others from harm and just plain old having fun.

Despite our brief and ill-fated dalliance in the UK with so-called “super casinos” gambling has been pretty much left to individual choice and light regulatory touch and I think in light of the complex horrors that are thrown up when politics clashes with the gambling industry (political betting aside) we can consider ourselves very lucky indeed.

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Lots of ‘free betting’ websites are offering bets on the outcome of the election, but it’s notable that political betting has been thrown into turmoil by the sudden and unexpected rise of the Liberal Democrats. Just a month ago, the odds were for a small – if workable – majority for the Conservative Party.  Now the talk is of hung parliaments and coalition Government, which is almost unknown in the British political system. For now Nick Clegg can luxuriate in the possibility of being kingmaker come the morning of May 7th but out curious electoral system means that political betting is extraordinarily difficult to do. With individual constituencies returning MPs rather than the country as a whole, local history and issues can make almost any seat in the country defy wider national trends. In fact, at the last election the Tories actually polled more votes than the Labour Party and yet still lost by a biggish margin in terms of seats. Traditionally, turnout in rural areas is both higher than the national average and more staunchly Tory by inclination. That means that in their seats the Tories pile up the votes but can’t make inroads in the smaller urban seats where Labour dominates. So whatever the headline shares of the votes forecast for the parties by the pollsters, it is there micro-trends at local level that actually determine the outcome. And with trust in politicians at an all time low, polling companies have found records numbers of “haven’t decideds” and people who literally don’t want to vote for any of the major parties. Align that with the strong showing by fringe parties in recent years (the BNP polling well in Labour heartlands, for example) which leeches support from the main parties and this election is almost impossible to call. That all being said, we think the Tories will shade a small majority which will be enough to let them govern – albeit perhaps horse-trading with the Lib Dems on free vote issues. Gordon Brown’s unhappy stint as Prime Minister looks sure to end ignominiously as Labour seem likely to register their lowest share of the popular vote in generations. That they will still probably have far more seats than the Lib Dems on a similar share of the vote will only serve to heighten the case for electoral reform in favour of a more proportional system.

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This Election has been characterised by a distinct lack of direct interaction between voters and the politicians. It’s hard to remember John Major with much fondness, but his “soapbox” tour of the country in the 1992 election was possibly the last attempt by a major politician to actually confront the people head on in person. It paid off too – with the Tories returned to power in the teeth of an economic recession of the kind that routinely spells death for any ruling party.

Gordon Brown’s handlers – mindful of the accusation that everything has been stage-managed in this debate to date – obviously decided to put Brown into direct contact with the electorate. And… well. The results speak for themselves.

Caught in off-guard moment by a microphone he should have switched off, Brown played right into the hands of those who have tried to portray him as desperately out of touch with public opinion, and even contemptuous of the public in general.

He was unfortunate to be caught in such a way (and few politicians can’t have said worse things about the public) but his remarks that she was ‘bigoted’ on the basis that she dare raise the subject of immigration will work to confirm a suspicion that Labour believe that concern over immigration is rooted in racism.

Little wonder, perhaps, that it is in Labour’s heartlands that the BNP is at its strongest.

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Where’s the Slogans?

Apr 22, 2010

Apart from the amusing ‘I agree with Nick’ meme (be sure that’s not going to repeated in this week’s debate!) there’s been a notable absence of political catchphrases thus far in the election. Only Cameron has really made a stab at it with his ‘Big Society’ theme – and most commentators agree that no-one on the ground actually knows what that’s supposed to encapsulate.

Of course, we don’t want the election to become all about slogans – it’s empty enough as it is. But even so, those little verbal hooks are the kind of thing that have determined political outcomes down the years. Think back to “Tory sleaze”… “Labour isn’t working”… “Britain deserves better” and so on. All of them gave voters an easily identifiable point of orientation about what parties stood for – even if they were vacuous.

Compare with the US, where 2008′s election saw a raft of slogans and amusing t-shirts. Maybe US participation in politics is a great deal higher than here – and as such people are more prepared to publically proclaim their party allegiances, but even a search on Google for “election t-shirts” brings back almost nothing from the UK – and even the UK sites are selling mainly Obama t-shirts, of all bloody things. The only notable exception I could find was on Red Molotov – which has a mixture of t-shirts with UK political themes.

It’s really surprising given that one of the things that irks people about this election is the reliance on PR, spin and the media (both Cameron and Clegg are ex PR men) so you’d expect them to be able to come up with something a bit pithier and memorable than “Change that works for you. Building a fairer Britain”.

So, I guess if you’re after something like that to show the world that you’re proud to be Labour, Tory or Lib Dem, you’ll have to come up with your own slogan and get your own t shirt printing done too. My favourite idea is just a picture of Gordon Brown with the word C**T written underneath it. Perhaps you can think of something wittier and less scatological!

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UK airspace has been re-opened after nearly a week of chaos across Europe caused by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull on Iceland and the resultant ash cloud. But now questions are being asked about whether the UK government should have done more or – perversely – less.

Critics of the Government (notably Boris Johnson) argue that the decision to close UK airspace was taken with undue haste and too much emphasis on an impossible ‘zero risk’ approach to health and safety. Such things are a common trope on the right of the political spectrum that sees Health and Safety zealotry as part of a wider encroachment on human rights or freedoms.

In this case, we have to say that we’re probably on the side of the government. We’re talking about the lives of many tens of thousands of people who use flights every day.  A single crash could have caused hundreds of deaths and it doesn’t take much imagination to guess how much opprobrium would have fallen on the government had they allowed the flight to go ahead.

We’re sure the decision making wasn’t perfect, but better that lessons are learnt in leisure afterwards than in the aftermath of a tragic loss of life.

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It’s hard to see what the televised TV debates brought to the table in terms of serious politics. If you missed it, you can see the first one on ITV’s website now, and the second interview is coming up on Sky this Thursday at 9pm.

Most recent complaints about the political system have focussed on the problem of the ‘personalisation’ of politics. Tony Blair’s own personal appeal was massive – as three straight election wins proved – but the substance of his politics was vaguely defined at best. On the one historically critical issue of his tenure as Prime Minister – the Irag war – he so closely identified his personality and belief in the personal nature of his mandate that he felt able to ignore public opinion and use his oratory and popularity to beguile a supine parliament to his will.

As the truth of the Iraq situation became clear, this presidential style of politics became irrevocably tainted by association with ‘spin.’ It is a rock from under which even the ostensibly serious Gordon Brown has proved incapable of climbing from under.

And in that light, focussing the election on the ‘performance’ of just 3 representatives in a controlled debate is the apogee of this move rather than anything new. Clegg “won” the debate on the back of his personality. I’d wager you couldn’t get 1 in 100 people to accurately list Lib Dem policies on issues such as the environment and policing, yet astonishingly the Lib Dems are currently holding a 30% share of voting intention.

If you were looking for proper representative democracy, then you won’t find it in a TV studio on a Thursday night.

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