Better Living With iPhone and iPad – The Tale Of How Apple Bit Me

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I got my first actual PC in 1992 during my studies at Bradford University – as I recall, I spent my entire student loan on it. After using green screen VT100 terminals during my first year there, and part way through my second, upgrading to a colour Windows PC was a real step up in my technological abilities – although I didn’t have Internet, just Bulletin Boards and a 2600 baud modem that took all day to download just a few hundred kilobytes over my dial-up, pay-per-minute phone-line narrow-band connection. Everything was still pretty much text-based – the WWW had yet to take hold.

In the computer centre at  University, I had access to Unix workstations that allowed me to telnet into text-based MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) around the world. They were part of the first generation of multi-player internet based gaming that, in the 20 years since, has evolved beyond anything we imagined then – World of Warcraft was a long way from technologically possible back then, and 32 people all playing at once was considered a lot.

The came the rise of the web – another technological advance, that’s increasingly quickly become an integral part of life for myself and many millions (even billions) of users around the world. Ever faster computers and better internet connection speeds followed – exponentially larger than back in 92.

Inside computers, processing power becomes ever greater and ever smaller – The number of transistors that can fit on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every 2 years, according to  Moore’s Law, and has done since the 1960s, with the trend continuing today.

PCs in the home were almost unheard of in the early 90s, most of my friends have owned one less than 10 years – yet now, the majority of homes have computers and Internet access. In 2009, 18.3 million households – 70% of the British population – have Internet access (National Statistics Online). 90% of them have broadband access. A few years ago, it was rare to see a web address on an ad – now it seems stranger when there isn’t one there.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because things change with technology, really quickly and often in unexpected ways…

From my first encounter with Macs in the 90s, as a PC man through, I knew I hated them and their ‘overly smug owners’, and that continued for a couple of decades. Once the exclusive weapon of design houses and musicians, Apple have transformed a. their fortunes and b. the world around us. I have a couple of friends who can be described as Mac Fanbois (apparently this is the de rigeur spelling!), eschewing PCs as the evil spawn of Gates, a man guided by evil – as it turns out, Mr Gates is actually one heck of a Philanthropist, giving away 58% of the money his software has gifted him with to help others in less fortunate circumstances. As it also turns out, PCs are not evil either, so that’s 2 things that probably come as a relief to many of you.

As a die hard PC-to-the-core guy, never would I have seen a day when not one, not two, but three Apple devices are within reach (2 iPhones as of today, and one iPad I’ll talk about at great length given the chance!). I would have probably bet an awful lot of money on the fact that I would never own an Apple product, and if you had taken that bet… well, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay you the Gazillion pounds I would have bet… but I would have made that bet 100% confident I wouldn’t lose, at that time.

They invented iMac – ooo a coloured computer that’s all inside the monitor box… ummm yukk. “How are you meant to upgrade that with the latest graphics or sound card? What, you can’t?!? Well my PC…”, you know the story, if you’re a PC Guy you’ve probably told it to many a Mac user, and if you’re a Mac Man you’ve probably heard it as a rebuttal of your claims of technological superiority! I’ve stopped having the argument since they started building Macs using PC architectures (Take that, Mac boys!!!! Darn it’s hard to get out of the habit…), and Windows PC owners started running OS X in a desktop window, as their Mac counterparts did with Windows for many years as an indication of perceived superiority!

Then they invented the iPod – I never bought one, I’ve had a few different mp3 players (including a really cool waterproof one for swimming), but never gone so far as to ‘believe the hype’, as I said at the time, and buy an iPod.

Then they invented iPhone, and I bought a Blackberry Curve 2 months before they released it… so didn’t own one – for another 16 months, when I lost my bet, and bought my first Apple product – the 8GB iPhone 3G

Why the change of heart? Apple created something that changed the game completely, and the Nokia-dominated UK mobile phone market soon evolved, with Apple stealing an ever-greater share of the market – and dominating the conversations about the smartphone market – which the iPhone evolved in such a way that the Nokias, Samsungs and Sonys aren’t yet caught up in tech terms. Another young pretender, Google, with its’ Android OS, has risen from nowhere to become the second most dominant. Analysts are divided over who will rule the smartphone market in a few years time, things have changed so much, so quickly. Most agree that Apple’s iOS, and Google’s Android, look like becoming the main 2 mobile phone operating systems.

Anyway, I digress… back to my change of heart! The iPhone offered one thing that for me has changed how we think of our mobile phones – the App Store. Now, what used to be a simple device for making calls has evolved to become an ever more flexible, multi-purpose electronic device that also makes phone calls. The Star Trek tricorder from our childhood has become reality! What fan of technology could resist this quantum leap in hand-held capability? Not this one, that’s for sure. Since the first day I got that iPhone, I knew that I had found one of the missing components in my technological journey through life. Since that day, I have integrated it completely into my work and personal life to the great benefit of both – I even set up a company to help other businesses benefit from this marvelous device

Such is my love of the iPhone that, after resisting the urge to queue ‘with all the nutters‘ yesterday on Launch Day, I found myself unable to sleep – and by 8am this morning had looked up all the remaining stock in the North of England and decided that I was going to drive to the only place in the North East of England that had any left, and see if I could get myself a nice new 16GB iPhone4. I gathered with other people as crazed as myself, and stood in queue for 3 hours outside the O2 store in the White Rose Shopping Centre in Leeds to get one of the last batch of iPhone4s available. Given my physical problems, it turned out to be a rather painful experience tempered by the knowledge a lovely new iPhone waited at the end. Now, I sit here with said device resplendent on the desk in front of me, immensely comforted in some strange way that I have one – now!

What’s worse is that, on the 12th May, I pre-ordered an iPad before the UK release – yes I did! It arrived on the 8th June (some weeks after they came out in the shops, which is one reason I queued today!), and for 18 days I have been acclimatising to yet another quantum leap in the way technology influences my life. The iPad has freed me from my desk in so many additional ways to the freedom the iPhone gave me – it’s way easier to work on than the iPhone because of the larger screen, and its’ portability has already allowed me to work in my dream office every day this week, achieving as much as if I’d been sat behind my desk. I’ve seen all the naysayers dissing the iPad, and I disagree with all of you – I completely get the point of the iPad, it fits into my existing Tech infrastructure perfectly, and it has evolved the way I work as much, if not more than, it’s smaller cousin, the iPhone.

My dream office, by the way, is a hammock. This is said hammock, in my dream office out in my garden (pre-lawn grown days, just after I moved in) – pic taken on old iPhone using Hipstamatic – awesome camera  app :) The relaxed-looking wild-eyed dude laying in it is my brother!

My Bro In One of My Hammocks

When I was slaving away in offices throughout the 90s and early noughties, I used to dream of the day when I was able to escape from behind the desk, to get away from the unpleasantness of office politics and minimal intellectual stimulation – and to do something I loved, that gave me a sense of purpose. And what’s more I wanted to do it on my own terms, in a hammock if I so choose! Although I had an inkling I had a purpose for my life, even as a child – I didn’t know what that purpose was… I just knew it wasn’t yet possible at the time, and I’ve had to wait many years for it to become technologically possible, feasible, and affordable.

I always wanted to help people make their lives easier using technology, the way I’ve used it as an extension of myself throughout the years. I know so many people who would benefit in so many ways from embracing computers and technology, but they fear it – believing it to be far too complex for them. I have a good friend who is 71 and thought that he’d never understand computers – he has now written and published his own website for over 10 years (with some minor help here and there from yours truly), and still thinks he doesn’t understand them. He would be the first to say “If I can do it wi’ my bad eyes, any ald sod can” (he has a fine, broad, Yorkshire accent as you can see in the video!).

I don’t know any business that wouldn’t greatly benefit from better use of the Internet  and mobile devices, and I’ll happily prove it to anyone who cares to take me up on the challenge, as I have for many years already.

I hated Apple, as was traditional and almost compulsory in PC circles, until they changed the world around me – the world of Technology, not the World itself(!). When they gave power to developers to let their imagination run riot (within provided Apple boundaries!) and build applications for their device, they created more than a new type of phone – they created a device that’s shifted the way we think of, and use, our handheld devices. That, coupled with the ever improving hardware and software inside, is what made me stop hating Apple. I’m still no fanboi – I have no illusions that they do some things badly, but they do some things really well – and by taking advantage of those things, I have improved the way I interact with the World (the actual World this time).

That is why I will now admit to quite liking Apple – I love my iPhone and iPad – but to feel the same about the whole company will take time, especially given their propensity for massive hype – by the way, it’s not ‘magical’ – it doesn’t cut assistants into 3 or produce doves from its’ interface!Paul Daniels and David Blaine are magical, the iPad is ‘just’ plain awesome! Still, the hype is effective – despite myself, I found myself queuing to make sure I got one of the first iPhone4s, and I pre-ordered the Pad which is even more pre-meditated!

Keep impressing me with your evolving product line, Mr Jobs, and you could make a fanboi out of me yet – but I won’t go easily… I still bleed PC, and am not ready to embrace desktop Mac by a long way – but the way your wonderful gizmos work with my PCs, and in my environment, is perfectly fine for now – thank you. Your mobile devices have enabled ever-evolving enhancements to my work and personal life, and I am grateful for that.

Please don’t release anything else new this year though… I can’t afford it – time- or money- wise!

Rob Bell

What is Cloud Computing? Why Web Applications Will Transform The Way You Do Business

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What is Cloud Computing?

The Growth of Cloud Computing

The Growth of Cloud Computing

What is Cloud Computing? It is a revolution that will change your business for the better, letting you work faster, cheaper and better…. and from anywhere, just about.

Cloud Computing is one term for Internet-based software and hardware platforms – basically, instead of installing programs on your own computer, you access them over the Internet – Gmail is cloud computing, in fact most of what Google offers is cloud computing – you access it via a web interface. Are you familiar with Hootsuite, the social networking client? That’s Cloud Computing – also known as a Web Application (Web App). Many of you probably already use Freshbooks (get it free from this link) – one of my favourite apps, that lets you track time and estimate & invoice easily.

It’s cool because it allows for a number of wonderful things – you can access your business information and applications from any internet connected device, so you’re no longer tied to one computer at your desk – PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad etc… You’ve got real-time business information always at your fingertips – which allows you to make decisions based on up-to-date, accurate company data.

Because it’s not tied to one computer, you’re in no danger of losing everything if that computer breaks – your data is stored securely in data centres with backup systems. Plus, you’ve always got your documents to hand, as long as there’s a device with an internet connection nearby.

Because you’re accessing the app over the web, the company that writes the app can quickly correct bugs and introduce new features – so you never have to buy new versions like you do with traditional software. New features to let you do things faster and better are added all the time. Web Apps companies are also very good at supporting their users, in my experience.

Web apps companies also tend to be much friendlier to each other than traditional software companies, even building their systems so your applications can talk to each other, your contact lists are linked to your customer management system, which links to your project system, which also links to your invoicing system which is linked to your accounting system – so you can automate many of your time-consuming tasks, and get a lot more done.

If you have a company, perhaps staff are located in several different locations. Web Apps are great for teams like this, because they easily allow you to collaborate with team members and share documents – you can even work on them in real-time together, despite being miles apart. You can set up and work on projects together, see what’s in the sales funnel, track customer interactions, arrange conferences, training, customer presentations, seminars… in fact any sort of meeting, online. Cloud computing is letting people work together better, faster, cheaper and more profitably.

Ex Ignibus for Cloud ComputingMy company, Ex Ignibus, specialises in web apps (cloud computing) for small businesses – we install Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) as the interface, linked with applications for accounting, invoicing, email marketing, customer relationship management, project management, word processing, spreadsheets – and lots more – for single person businesses up to large, geographically-separate, teams. Web Apps are inexpensive, and can be afforded by any business – it currently costs around $50 per user per year to buy GAPE, and many of the additional Web Apps offered are free as long as they’re integrated with the GAPE solution. Others cost between $10-$25 per month, usually increasing as your requirements increase – so you, as a small business owner, can get a pretty awesome business system for less than $50 per user per month – in comparison to regularly spending hundreds of pounds or dollars buying new software licenses for installable computer-based software. Many Web Apps are also free for micro-businesses (single employee or small team).

So, as you can see, cloud computing offers a new way of working which breaks free of traditional single-computer information and restrictive private networks, offering a secure, simple way for small businesses and teams to enjoy the kind of software that only large corporations could afford previously. The only software tied to my computer these days is Expression Web, Visual Basic and Photoshop – development tools I build sites with that demand higher processing power than most business apps and usually involve large filesizes. To try Web Apps out requires little or no investment, and could have massive positive effects on your business, so why don’t you give ‘em  a try? If you need a bit of help, drop me a line via the contact form at Ex Ignibus.

Take care and have fun out there,

Rob Bell

Living in a Con-Dem Nation – a Bright Future for British Politics?

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Conservatives Take Control
- But on a Lib Dem Leash

Cameron in Power

David Cameron Becomes New Resident at 10 Downing Street

So, it’s official – today, Gordon Brown stepped down as Prime Minister, and resigned as leader of the Labour Party and as one of the few remnants of New Labour. David Cameron is the new British Prime Minister.

The Tory party is forming the next Government of the United Kingdom – I feared this happening. Thatcher closed all the pits around the mining area I’ve lived in since my birth, destroying my father’s business (he was a coalman) and almost killing him, when heart failure as a result very nearly was his end. As a result, I’ve never supported the Tories. As I experienced adversity in my life, I found that they really didn’t represent me – they represented the monied classes – heck 18 of Cameron’s frontbenchers went to Eton with him, that doesn’t suggest that they’re in touch with the real world – rather cocooned, and privileged through their old boy network. I don’t see that they really understand real people – they spend very little time with them.

However, as Lord Ashdown himself expressed earlier – HOORAY!!!

I’m a card-carrying Liberal Democrat and have been for many years. We’ve campaigned for fairer politics and an end to the 2-party system that has kept us in the crap for many decades. Look at these results for the 2010 UK election:

Party Seats Gain Loss Net Votes % +/-%
Conservative 306 100 3 +97 10,706,647 36.1 +3.8
Labour 258 3 94 -91 8,604,358 29.0 -6.2
Liberal Democrat 57 8 13 -5 6,827,938 23.0 +1.0

As you can see, the Lib Dems got 23% of the popular vote but 57 seats – whereas Labout got 29% and 258 seats – how could that every be fair?The old system doesn’t represent the people it’s meant to serve.

Fortunately, no single party could form a majority Government, so Cameron reached out to the Liberals with what he described as “a comprehensive offer”. Cue lots of negotiation behind closed doors – many people had a problem with this – I have no such problem. I was happy to let the Libs talk to any other party for as long as they wanted, to get the best deal for us, and a fairer deal for Society.

Nick Clegg - New Deputy Prime Minister

Nick Clegg - New Deputy Prime Minister

Reach forward to today, and The Lib Dems and the Conservatives are forming a coalition Government. Many online have been very critical about this relationship, likening it to dealing with the Devil. I don’t share their belief. At 12.45 this morning, Nick Clegg announced he’d had overwhelming support from his party, and they would be joining the Conservatives in the coalition.

“It’s an opportunity for what I got into politics to achieve, a new, diverse Government” stated Nick Clegg. I don’t understand how one single true Liberal Democrat can argue with that. We have to trust Nick, he represents our interests – and I’d much rather he was doing that as Deputy Prime Minister than as a front-bencher in opposition. As Lib Dems we now have an ability to temper and work within the Tory Party to influence a more fair Government that serves it’s public instead of dictating to them like the last 13 years of New Labour. Nick got full agreement from the Party – Lib Dem policy is always subject to a democratic process, unique among the 3 main parties, I believe.

Lib Dems in Cabinet/Government Known So Far -

Nick Clegg – Deputy Prime Minister

Vince Cable – In charge of Businesses and Banks (and probably George Osbourne before long!)

Chris Hulme – Health Minister (Not sure if this is right)

A Gent whose name escapes me (will correct when I find it out) – Minister for Scotland (Tories only have 1 seat in Scotland – they came 4th up there!)

The Coalition Document

The document detailing the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition is released later today (Tues 12th May, 2010).It’s going to the most-read document on the planet for the next day or two!

We’ve already heard of some great wins for Nick – the Libs in Cabinet and Government, Vince getting the Banks and Businesses (and get the Banks he will! Kill ‘em Vince!), The no tax until £10k – which will help disabled entrepreneur start-ups like my own to better afford the capital and equipment we need, starting companies on very limited budgets, a referendum on making voting and elections fairer and more representative of the views of more of its’ people.

So, today has been a great day for me. A week ago, I hoped we’d do well – but wasn’t 100 confident we’d win outright… This week, we didn’t win outright in the Election – but we’ve won a far greater prize. The prize of Lib-Dems in senior Government roles, and an opportunity to have a real say in the way the country develops over the next 5 years. Win-Win-WIN!!!!

Take care, and have fun out there,

Rob Bell

p.s. Check back for my ‘What is Cloud Computing and How Can It Grow Your Business?’ post tomorrow

Rob Bell’s Blog Has Been Modernised!

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If you’re a regular visitor to the blog, you’ll notice occasional changes – some more obvious than others. Today, the changes are very obvious! I’ve given the site a major overhaul. Britain’s trying to sort out its’ next government – in the strangest election result that’s every happened in my lifetime – and I’ve been up following the news through the night the past few nights. So while I’ve been up, I’ve updated the site theme – to a more modern, almost minimalist theme that’s inspired by the iPhone’s ‘Notes’ app :) .

You can now enjoy Notes from A Yorkshire Internet Megalomaniac’s closer integration with Facebook and Twitter, clearer access to my social media links, a cutting-edge comment platform, and a few other little tweaks.

Now the blog’s looking nice and fresh, I will once again redouble my efforts to update more often – it’s a constant struggle juggling 3 companies, a social media presence, writing, training, networking, technical work etc… but you probably know that – what’s that you say? Yeah, poor me – I know – grumpy, northern, englishman… it’s due to lack of sleep since Thursday!

Oooh, I almost forgot – I got access to a site that’s not even launched til next week, where I got hold of a copy of Copyblogger‘s as yet unreleased guide to ‘Creating Compelling SEO Content That Ranks Well in Search Engines’. If you want to sneak a copy for yourself before everyone gets hold of it next week, visit this pre-release launch page – you don’t have to leave your email or anything, just download the guide. I’ve printed it out, it’s good stuff.

Take care and have fun doing what you do out there,

Rob

p.s. Let me know what you think of the site updates – leave me a comment below.

Stop The Rot And Build a Fairer Britain Or More of The Same?

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Like most of you, no doubt, I used to take little or no real interest in Politics – even though, everyday, politicians make decisions that affect my life, that of my family and friends – and that of everyone else in our country. As I got into my 30s and experienced much greater adversity than at any point previously, I started to take an interest.

Historically, I had one major political event that’s stuck in my memory from childhood. My Dad was a coalman – he had the biggest round in Wakefield. I used to work with him when I was younger, during the holidays – especially the Winter.  During 1984, Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives took on Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers – causing the Miner’s Strike , that ran from 1984-85, and had a pretty devastating affect on Wakefield, where I live still to this day, destroying all the mining communities around – in fact, a big chunk of the country, particularly in the North of England – many places have never fully recovered, I believe the Wakefield area to be one of them.

The miner’s strike was devastating to my father and our family, as it was to so many in the Coal Industry. It seemed like the supply of coal dried up overnight – rationing started, Dad couldn’t get hold of much coal – and any stock he got was as likely to be stolen from his yard as it was to get to the few remaining customers who were able to get a coal ration slip. Dad’s business collapsed, we lost our home, all our savings went into propping things up until they ran out… and Dad nearly died when his heart failed as a result.

Since then, I’ve never felt that politics really represents the real people of Britain. A lot of the politicians we see are career politicians, born into privilege, and somewhat removed from the realities of life in the UK. The corruption within is disgusting – wealthy donors control and shape policy with their wallets, and the recent expenses scandal proved a lot of politicians to be self-serving, prepared to take liberties with money that we, their employers, certainly never intended to be spent expensively renovating up their multiple homes.

For my entire life, either the Conservatives or Labour have been in power – making the same mistakes over and over. Most people I know don’t feel that the Goverments, past and present, really represent them, or look after their interests. They seem to encourage profit at any social cost and looking after the wealthy and influential, while ignoring the needs of the average man or woman on the street. They spend vast amounts of the money we provide them with, in the form of taxes, on propping up banks – who nearly brought our economy to ruin with their maverick attitudes, speculative risks and pursuit of profit at any cost. What have the Labour Government done about it? Well, the banks are still handing out massive bonuses to staff, sticking 2 fingers up at us after we so kindly bailed them out of trouble. The Conservatives wouldn’t be any better – they want to slash Public Spending, causing further unemployment, and potentially causing the end of businesses who provide services to the public sector in the midst of our worst recession in decades. They will make the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. You only have to look at the recent furor over the party funding (millions) contributed by Lord Ashcroft – himself a tax exile from the UK, so where do his loyalties lay? Not to the people of Britain, I’ll wager.

I, personally, have had enough – and I’m not on my own. Some people vote for extremist parties in protest, as they target the common man’s fears – the recent rise of the BNP shows this. I deplore such extremism – I just want to live in a country where people get along and have a Government that looks after their interests rather than the interests of the money men. I feel about it so strongly that I am even standing for council election next month. Who for? The only party I feel represents a real opportunity to make positive changes, and to take 21st Century Great Britain forward – the Liberal Democrats.

A lot of people I talk to say they won’t vote Lib Dem, because they’ll never get into power – so they’re going to vote Conservative or Labour – one in protest at the existing Government and hoping for change, or the other because “It’s better the Devil you know…”.  To you all – the Labservatives – I say “Balderdash! (Actually, my real choice of word was  ‘Bollocks’, but balderdash is so much politer!) You’re perpetuating an ongoing 2-party nightmare that’s held its’ suffocating grip over Britain for 65 years. I want off this sickening ride, I want positive change, and I hope you do to. Things won’t change unless you vote for change. When enough people want change, change happens.

With that in mind, I’m going to sign off this post with an email I got today from Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems.

Stayed tuned – an all new RobBellBlog.com is imminent – with regular posts, news and tips for small business owners and freelancers, Better Living and Better Business Through the Internet, iPhone & iPad, Cloud Computing and Web Applications articles and discussion,  Tech & Gadget news and reviews, and guest bloggers. I’m currently developing the new format, and will keep you abreast of all the improvements.

Rob Bell
- not usually so political, but it’s important!

Here’s the email from Nick:

Dear friend,

Last week, we launched a spoof campaign for the ‘Labservative’ party. You can find the details at www.labservative.com. It’s a funny campaign, but it has a serious point, a point only Liberal Democrats are making in this election.

For 65 years the government of our country has been handed from Labour to the Conservatives and back again like a game of pass the parcel. Red-blue, blue-red politics – and look what it has got us: corrupt politics, recession, inequality, time and again. They just take turns at making the same mistakes. It has to end.

The old politics is not good enough any more. It is time for something different. Our strategy in this election is to make it clear that if you want real change, you have to vote for a party that is different. All you will get from the old parties is more of the same. Just think how much they agree on.
On the economy: the Labservatives have been in thrall to the City of London for decades, neglecting the rest of Britain and letting the banks get away with doing whatever they want. And now the Labservatives are both refusing to come clean about the tough decisions needed to sort out the public finances – it’s a conspiracy of silence.

It’s the same story wherever you look: together David Cameron and Gordon Brown have blocked political reform, including our plan to allow people to sack corrupt MPs. The Labservatives compete to sound tough on crime instead of doing what works to actually catch criminals and stop them committing more crimes. And the Labservatives have made UK foreign policy subservient to the interests of the United States, from the illegal invasion of Iraq to the decision to waste £100bn on replacing, like for like, the Cold War era Trident nuclear submarines.

Labservatism is alive and well in Britain today, and only the Liberal Democrats can change that. A vote for Cameron or Brown is a vote for the corrupt, failed status quo. Only Liberal Democrats offer real change.
So wherever you are out campaigning, from Scotland to Cornwall, from Ceredigion to Norfolk, from inner London to rural Cumbria, remember this:

We are not campaigning against two parties: we are campaigning against one. We are campaigning against the old, failed way of doing things. We are campaigning for real, permanent change to build a fairer Britain. It’s a simple choice between old and new.

So get out campaigning, and take on Labservatism in your area. Say No to more of the same and Yes to real change.

Thank you for all of your hard work,

Nick Clegg

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