An offer from the party I couldn't refuse

'Tony Blair has written me so many personal letters I feel we're on Christian-name terms'
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The Independent Online

"Buy five pairs of shoes, get the sixth half-price," said a notice in the posh children's shop down the road. All offers are not necessarily bargains or, to coin a phrase, some bargains are less equal than others. I was offered a terrific bargain by the Labour Party the other day. It came in my usual annual letter from Tony Blair reminding me that my membership subscription needed renewing. I love getting letters, personal letters as he calls them, from Mr Blair, especially when they contain a little special something.

Last time it was a laminated plastic card with a picture of my leader smiling toothily in the top right-hand corner and, underneath, the five pledges he'd promised to fulfil before the year was out. I wish I could remember what the pledges were, but unfortunately soon after I got it, I fed it into the Tottenham Court Road NatWest cash machine by mistake. For one delirious moment I thought it was going to give me 50 quid - there were the usual clicking noises in the background - but then the message flashed up "error please try again", and that was it.

My last letter from Tony - I hope he doesn't mind me calling him Tony, but over the last five years he has written me so many personal letters I feel we're on Christian-name terms - drew my attention to an exciting offer no right-thinking person - shouldn't that be left-thinking? - could refuse. Instead of paying my usual £17.50 individual membership fee, I could get the equivalent of a family railcard to include up to four members of my family for just £25.

"That really is a bargain," I said to my husband.

"But I don't want to join the Labour Party," said my husband ungratefully, "I'm a Lib Dem and, if you must know, I'm seriously thinking of voting for Steven Norris for mayor."

No use trying to rope in my mother. She says she will vote for John Major (she thinks he's still leader) until the day she dies. The girls aren't answering their mobiles so it's going to have to be the boys, who will thank me, I know, when they're old enough to vote. Given the choice, I think they'd prefer the legalised cannabis or the Pokémon counterfeit, but too bad. I'm pledging them to Mr Blair. Some offers are just too good to pass up.

Talking of bargains, my father had a good one recently. He was booked under his private medical insurance to have his left knee joint replaced last December. Just before Christmas he got a letter from the hospital saying that, if he came in on Christmas Day, they'd throw in a hernia operation for free. "Isn't that incredible," he said, showing me the letter. "A hernia operation must cost at least £5,000."

"But you haven't got a hernia, Dad," I reminded him.

"That's not the point," he said. They were so obviously desperate to get him in on Christmas Day that, if he booked in then, he was bound to be offered some sort of reduction. In the end they gave him two knees for the price of one, and the promise that if he ever did get a hernia, they would take both knees into consideration.

The best bargain I ever had was at the night market in Pagan when I visited Burma for the first time. I wanted to buy one of those amazing hand-carved wooden puppets with at least 50 strings attached to every moving joint. The one I fancied, the Enchanter, was a particularly magnificent piece with a gold embroidered robe and real hair on his head and beard. In Bangkok they cost at least £100. I got out my purse.

"How much?" I asked the girl.

She waved away the purse and motioned for me to open my handbag. Rummaging through, she eventually took out my hairbrush, my lipstick, a tube of Body Shop Hawthorn and Hemp hand cream, a plastic comb and a Thomas the Tank Engine pencil sharpener belonging to my son.

"OK, "she said and handed over the Enchanter. As bargains go, I think that even beats new Labour's super family save as-you-vote special.