Thursday, 26 June 2008


ITV Local and Meridian are pleased to announce a brand new blog with more photos, comedy and gossip than you could ever need! We have new links and lots of new contributors to get the local debates going. But don’t worry all your favourite posts and comments have moved with us so you can still access all you need through our archive.

Why not visit and get involved with your local community?

Friday, 20 June 2008

Experiencing the heart of Jamaica to celebrate immigration

Journalist Derek Johnson blogs from Jamaica

To appreciate the extent of Jamaica’s deep-rooted social problems you need look no further than the tag line advertisers have chosen to bestow upon its capital city, Kingston.
Billboards across its sprawling districts picture a smiling face beside the words “City Of Kingston - COK For Life.”

It is a line so awful, so plainly hilarious and ridiculous when spoken out loud (as it very often was on this trip), that you cannot help wondering if the great and the good who signed off on it at some multi-media presentation had their heads in the sand, clueless about to the way their message would be perceived by the wider world.

Something of this obliviousness exists in the official attitude to crime. All the time tourists flock to Montego Bay and the beaches of the east coast with their wallets full of greenbacks things are OK. Every time a returnee who sought their fortune abroad buys a plot of land, builds a house and pumps money into the economy, the island is doing fine.

The reality is painfully different. A taxi driver in Montego Bay said he dreamed of leaving. “There is a monster on this island,” he said. “And the monster is crime.”

On the main strip along Montego Bay, the same one American tourists waddle down by day en route to tat shops and jerk chicken emporiums, 200 people have been killed this year. Victims of gang and drug crime, shot and stabbed at night, long after the visitors have been serenaded to sleep by a hotel band knocking out Country and Western classics.

In fact there have been 700 murders in Jamaica in the first six months of 2008. The island is heading for a record death spree. It is so bad that the government has been shaken out of its COK For Life alternative reality. A minister has already resigned and the prime minister has warned that Jamaicans may have to give up some of their cherished freedoms if crime is at last to be put to the sword.

The worry, strangely, is not so much about the tourists. We drove around Kingston, saw its thriving street life, soaked up the reggae and soca sounds, chatted to passers-by and even clubbed until the early hours. And it was no more intimidating than Maidstone on a Friday night. Having said this our driver refused to go anywhere near Trenchtown, the area immortalised by Bob Marley and the Wailers - where Bob sang of meeting friends at the Judgement Yard and lighting fires in the cold night. It was so dangerous after dark these days, he said, that the police never went there. Residents blocked up their own streets with tyres to avoid drive-by shootings by rival gangs.

You see the tourists are largely confined to the beaches, the dolphin and plantation tours and the all-inclusive, pile-it-high buffets close to the pool. Concern revolves around crimes committed against returnees – the migrants who’ve returned home after decades away. The US$2 billion a year they provide Jamaica with trumps tourism when it comes to foreign exchange earnings.

The danger of losing some of this income is one of the factors causing the government to talk tough about crime. Plus they can hide their heads in the sand no longer. The recent Biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conference put crime and corruption at the top of its agenda, delegates warning that returnees may end up staying in their adopted lands.

It’s a fact alluded to by the Labour Minister Pernell Charles. Mr Charles has the most extraordinary hairstyle. It is a perfect split – one side black and the other white. It is so striking and original that it’s very easy to drift off while talking to him and speculate on how exactly this wonder is achieved. There are privet hedges and manicured lawns in the Home Counties whose lines are not as straight and well-maintained as Mr Charles’s hair. It is hard to think of anything else except a badger. It is even remarked upon by Edward Seaga, a former Prime Minister clearly not given to bouts of humour with interviewers and whose conversation is otherwise measured and serious.

Anyway, The Badger says that Jamaica would be in big trouble if not for these earnings from overseas Jamaicans. And he acknowledges the extraordinary fact that there are far more Jamaicans outside the country than within.

That exodus did not begin after World War Two. After emancipation from slavery hundreds of thousands left in one fell swoop for the promise of a better life overseas. As Mr Seaga says: “Jamaicans have always been a migrating people.”

But in 1948 the Jamaicans allowed 492 West Indians to board a troop ship bound for England – the Empire Windrush. It docked at Tilbury on June 22 where its passengers looked for work. The Windrush began a mass migration of Caribbean people to England. That eventually transformed our nation, re-defined the way we perceive ourselves – we became multi-cultural for the first time. It would have been unthinkable in 1948 for black, Asian and Chinese people to call themselves British whereas now it seems unthinkable that once they would have been frowned upon for doing so.

The Windrush anniversary was the reason we were in Jamaica. For all its troubles it is a beautiful and welcoming island where people look at you for who you are and engage you with genuine interest. And they always ask you to come back again. We shall indeed COK For Life.

You can watch the full series about the story of Caribbean migration on ITV Local.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

MPs pour scorn over eco-town plans

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

MPs queued up today to pour scorn on the Government's plans for so-called 'eco-towns'.

The idea is to build sustainable new communities, which will help to solve the housing shortage - in an environmentally-friendly way.

Trouble is, no-one seems to want one built near them.

Ford in West Sussex is on the shortlist for possible locations. There's already an impressive local campaign to fight the plans, and the area's two MPs, Nick Gibb and Nick Herbert didn't pull any punches during today's Commons debate.

They argue that developments shouldn’t be imposed on communities by central Government. Whitehall, they say, doesn't know best.

But as eco-towns were one of Gordon Brown's few big new ideas when he became Prime Minister, they're unlikely to be scrapped.

We'll know which locations have been chosen in the autumn, so Ford will soon know its fate.

But the ten eco-towns around the country will amount to just 75,000 new homes.

And that's a drop in the ocean when you consider experts say, over the next few years, the number of new homes needed in the UK is three MILLION.

Should England have an English Parliament?

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

Derek Wyatt, the Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, led a special debate today calling for an English Parliament. He says it's crazy that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have assemblies or parliaments - and we don't. He says it's unfair, and it's leading to a lot of resentment.

I am not sure how this will go down with his leader Gordon Brown - well, I am actually - so don't expect Mr Wyatt's ideas to become Labour Party policy.

But the English question will be a factor at the next election, especially in the key battleground that is the south and southeast.

The truth is, Labour's consitutional changes, much heralded when Tony Blair came to power, are unfinished business. Reform of the House of Lords is stuck; reform of the voting system has ground to a halt; regional government is dead; and Labour's hierarchy are in denial about England's democratic deficit.

The Conservatives haven't come up with a coherent policy either. Traditionally the party of the Union, they're terrified of being really bold.

But Derek Wyatt is right.

England expects a system that gives it a fair deal.

Breaking the North/South divide

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

The north/south divide just got bigger.

Some of the cafes and restaurants in the Palace of Westminster are promising a special menu next week to celebrate food and drink from the South of England.

This hasn't gone down well with MPs from the north and the midlands, who are demanding similar weeks to celbrate their own regions' cuisine.

Black pudding and faggots? Can't wait.

So far, the south of England week seems to consist of just one meal: lobster, cooked in lemon, with a glass of English white wine thrown in. Price: 20 quid.

I'm not sure how many takers there will be, and I am not sure how representative of the south that meal is. Maybe they'll come up with some more recipes before the great week begins.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Another view of the Isle of Wight...

...this time from a festival old hand. I've been to more festivals than you can shake a stick at, yet this was my first experience of the Isle of Wight.

Why? well the cost of getting the ferry across for starters. Not for nothing is the Solent named as the most expensive ferry route in the world, mile for mile. And once we get there, a place in the campervan field costs a steep £250 on top of the ticket price - yikes! But I always fancied a trip to this festival, as the line-up never fails to impress.

Well, having secured media tickets and cunningly found a free parking space for the camper just off-site, nothing could stop us this year, and although I was working, thought it would be a good idea to bring the family along too (hubby and five year old son).

Casey says below that it didn't feel like work, interviewing bands and other celebs who were hanging out in the VIP area. In a way she's right, but at four months pregnant, I certainly knew I'd been working by the end of each day. My head barely touched the pillow on the rock-and-roll bed in the camper, and I'd be asleep till morning, when it all started again...

We were presented with a steady stream of bands and solo performers to interview, and in-between I tried to catch performances so I'd know what to ask them. Once I found myself face-to-face to a young rock band The Gundogs, who I knew absolutely nothing about. I had no choice to admit this in my first question and asked them to describe the music in ten words or less. They didn't seem to mind and were just happy to be part of the bill.

One surprise visitor was Mike Rutherford of Genesis who turned up on Sunday afternoon and gave us a short interview. He didn't divulge whether Genesis were hoping to headline next year, but I'm told that casing a festival one year is a good indicator of a willingness to play the next...

As festivals go, this was one of the best organised I've ever been to (and I've been to so many I've actually written a book about them!).

We've got several more coming up in the region over the summer - Guilfest, Reading, the Bestivals and more. So expect more festival updates from your increasingly pregnant news editor as the summer progresses!

ITV Local rock at the Isle of Wight

I have to admit I was slightly dubious about venturing to my first festival this weekend. I’d heard the horror stories about mud, mad rockers and worst of all, chemical toilets! But I packed my wellies, my ITV Local brolly, and a camera and hopped aboard the FastCat ready to face whatever the weekend threw at me.

As soon as I stepped through the festival entrance I knew I’d been anxious for nothing. The buzz in Seaclose park was incredible. The place was heaving, but it was packed with some of the most friendly, happy, welcoming people I’ve come across. From the headliners to the campers, everyone was there to have a good time. And most of them were willing to tell us
about it!

We met the Zutons, the Sugababes, the Cribs, Newton Faulker and many more – you can see all the interviews in full on our IOW festival page. We also met lots of groups promoting awareness of good causes - for example the sunflower-sellers raising money for the Earl Mountbatten hospice in local Newport; and the Taste of Wight team who are aiming to cater for the festival purely from Isle of Wight produce next year.

Going to the festival as press was a unique experience, as we were never quite sure whether we were really working – it seemed like too much fun! One minute we were inches away from the bands chatting to them about their own festival experiences and what we could expect from their sets, and the next they were tiny dots on a huge stage with a crowd of 50,000 between us and them. And yet I was still craning to see them and screaming when I got a glimpse!

The best part for me was soaring up above the park in the festival eye and seeing the Kooks step on stage just as we reached the pinnacle. And the food – fast yes, foul no! Delicious portions of almost every cuisine you could imagine, all ready in moments (once you’d battled the queues). I even coped with the notorious loos!
So I’ve become a festival convert. I’ve decided you just can’t beat the festival vibe and the solidarity you feel when surrounded by swarms of other unwashed and uninhibited revellers. I’ve already booked up for Bestival, the Isle of Wight’s other big music event, and may well camp out on the South Downs for the Beachdown festival. I’ve got the wellies now so I might as well use them!

See all our festival best bits here.
And see all the big stage highlights and full interviews on the dedicated IOW festival page.