Thursday, 26 June 2008

WE HAVE MOVED!

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.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Charlotte Wilkins' walking challenge: blog 4

I think it’s safe to say that I’m failing miserably with this weeks challenge. None of my friends or family have commented on my blogs :-( I think a little bribery is in order.

With regard to my steps, the secret to my success this week has been walking up the stairs, and going for lunchtime walks. I’m really lucky that I have the pier right outside my office, so it’s easy for me to pop down for a quick seaside walk, then get straight back to work. It’s given me an excuse to have a lunch break too! And the three flights of steps up to my office are testing me. I keep trying to walk up them a little faster each day.

I have to say that I’ve found this week quite tiring. But my favourite parts have been counting how many steps I did while walking around the supermarket – I think I clocked up about 2 thousand – I was amazed! I managed to persuade my friends to walk to the pub on Friday night instead of getting a taxi. They were all chuffed they’d saved some money and I was pleased I managed to walk an extra couple of thousand steps to add to my total for that day. And my boyfriend and I had a little adventure yesterday. The weather was so wonderful we went for a walk around Preston Park and then decided just to let our feet lead the way and just see where we ended up. We walked all the way to Hove and then stumbled upon a fabulous Greek restaurant where we had a lovely meal and reminisced about our holiday. He’s enjoyed getting so much fresh air and I think he’s getting used to wearing my pedometer when I can’t fit it on to my clothes. He feels like he’s doing his bit, bless him!

I’m looking forward to taking part in the Martletts Hospice walk this Friday night, I’m fascinated to see how many steps I’ll do in one chunk. I think I’ll need to put my feet up on Saturday though. I might even do two days worth of steps in one night!

All in all this week has been a triumph – the only spanner in the works was that I forgot to take my pedometer with me on Saturday and so didn’t record any steps for that day. But I’m hoping I’ll still have averaged over 10 thousand each day. And my plan to make sure I meet my quota for next week? I’m going to borrow a dog……

Sangeeta descends on Maidstone in the Race for Life


Mission Accomplished. Ok you're right- I don't look like Beyonce but I have now successfully run and walked (30:70 for those who like ratios) my first ever 5km Race for Life. It was a bit of a dodgy start- see for yourself but to be quite honest I was surprised by how short the distance actually seemed. Even in the blistering heat of Mote Park in Maidstone- going up and down those hills when I saw the 500m- I thought this can't be it- can it? It was. Willed on by lots of really nice people- clapping- some shouting Come On Sangeeta- I crossed the finish line and felt like that other Kent Golden Girl. Dame Kelly Holmes. There was even a medal at the end of it.


The time (for those of you who like statistics) about 45 minutes- but it really is a guestimate. What is really impressive though is my training partner- Deborah Puxty who has proved you can beat cancer- was there a good 15 minutes infront of me. She had joked that she may have to give me a piggy back but as I reached for my water bottle about 5 minutes in- she looked at me sympathetically and said 'Good Luck Darling- I'll be waiting for you at the end'.
The last few days have been quite emotional actually. There were nearly 4,500 women taking part at my event in Maidstone. Hundreds more in Eastbourne that day too. All running for someone they cared for. All amazing people with stories that can't help but move you ( physically and emotionally).
I decided to run this race in the interest of telly and belly but also for Jaswant Mamaji (Mamaji means maternal Uncle in Hindi). He lost his fight against cancer earlier this year. I know he was smiling down at me.
Watch Sangeeta's report from Mote Park here

Friday, 6 June 2008

Charlotte Wilkins' walking challenge: blog 3


02nd June 2008 19:44
Back in Blighty

It sounds silly, but as far as walking is concerned I’m actually glad to be back from my holiday. I really found it a struggle to walk 10 thousand steps in the heat. Some days it reached 35 degrees in the shade, and I found I was dehydrated, and exhausted.
But now I’m back in Blighty there is no excuse, and I’m actually glad I’ve got the challenge to force me to exercise, especially as I’ve put on 9 lbs on holiday…..
Today was my first day back at work and although I got the bus into work this morning, I’ve managed to do over 8 thousand already while filming for the 10,000 steps challenge. I’ve enjoyed being out and about on the seafront, and I’ve made sure I’ve walked up and down the 3 flights of stairs to my office each time I’ve returned. I think I’ve done it about 4 times today so far!
I think this week will strangely be a lot easier for me. But I’m hoping to vary my steps slightly. I’m going to walk to the cinema, to the pub and I’m going to try and do a bit of running to shake things up a little bit – exciting!
Also, I’ve realised it’s only 8 weeks until my best friends wedding so I’m hoping the challenge will help me get back in to shape, and will enable me to fit into my bridesmaid's dress. Otherwise, I’m going to have a very unhappy bride on my hands!

Charlotte Wilkins' walking challenge: blog 2

27th May 2008 16:47
It's Too Hot to Walk!

I hadn't realised quite how little I would normally do on holiday until I came away, knowing I had to try and walk 10,000 steps a day. Last week I was led into a false sense of security... I thought to myself ' This walking malarkey is pretty easy really, and quite possible to fit into daily life'.... that was until I arrived in Crete. It's been 30 degrees at it's coolest. The swimming pool and bar are within 100 yards of my apartment and the beach is right there, ready for me to roll out of bed and straight on to a sun lounger. It would be so easy for me to walk as little as possible and do absolutley nothing! Well, that's what people go on holiday to do isn't it? Nothing, Nada, nowt! But I've had a job to do - walking 10,000 steps a day. I'm not going to lie. This week has been incredibly difficult. The temptation to lie by the pool all day with a beer has been immense, but my boyfriend and family have been really supportive of this challenge and we've tried our best to go for as many walks as we can to try and make the target. But there have been days when the heat has got too much, and on those days I've not done my quota. The worst part has been remembering to take off my pedometer when I've gone for a swim - and working out where to put it when I'm wearing a dress. One night I even strapped it to my boyfriend's waist when we went out for dinner. I figured we would both be walking the same distance, so I didn't think it was cheating :)I think when I return to Brighton and go back to work I'll find the challenge alot easier, but I'm going to try my hardest next week to make up for the steps I've missed.

Charlotte Wilkins' walking challenge: blog 1

19th May 2008 18:24

Well, week one has - on the whole – been a rather pleasurable experience. The weather at the beginning of the week certainly made life easier and I’ve enjoyed walking to and from work with the sun on my back and a spring in my step! I’ve been surprised I’ve managed to do the steps on most days and on others I’ve exceeded the target. I’ve even found at points that I’ve been excited to look at my pedometer just to see how many I’ve done…..
Talking of my pedometer… I don’t think it has enjoyed the ride quite so much. I think I may have dropped it a total of about 8 times, and it has nearly ended up in the toilet bowl twice. I think I need to invest in some sort of strap!
Also, I must remember that walking ten thousand steps a day is not a green light to eat and drink what ever I like, or to spend money on new clothes just because they will be ‘good for walking in’. I’m tempted to buy a bacon sandwich 4 times along my journey to work, the smell literally follows me up the London Road and then on to St James’s Street. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to hold out, so may have to find a new route.
I haven’t really done anything out of the ordinary this week, but I’m sure when I’m on holiday next week and the week after I’m going to find it difficult to reach my target…. Firstly I’m going to have to negotiate where my pedometer will sit on my bikini!

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Fred Dinenage begs in Winchester

Fred Dinenage Blogs

I’ve recently had an experience which, if not exactly life-changing, was certainly thought-provoking – and rather scary. I’ve spent several hours on the streets of Winchester dressed as a beggar.

It was all the idea of ITV Meridian’s FOCUS producer Steve McDonnell who wanted to gauge how people are now reacting to beggars. Meridian’s makeup artist Jackie Block did a fantastic job with a wig, a beard and some skilful makeup – plus some extremely old and scruffy clothes.

Another of our producers Jon Marland let me borrow his rather old and scruffy (but extremely affectionate) dog, Spam……..and I was ready to beg, my every move being recorded by four cameras.

It was not a happy experience. I was no longer ‘that nice man from the telly’………I was a complete unknown, alone on a city’s streets. And it was quite intimidating. The reaction I got was mixed. I got roundly abused by a couple of passers-by…….several kind souls gave me money (which, of course, we gave to charity)…..and a couple of real-life beggars gave me some helpful advice.

One asked me how much I’d made. When I told him only £4.95 in a couple of hours, he told me I was doing it all wrong. He said I should try ‘spot-begging’. Going straight up to people, ‘eye-balling’ them, telling them I was skint – and more or less demanding cash. I asked him if it worked. ‘Well’, he said, ‘you risk getting the odd thumping, but I can make up to a hundred and twenty quid a day.’ Needless to say, I didn’t try it. Frankly, I found just sitting on the pavement was threatening enough.

And it made me realise how fine is the dividing line between the comfortable lives most of us lead – and life on the streets. It was not an experience I would wish to re-live. And I hope I never have to. When it was all over the FOCUS presenter, my colleague Debbie Thrower, interviewed me. She said when she first saw me sat in the street it gave her a “chilling feeling.” At first she didn’t recognise me. Neither did anyone else.

It was a day I won’t forget. A day which gave me a rare insight into a cold and lonely world.

You can watch Focus: In from the Cold on ITV Local

Friday, 23 May 2008

Labour plan fightback after more dissapointment

Political Producer Ben Burton blogs from Parliament

Massive disappointment for Labour MPs in the South and South-East after the stunning Conservative victory in Crewe and Nantwich.

That kind of swing repeated at a General Election would see most of them pondering life outside of the Commons. A re-shuffle from the Prime Minister still looks unlikely with Gordon Brown hoping to move on as quickly as possible.

However a change of personnel could form part of the fightback and the help the Labour party to grab hold of the agenda.

Already some are tipping the Southampton Itchen MP for a move.

John Denham has kept a relatively low profile at the Department for Innovation, University and Skills and MPs from all sides of the house often talk about him taking on a bigger role.

Some are talking about Defence where Des Browne hasn't had the easiest of times particularly as he has to look after Scotland at the same time. However after he resigned over the conflict in Iraq that looks unlikely.

More credible is the belief amongst others that the former Home Office Minister is heading back to his old department to take over from Jacqui Smith.

Expect the rumours and gossip to only get louder.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

When Parky met Sally

Political Correspondent Sally Biddulph blogs from Parliament

The guy is a living legend, a broadcaster, knighted for his chat-show prowess and on Tuesday I met him – the one and only Sir Michael Parkinson. I had gone to Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospital in Westminster to interview him about his new role as Dignity Ambassador for the NHS. Yes me, interviewing Parky! Having seen him talking to the great and the good for my entire life on the telly, I was, I have to admit it, a tiny bit nervous. But he was a dream, a consummate professional and utterly charming. Being married to a Barnsley boy myself, maybe I’m a bit biased, but he had a little twinkle in this eye and the first thing he did when I shook his hand was serenade me with, “Sally, Sally, pride of the Alley!”, that Gracie Fields classic I’ve heard more than a few times in my life, but never before sung by a Sir.

Before the interview began I asked him to tell me his name so we could check his sound level on the camera equipment, not, I add, because I didn’t know who he was. “I’m Ross, Jonathan Ross”, came the reply followed by a little snigger from my crew. So then I asked, “How does it feel to be interviewed, rather than doing the interviewing,” “Oh I like it, it’s much easier,” he replied. The next few minutes passed without incident as we talked about his new role promoting dignity and compassion in elderly care. He spoke passionately and candidly on the subject and talked about his mother’s last few years suffering from dementia and the care she received in the Thames Valley.

When the interview was over we chatted a bit more, that warm Yorkshire accent holding my attention. I mentioned that a little bird had told me he was a Reading fan, living as he now does in Berkshire, so I asked what Barnsley FC made of him supporting the Royals. “Were they jealous?” I uttered. “Oh I support three teams, Sally, and in a very specific order, Barnsley first, Man U second and Reading third, so I’m looking forward to Reading playing Barnsley next year in the Championship!”

Watch Sally's
Parkinson report here on ITV Local.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Prime Minister asks for your questions

Political Producer Ben Burton blogs from Parliament

Meridian viewers have been using ITV Local for many years now to get in touch with the programme and tell us what you think.

Back at the Conservative Party Conference last year people even sent us their questions for the Tory leader David Cameron to answer.

Politicians have been a little bit slow to catch up with the internet though and are trying new ways to get us engaged with the process.

So if you think we don’t quiz the PM properly now is your chance to put him on the spot.

Downing Street has launched a You Tube channel and Gordon Brown will answer your questions.

But don’t think this is a chance to vent your anger at ever rising fuel prices or ask why your shopping bill seems to go up every week.

The PM’s suggestions for things you might like to ask about include: globalisation, climate change and public services. All important but unsurprisingly not subjects currently dominating the agenda-remember we are still watching Gordon’s fightback after the 10 pence tax problem!

Oh and by the way your video can’t be longer than 30 seconds, must contain no party political content and of course Number 10 reserves the right to select whatever questions they like?

What would you ask Gordon?

Visit Downing Street's You Tube page here.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Libs Dems struggle for the limelight

Politcal Producer Ben Burton blogs from Parliament

Many Liberal Democrats complain that their party doesn’t get a fair share of coverage in the media. In our part of the world in particular - whilst they only hold a handful of seats - they do have a substantial number of voters and believe they deserve more attention.

But with all of Gordon’s trouble leader Nick Clegg (pictured right) isn’t leading the TV bulletins and all eyes are on Crewe and Nantwich. The ever growing consensus is that the Tories will finally win a by-election in a seat they don’t already hold, their first gain from Labour in 30 years.

Normally the Lib Dems cause a storm when a by-election is called and few would write them off. But this time around thanks to the Tories things don’t look so good and the Lib Dems might be wise to not go courting any more publicity.

They’ve imposed a candidate on the association there and are still hoping that they can mop up all those voters fed up with Labour and some that can’t bring themselves to vote for the Tories.

But things don’t look good.

David Cameron’s Conservatives appear to be running away with things and Britain’s third party could be left with a very small share of the vote.

Nick Clegg hasn’t had the best of times since he took the top job. This contest could prove a major test for the young leader and if it’s a bad result he won’t want to be answering too many questions.

If their poll ratings don’t improve (they went down in overall vote share in the local elections at the beginning of the month) even former leadership contender Chris Huhne could be seriously worried about his future employment.

His majority in Eastleigh is less than 600 hundred!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Gordon Brown on the FA Cup

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

Gordon Brown held his monthly news conference at Downing Street today. There were lots of questions about 10p tax, the credit crunch, his future as Prime Minister…

And then a journalist from Wales popped up to ask him if he was going to wish Cardiff City luck in the Cup Final. “You’re a Raith Rovers fan,” the questioner reminded him. “So will you be cheering for the underdogs on Saturday?”

Now, Mr Brown is too canny to fall for that one. Sure, he’s sometimes accused of dithering, and of not being able to make his mind up – but this time, his indecision was completely understandable.

There are of course lots of votes in Cardiff – but there are two important parliamentary seats in Portsmouth, including Portsmouth North which is a marginal Labour seat.

So, in a diplomatic triumph, the Prime Minister said he was looking forward to watching the Final, was sure it would be a terrific match….and wished both teams well.

Political memoirs pack punches

Political Correspondent Sally Biddulph blogs from Parliament


Another day, another memoir….there has been quite a run on them of late in Westminster. We’ve got the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott’s: “Prezza: Pulling no Punches”, Cherie Blair’s “Speaking for Myself” and Labour’s former chief Fundraiser and Tony Blair’s tennis buddy, Lord Levy’s “A Question of Honour” – all released within a week of one another and all making uncomfortable reading for a wounded Prime Minister.

All of them talk about the stormy relationship between Gordon Brown, then Chancellor, and the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. We’ve heard about the keys to Number 10 being rattled above Tony Blair’s head from Cherie, "Prezza" saying he told Tony Blair to sack Gordon Brown and Lord Levy saying he felt let down by both Number 10 and Number 11 during the “Cash for Honours” investigation. The PM has said he won’t be swayed by such memoirs and is getting down to the “serious business of politics” and running the country. He may have decided to turn his attentions to fixing the 10p tax fiasco, but journalists’ bags up here are weighed down with the three tomes, as we all search for that next nugget of intrigue. With serialisations in major newspapers, there’ll be more revelations to come.

I actually bumped into Lord Levy yesterday in Millbank, our Westminster Studios, and said to him I had bought his book. He shook my hand firmly, looked me straight in the eyes, pulled me close and kissed me on both cheeks and said “how marvellous my dear!”. I have never met this man before and was quite taken aback by his sheer exuberance. He went on to say “do tell me what you think, even if you think it’s total rubbish (he actually used a far more emphatic word, which we can’t print here) drop me a line at the Lords”

And as a final thought, at a press lunch on Tuesday, the Tory leader and Witney MP, David Cameron, was asked, “whose memoir would you fear most and why?”. Without hesitation he said, “My wife, Samantha’s!” An instinctive answer perhaps and one that left me wondering if it was a veiled warning to Tony Blair about Cherie’s!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Anti-hunt campaign back on the political agenda

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

If you thought the debate about fox-hunting was well and truly over - think again.

Ann Widdecombe, MP for Maidstone and an indefatigable anti-hunt campaigner, held a film-show at Westminster, and it wasn't for the squeamish.

It was an hour of footage shot by 'hunt monitors' - people who spend their weekends in the countryside, armed with video cameras, collecting evidence that the ban is being flouted.

Certainly, the film did seem to show that hunting with hounds still goes on, although whether these were isolated incidents, or whether abuse of the law is widespread, it's impossible to say.

Ms Widdecombe recognises that the hunting ban can't be policed properly. So she reckons the monitors should be licensed, and the Crown Prosecution Service ("So weak!” she says) should take their findings more seriously.

There were lots of anti-hunting MPs at the meeting. There were also a few who are pro-hunting, and they didn't seem entirely convinced by her arguments.

A representative of the Countryside Alliance was there too. He seemed convinced that a) there will be a Tory Government in two years' time and b) that Government will overturn the ban.

I can't see it being one of David Cameron's top priorities if he does get to Number Ten, but groups like the Countryside Alliance would put huge pressure on him to act.

If he doesn't, they'd be furious. If he does, the whole can of worms would be reopened. Hunting threatens to dog (pardon the pun) his Premiership, just as it did Tony Blair's.

Apparently Mr Blair could never understand why it was such a big issue, but hunting is one of those topics that really inflames passions, on both sides of the argument.

If the Tories do move to make hunting legal again, one thing is sure. Ms Widdecombe, by then comfortably ensconced in her retirement home in Devon, will re-emerge into public view and fight him all the way.

Tally ho!

Monday, 12 May 2008

MP John Denham rallies troubled Labour

Political Producer Ben Burton blogs from Parliament

It’s no secret that the vast majority of Labour MPs in the South and South-East are a tad concerned about holding on to their jobs.

And it’s made even more unpleasant when they see poll ratings as bad as those which have dominated the weekend’s papers. Many of them are on such small majorities that it only needs a small swing to the Tories for them to be quickly adding to the unemployment figures after polling day.

However one of the region’s more experienced campaigners believes that Labour aren’t yet finished. Not for the first time John Denham MP (Southampton Itchen and pictured right) has returned to his “Southern Comfort” theme.

And Mr Denham can certainly draw a crowd. A large meeting room in Portcullis House – the modern extension to Parliament, built above Westminster tube station – was packed to hear his message: Labour can still win in the South. If they don’t, he said, there’s no way they’ll stay in power. It would be close to impossible for Labour to form a majority at the next General Election without a decent clutch of seats from our part of the world.

As the only Cabinet member with a seat in the South he highlights issues like Inheritance Tax and housing as part of the key to bringing the undecided voters back on board as David Cameron’s Conservatives continue breathing down their necks. Many Labour party members from across our region travelled to London to hear what the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills had to say but one subject was surprisingly absent. Despite his recent troubles no one at the meeting wanted to point the finger of blame at the Prime Minister.

Now, the thought of anyone actually trying to kick Gordon Brown out of Number 10 still looks unlikely. But many MPs know that, regardless of policies and ideas, the PM will be an enormous factor - good or bad - when a General Election does come around.

John Denham has called on his party to do more to understand hard working people in the South and South-East who feel they’re being ignored and he says Labour must develop a clearer vision.
The Southampton MP is highly respected in Westminster. His principled resignation from the Blair government over Iraq won him many admirers. His ideas will get a broad audience.

But the government’s problems over the 10 pence tax debacle still rumble on and not for the first time a by-election could set the political weather for months to come. Voters go to the polls in Crewe & Nantwich in ten days time. A 10 per cent swing to the Tories would give them an historic victory and if repeated come a General Election would see almost every Labour seat in the South and South-East turn blue.

You can watch the latest political reports, comments and analysis on ITV Local

Friday, 9 May 2008

Big Weekend or Big Disappointment?

Whether you’ve got tickets or not the big topic of the moment is Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Maidstone, Kent. I’m sure there are plenty of happy people packing their bags and readying themselves for Madonna and more but there are also a lot of angry residents.

Ticket allocation, policing prices and parking gridlock have left a lot of locals disappointed over the past week.

Mote Park, the venue for this year’s concert, is just around the corner from our Meridian East base at the Maidstone Studios. We got our reporter Theresa Longbottom down there this morning to see how the preparations were going and to meet residents near by to see how they were feeling about the event. Early signs suggests not well. Many are disgruntled about the possible traffic gridlock on the way – others about having their public park closed on what could be the hottest weekend of the year.

And what about the price of policing? Recently Maidstone had to cancel its popular River Festival as organisers couldn’t afford the policing costs. So is Maidstone Council fitting the bill this weekend? If so is it right for the council to pick and choose the event it funds?

Well, we will try and answer all these questions and more on tonight’s programme at 6pm. But don’t let that stop you giving us your comments – what do you think? Will the concert bring Maidstone some needed press and tourist attention? Or is it disorganised and unfair?

Have your say here.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Find it, Fix it, Film it, Feel good!

That's the motto of a new and exciting initiative for 16-25 year olds who have something to shout about.

ITV has teamed up with the Public Service Broadcasting Trust to bring you ITV Fixers – a campaign to get young people creative and involved in their local areas.

They're looking people who want to take action on a particular issue – it's up to you to choose something you particularly care about. You then get to plan how you'll 'fix it' or make things better and then make a short film showing what you've done. We'll then show your short film on our dedicated ITV Fixers channel on ITV Local. Some of the projects could even end up on the Meridian or Thames Valley evening news.

Personally I believe it's a great way of getting young people involved in their local areas. In the recent local elections much of the country saw a poor turnout in the polls – some councils struggled to even reach the 40% mark. So if young people need a boost to get them active about issues they care about ITV Fixers is the thing to do it.

If you would like more information on ITV Fixers visit our dedicated channel and find out how you can find it, fix it, film it and feel good!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Morale low as Labour return to work

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

MPs are back at Westminster after the long weekend. And what a long, long weekend it's been for Labour MPs from the south and southeast.

Almost all of them know they are staring down the barrel. Last week's local election results were so bad, and morale in the party is so low.

Conversations I have had with some of them today suggest they weren't cheered up by the Gordon Brown's weekend TV appearances.

To watch a Prime Minister sit in TV studios and be accused of being 'strange' and having a cabinet full of 'youngsters and pygmies' didn't do much to reassure them about their party's prospects.

Tory MPs on the other hand just can't stop smiling in the Westminster sunshine. Many of them will be heading north in the next few weeks, to help out in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, which has taken on huge importance in the past few days. If the Tories win there, the pro-Cameron momentum will feel unstoppable.

The Conservatives though have quite a few awkward questions to answer. What will their policies be? There are lots of generalisations, but not many specifics.

Take the environmental agenda, for instance. Being pro-green sounds attractive, but what about green taxes? Will the Tories be bold enough to talk about increasing the tax on fuel (making driving, and flying, more expensive)? What about the bin tax, which is so unpopular Gordon Brown has now un-announced it twice? What about airport expansion? What about a tax on plastic bags?

And, again, on poverty, it's easy to criticise the fiasco over the 10p tax rate, but what exactly would the Tories do to help the least well-off?

They will say they don't have to come up with specific proposals until the next general elections, which is true - but these are difficult decisions, whenever they are made.

As for the Liberal Democrats, their southern MPs know a big Tory comeback would sweep most of them away. They desperately need Nick Clegg to make an impact, and not just in the pages of GQ magazine.

The next election is probably two years away, and that's an awful long time in politics. Remember just eight months ago Labour were riding high in the polls and some grumbling Conservatives were saying David Cameron's days were numbered.

But things do feel very different here at the moment. It's as if something very significant is happening, a big change which will be incredibly difficult for Labour to do anything about. In fact it feels here just as it did in the early 1990s, when the tide turned against the Tories. They suffered three landslide by-election defeats in the south - in Newbury, Christchurch and Eastleigh. And Tory MPs knew they were doomed.

That's just how quite a lot of Labour MPs feel right now.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Local elections smiles & struggles

Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament


There are lots of bleary-eyed politicians touring the broadcasting studios here at Westminster today. But the Tories are smiling. They had a terrific night in the south, and across the country. Labour faces are glum.

Because of the relatively small number of council seats up for election yesterday, there were never going to be lots of spectacular results. Nevertheless, the Conservatives have taken control of Southampton and Maidstone for the first time in a generation, and they made steady gains in almost every other council in our region. The exception which proves the rule – and there always is one – was Gosport. The Tories were hopeful of taking control there, but the Lib Dems did well and the Tories missed out.

So what does it mean? It’s always dangerous to read too much into local election results. The Conservatives had some dreadful results in the 80s, but Mrs Thatcher kept coming back and winning general elections. The same is true of Tony Blair.

This time feels different though. Throughout the Blair years, despite some terrible local election results, Labour were ahead in the opinion polls. And, crucially, the economy felt in good shape.

This time, Labour’s nightmare results come against a backdrop of economic gloom, and a consistent huge Tory lead in the polls.

And the Conservatives look electable. For the first time since Labour came to power, the Tories look like a credible alternative government.

The next general election will be won and lost in the Labour/Tory marginals, and there are more in our region than anywhere else. Cabinet Minister John Denham understands that Labour have to get their act together to stop the south becoming True Blue Tory heartland once again. He and Tony Blair saw the need to make Labour electable in the south after the 1992 general election, and came up with a battleplan to combat what they called ‘Southern Discomfort’.

Well, he has to do that again. So next week, he’ll be delivering a lecture in London – called Southern Comfort - to stress the importance of the south if Labour are to stand a chance of winning next time round. But if last night’s results are anything to go by, they face an uphill struggle.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Bottled water debate hits parliament

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from parliament

MPS BOTTLE WATER CHANGE

Hildon, the mineral water company based at Broughton in Hampshire, are raising a glass to MPs here at Westminster - after a decision not to ban bottled water from the Commons.

A campaign by the Evening Standard has led to many restaurants in London offering thirsty diners tap water instead of the bottled stuff.

It's all about saving the planet. Why drink expensive water from expensive bottles which have been driven in gas-guzzling lorries, when you can have it straight from the tap?

MPs discussed the possible change in the Commons last month. And it put Sandra Gidley, the MP for Romsey, in an awkward spot.

Her environmental credentials are second-to-none But Hildon, which supplies all the Commons' bottled water, is based in her constituency, and jobs could be on the line. Not least hers (she has a majority of just 125).

Well, after weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions, today the Commons Administration Committee - a cross-party group of MPs - today announced their historic decision.

No change. The status quo.

Some MPs are furious, saying it sends out completely the wrong message. At a time when we are all being told to reduce our carbon footprint, they are going to continue knocking back bottled water.

It's very good news for Hildon though. Over the past five years MPs have got through 850,000 litres of their still and sparkling.

Oh, and they've clocked up 77,000 miles driving it from Broughton to Westminster.

Cheers, everyone!

Mortgages - a step by step guide


Advice from Thames Valley's money-saving expert Melanie Wright on the different types of mortgages available and how to find the best one to suit you.
Fixed Rate Mortgages

As their name suggest, this type of mortgage is fixed at a set interest rate for a given period. This means that whatever happens to interest rates, your mortgage payments will remain the same during the fixed rate period. Fixed rate mortgages usually suit those on a strict budget who need to know exactly what their monthly outgoings will be.

Who they suit: Often a good option for first-time buyers who are struggling with costs. Knowing exactly what mortgage payments will cost for the first couple of years can make it much easier to budget effectively.

Capped Rate Mortgages

Capped rate mortgages get their name because there is a cap on the amount of interest you can be charged by the lender. In other words, the amount of interest you pay is guaranteed not to rise above a fixed percentage rate for a set period of time. But while rates cannot rise above a certain level, they can still fall.

Who they suit: People who can be flexible about their mortgage payments, but want the certainty of knowing they won’t go above a certain level.

Discounted Rate Mortgages

With this type of mortgage, you get a discount off the bank or building society’s standard variable rate for a set period of time. So, if your bank has a typical standard variable rate of 7.25% it might offer a discounted product which is 1% or 1.5% off this rate for two or three years. Remember however, that there is no cap on the amount of interest you can be charged which means that discounts may initially appear cheaper than capped rates, but this could quickly change if rates rise. However, if interest rates fall, your payments will drop.

Who they suit: People who are financially prepared for the fact that if rates continue to rise, their mortgage payments will too.

Tracker Mortgages

As their name suggests, tracker mortgages usually ‘track’ or follow Bank of England interest rates. Rates can either match interest rates exactly, or track them at a set percentage above or below. This type of loan can be risky if interest rates suddenly rise your payments will increase, but if they fall, then you could be on to a winner.

Who they suit: Those who think interest rates are likely to stay low for the next couple of years, and who don’t mind if their mortgage payments fluctuate over time.

Flexible Mortgages

A flexible mortgage provides the benefit of allowing borrowers to pay a lump sum off their mortgage at any time without penalty, or to take the odd repayment holiday. Because of this flexibility, these mortgages can be slightly more expensive than other deals.

Who they suit: If you anticipate that you may want to overpay on your mortgage to repay it more quickly, then a flexible mortgage could be for you. They are often attractive to those who receive large work bonuses which they want to put towards their mortgage.

Offset Mortgages

As their name suggest, offset mortgages allow you to ‘offset’ your savings against your mortgage. So, although you won’t be credited with any interest on your savings, you don’t have to pay any interest on the equivalent amount of your outstanding mortgage. This offset interest is then used to reduce the amount outstanding on the mortgage, which brings forward the date when it is totally repaid.

Who they suit: These are definitely mortgages for the long-haul and should not be contemplated unless you are fairly certain that you will be able to leave your savings more or less untouched over the mortgage term.

Self-certification

With a self-certification mortgage, you don’t need to show the normal proof of income, such as wage slips or accounts. You simply estimate what your income is, and, following the usual credit and electoral roll checks, the lender agrees to the mortgage. Self-certification mortgages do, however, tend to be more expensive than standard mortgages. This is generally because they are considered to be a higher risk for the lender.

Who they suit: These mortgages suit self-employed people, who can’t provide the usual three years worth of accounts required by lenders because they haven’t been self-employed for that long, or because they are paid in cash or are contract workers. They are also increasingly useful for those that get much of their income from rental or investment income, or other ‘non-traditional’ ways.

Interest Only vs. Repayment

Increasing numbers of people are opting for interest-only mortgages to help keep monthly costs down. But while this might be effective in the short term, it does mean you will end up paying much more interest in the long-term, as you aren’t reducing your mortgage debt. With an interest-only mortgage, as the name suggests, you only pay interest on the capital you owe. You must then set up a savings scheme, such as an individual savings account (Isa) which you pay into every month, so that you can repay the capital at the end of the mortgage term. With a repayment mortgage, however, you pay both the interest and the capital back each month. If you are choosing an interest-only mortgage because you are feeling over-stretched financially, then beware – if you are unable to make savings towards the capital you could face major problems later on.
Next month features producer Reshma Rumsey will be helping a family find the best savings and current accounts and have some investment tips.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Tessa Hammond: A day with ITV Local

I’m the Librarian from Thames Valley News and my usual role is controlling the amount of material stored in the news computer in Abingdon and/or researching photographic and archive material for the newsroom journalists.

I asked to come down and visit the team at ITV Local to see how they put the site together and where they get their material from.

I see the advent of online news as an exciting development in the tool-kit of regional news, allowing far more in-depth information relevant to your region, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The guided tour of the site was truly educational and, I think it presents a very impressive range of information available at the click of the mouse. The time constraints in programming can mean that a lot a great material ends up on the edit-suite floor, but ITV Local's extended packages can use more footage and so make the best use of the reporters' efforts and add significantly to the viewing experience.

For me, it’s been an underused resource until now – but that’s all changed. I can now imagine showing my teenagers where to get the latest info on the gig they want to find.

Not being incredibly “web savvy” I was please to find that I did understand most of what I was being shown. I particularly liked Mark’s introduction to TelvOS – the clothes, suitcase, taxi, analogy was perfect and I’m sure I won’t forget it!

Thank you all for a very interesting and useful day. I look forward to contributing to the site.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Phil Horby: UKIP enters Westminster

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from parliament.


UKIP are celebrating today - they have their first MP at Westminster. And I am partly responsible.

Castle Point MP Bob Spink (pictured right) left the Tory party last month, and said he would continue in the Commons as an Independent Conservative. But behind the scenes, UKIP leader and South East MEP Nigel Farage was busy wooing Mr Spink, and this morning the defection was announced at a news conference held in one of the Commons' old committee rooms.

And yes, unwittingly, I am the man who brought them together. In 2003, the House of Commons Press Gallery held a dinner to celebrate its bicentenary. I invited a group of parliamentarians, from all different parties, to celebrate with us. Among them were Messrs Farage and Spink, who, purely by chance, were seated next to each other. They’d never met before in their lives. Today Mr Farage told us that was the moment his friendship with Bob Spink began, and today, five years later, we saw the result.

It's a coup for UKIP, and really the only way they can expect to get representation at Westminster. The chances of UKIP actually winning a parliamentary seat under the first-past-the-post system are as remote as ever.

It's a different matter in the European Parliament, of course. Proportional representation means smaller parties have a much better chance of being elected. It was the Meridian region which elected the first ever UKIP MEPs in 1999, and the Meridian region which returned the largest number in 2004.

Their most high-profile MEP then was elected in the East Midlands - none other than Robert Kilroy Silk, the former Labour MP and TV presenter. His victory gave UKIP fabulous publicity at the time, although the love affair was short-lived and Kilroy Silk soon fell out with just about everyone in UKIP and ended up setting up his own political party in a blaze of publicity. He was going to transform the system with a brand new kind of honest politics, he told us all. But it didn't happen, of course. Hands up anyone who can remember what his party was even called?

It's unlikely Bob Spink will go his own way anytime soon, but UKIP's enemies - and there are lots of them - are already predicting a disastrous clash of egos between Messrs Spink and Farage.

Mr Farage seemed remarkably relaxed about everything when I spoke to him today - just delighted at last to have a UKIP presence on the Commons green benches.

And people underestimate UKIP at their peril. In the early days, they were dismissed by many critics as, at best, an irrelevance, and, at worst, an undisciplined bunch of nutters. Now they have representation in the European Parliament (where, incidentally they outnumber the UK Greens 9 - 2), the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

As for Bob Spink, he faced the inevitable question today: The people of Castle Point voted you in as a Conservative MP, so now you've changed parties, why not stand down and fight a by-election? To which he gave the inevitable response: The people of Castle Point didn't vote for the Conservative Party in 2005, they voted for Bob Spink.

Well, that's as may be. The Conservatives say you could hear the popping of champagne corks at their party HQ this morning. In other words, good riddance. And the Tories can afford to be fairly unruffled by a UKIP defection at the moment. After all, it's the economy, not Europe, which is dominating politics. Nevertheless, recent history tells us that if UKIP get, say, 1000 votes in a marginal seat in a general election, that can be the difference between victory and defeat.

The Meridian region has the most marginal seats in the country - especially in Kent and Bob Spink's Essex. To reduce the impact of UKIP at the next election, the Conservatives must do their best to neutralise Europe as an issue. UKIP's plan is the exact opposite, and Mr Farage, with his new MP Mr Spink, will be pulling out all the stops between now and polling day.

Oh, and congratulations if you remembered the name of Robert Kilroy Silk's party - Veritas!
Watch Phil Hornby's lunchtime report on Bob Spink here.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Dancing dog clowns around

Ever seen a dog twirl and dance? Well now’s your chance!

One of the UK’s leading ‘freestyle handlers’ has uploaded a funny video of one of his ‘pupils’ Disco the dog. Richard Curtis’ bizarre video appeared on YourNews after it has some good coverage on You Tube. It's certainly got people talking in the newsroom; the main point of debate being the skinny legs Disco dances around on. So nimble and fast-footed! The dog and owner certainly seem to be enjoying the boogie...



Want to share your wacky videos? Upload to YourNews.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Sangeeta Bhabra: Race for Life Diary Entry 1

I have two pairs of trainers. One is a trendy pair that I wear with my jeans when my style statement is ‘teenager’. The other pair - the pair I fear - still look brand new even though they were bought in the days of Mr Motivator. I’m not what you call ‘naturally sporty’ so when I was asked to think about taking part in the ‘Race for Life’ earlier this year - I suddenly found a sprinting ability I didn’t know I had… I couldn’t get out of that office fast enough.

Four months on - in the interests of telly and belly - I’m all signed up to take part. Adrian our planning editor is an absolute love. He said ‘Sangers you don’t have to run it… lots of women walk it too’. That was it. I now have visions of me turning into Beyonce by the Summer whilst raising money for a very good cause - the only problem is I haven’t started training yet.

I am quite grateful to Sarah from ITV Local - who came up with the idea for my first blog. Because when this goes up - my commitment to running the three miles (sounds better than 5 km) is OFFICIAL. So - the venue: Mote Park in Maidstone. The Date June the 8th.

I’ve even got a training partner who is running the race on the same day. Her name is Deborah Puxty. She is about my age, has survived bowel cancer and this is her third race. And the best thing about her - she’s a real laugh. You must watch our Rocky style warm up session - and if my star jumps don’t make you laugh (is that the correct term?) my leggings, shorts and woolly hat ensemble should make you smile.

I’ll update you soon and any advice (fashion or otherwise) gratefully received x

Friday, 11 April 2008

Council spies on family to prevent 'cheating'

Is it a case of Big Brother overstepping the mark? Or is a council - which suspects parents of cheating to get children to the school of their choice - justified in carrying out covert surveillance operations?

Today Poole council in Dorset has admitted spying on three families suspected of trying to beat the school system. Using new laws passed to track criminals and terrorists they tracked separate families for a number of weeks recording details such as “female and three children enter target vehicle and drive off”.

The council says it acted responsibly and in the best interests of the community but human rights group Liberty called the spying “intrusive”.

So where should the government draw the line? We’ve all heard stories of perfectly healthy people being prosecuted for claiming monetary benefits – is this surveillance any different? Surely the bigger picture the problem of the school catchment system – would families consider bending the rules if good schools were easier to come by?

One thing for sure is that it caused much debate in the newsroom and on the web. So what do you think?

Watch the lunch time news report on the story.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Has the Olympics been tarnished by politics?

For weeks now Meridian and Thames Valley have been following local athletes as they train hard for the Beijing Olympics. We have seen synchronised swimming in Hampshire, hockey in Berkshire, judo in Surrey and much, much more. It’s always very exciting to see what talent we have in the region – there seems to be an Olympic athlete around every corner!

However as the protests continue to follow the Olympic torch as it travels the globe you have to fight hard to remember what the Olympic meaning actually is. Is it just another sporting event encouraging tourism and development? Is it designed to make money? Is it reserved for sporting superiors alone? Or does it unite people in a worldwide event?

Politics aside it’s still important to remember the remarkable people throughout our region and the world that make the event possible. Whether you are for or against the 2008 Olympics you can’t deny that running the 100m in about 10 seconds is no easy feat. Hard determination, skill and dedication are driving the best of our athletes to the games this year. We wish them all the luck in the world and look forward to sharing the celebrations when they return.

Meet the region’s Olympic athletes in our special Beijing channel.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Dreamland’s dreams end after Margate fire

It’s been a sad few days in Kent as many across the region mourn the loss of a favourite tourist sport – Dreamland in Margate.

On Monday we got the sad news that the wooden rollercoaster, the Scenic Railway, had 80 firefighters tackling a serious blaze that seemed to spring out of nowhere. The famed rollercoaster that entertained thousands for more than 80 years went up in flames that destroyed about a third of the attraction. And sadly police have now confirmed that the blaze was started deliberately.

The mood in the newsroom was one of dismay as pictures of the burning Scenic Railway poured in. Members of the newsdesk sat reminiscing about childhood days out at the seaside resort. ITV Local news editor Sharon said that being on the rollercoater was like stepping back into the 1950s – it’s dated d├ęcor still charmed years later!

Facebook is also already full with Dreamland groups – some expressing sadness, others expressing anger that the fire was ever able to happen. A petition has been started in the resorts name with the simple quote ‘The Scenic railway was the Heart of Dreamland, and Dreamland was the heart of Margate’.

Captured on a mobile phone here is the sad moment when part of the railway collapsed.

video

You can upload your own footage of Dreamland to YourNews.

Plus share your Margate memories here on the ITV Local blog.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Snow!

My usual Sunday morning lie-in was a non-starter last weekend - rudely awakened by both husband and son at 7am, equally excited that our street was under a thick blanket of snow, which was still falling in abundance, despite the local shops selling easter eggs off at half-price and big ads everywhere for barbecues and swimsuits.

There was nothing for it - we bundled up in our warmest gear (where DID I put my left leather glove?) and took a walk down to Winchester Cathedral. (Son travelled in style in his wagon as usual). After the usual snowball fun, we posted some footage from a mobile phone here but to be honest it doesn't really do the scene justice.

Anyway, there are lots more snow clips on Your News at the moment though, and some of the ones from further east and inland show much more snow than we had. We're not going to forget April 2008's snow for a long time I suppose, unless this becomes the new norm. I guess climate change is more than just global warming then, eh kids?

You never know - just after we took that footage, a man of the cloth wandered past (we were in the cathedral grounds) and commented that it was like Christmas. Well actually, I don't remember a white Christmas for many years, maybe the church should consider moving it back a few months to take advantage of spring snow. Swap Christmas and Easter perhaps? Or Christmas card manufacturers might consider depicting scenes of carollers wearing cap sleeves and shorts?

Friday, 4 April 2008

Jason Donovan, the Ventura and blogging - all in a days work...

Today has been a really busy one for the ITV Local team. Sharon and Heather were busy holding the website fort as Casey and I were out of office in London for the day. They had some exciting extras such as an extended interview with Jason Donovan. The Echo Beach star is going to be busy this weekend running the OX5Run in aid of the Oxford Children’s Hospital this weekend. We wish him the best of luck!

We also have a special report from travel correspondent Mike Pearce. Mike has been getting ship-shape having a special tour around cruise ship the Ventura. Its Britain’s largest ever cruise ship and it’s due to sail to Southampton any day now.

Meanwhile Casey and I were busy learning how to be expert bloggers! We had a really exciting meeting with 1000 heads who have been monitoring internet social networking since 2000. Hopefully this means a new and exciting future for the ITV Local blogs and with a redesign in the pipeline we hope you will all ‘tune in’ to see how we are getting on. We will now be bringing you all the latest gossip and information direct from the newsroom so stay tuned the ITV Local Meridian & Thames Valley blog!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Were you a fool this April?

Traditionally April Fool’s day is when journalists across the country rack their brains for bizarre stories about mutant animals and spaghetti harvests just so they can con the public for a day. And this year was no exception – we had flying penguins on the BBC in a spoof 'Miracles of Evolution' documentary, French president Nicolas Sarkozy decided to undergo stretch treatment to add inches to his height in The Sun and Gordon Ramsey banned restaurant swearing in The Independent.

The Meridian and Thames Valley news teams were no exception and entered into the sprit in style.

Weather man Simon Parkin went out to Oxfordshire to try and spot the mass April Fool in Henley-on-Thames. Villagers clubbed together in a two week long prank set as a competition by councillors. Ever seen a slimming sausage filled only with air? Well, they’re on special offer now in Oxfordshire!

Artist Jonathan Truss uploaded these scary photos of a leopard at large in his Bournemouth garden. But if you’re panicking about the beast reaching your garden then fear not as he won’t be getting very far – he’s stuffed.


The air show in Eastbourne is set for a different look this year with some special flying formations. However, instead of the Red Arrows, or the Tigers Parachute team, they've got a more unusual team lined up. Pigeons from across Sussex have started training for Eastbourne Airborne and we set reporter Charles Lambert to see how they are getting on…

If you have some great April Fool pranks you’d like to share you can email us here.

Monday, 31 March 2008

ITV Local teams up with Kent Community Foundation

Getting new content for ITV Local is always exciting especially when it means you have a new media partnership in place.

We have been in talks with Kent Community Foundation for a few weeks and have now set up a special ITV Local channel dedicated to their work in the local community.

Based in Ashford, Kent Community Foundation is a charitable foundation set up to encourage philanthropy for the benefit of the people of Kent. Their concept is simple; they provide the means for individuals and organisations to establish their own charitable ‘funds’ which benefit local people.

I have been filming with some of these organisations in order to launch the channel and have met many fantastic people over the last few weeks.

Here are some examples of projects that Kent Community Foundation has funded in the past. Click the title to watch the video.


Invicta Valiants, Ashford
Ward and Partners helped fund the Invicta Valiants football team for disabled children. The FA and Kent FA have now formed a county junior disability league and cup that included the Invicta Valiants team.



Unit 1 Skate Park, Rochester
Sport Relief sponsored Unit 1 to help re-open the park. The money is also being used to create new spaces within it for the young to meet in a positive and social environment. Meet the team of volunteers and skaters here.


Dover Youth Theatre
The Local Network Fund gave money to Dover’s first youth theatre to help fund theatrical performances. The Dover Youth Theatre advances the education of young people in the art of drama, theatre, films, music song and dance.


For more about Kent Community Foundation visit their dedicated channel.

Also – if you have been helped by the foundation or just want to share your story visit YourNews to upload to ITV Local.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The road to the Beijing Olympics

With only five months until the 2008 Olympics the South’s top athletes are training hard for medals in Beijing.

You can catch up with the best in our dedicated Olympic channel as our sports gurus travel the region to meet local athletes.

Here are some highlights:

Sailing’s Ben Ainslie, winner of two Olympic gold medals and five world championship titles, sets sail for Beijing.

Aldershot plays host to the GB Synchronised Swimming team as they plan for their first Olympic games.

Steve Scott from Battle is ranked 7th in the world in his Olympic sport double trap. Its clay pigeon shooting on a much larger scale - each clay is travelling at 90 miles an hour.

You can meet more British athletes in the Road to the Beijing Olympics.

Plus want to upload your own sporting skills? GrassRoots Sport is for you…


Monday, 10 March 2008

Lights Out on Brighton Pier

Meridian's live camera had a spectacular view today. First we witnessed the buffeting waves crashing against Brighton pier in the wildest storm so far this winter.

Then at about 6pm, the lights went out on the pier altogether in what looked like a power cut!

See what the view's doing right now at http://www.itvlocal.com/meridian/live/

Friday, 7 March 2008

ITV Local hits the road!

We'd like to welcome the ITV Local locomotives to all the regional teams as of today! These beauties (albeit beasts) will now help us get from place to place whilst promoting our fantastic sites on the side of the cars.


Top Gear have described the cars as having "striking looks from the outside, simple within. Sort of like a weather girl. We like the bravery of the design, but aren't quite brave enough to go out and buy a Roomster".


Interesting.... well at least the weather part fits in quite well...




Friday, 29 February 2008

Royal Television Society Awards Success!


Meridian and Thames Valley scooped six awards last night at the RTS Awards in Southampton.

They were as follows:

Best Regional TV Journalist - Simon Clemison

Best Feature/Strand Production - Ian Maclaren for his work on the slavery strand for South East
Most Promising Newcomer - Keith Peries from Thames Valley

Best Graphics - Amanda Hall

Best Programme/Series about the region - FOCUS, The Good Food Chain.

Best Regional News Magazine Show - Thames Valley Tonight

Simon Clemison, Best Regional TV Journalist

"It was an absolutely fantastic occasion. My heart was thumping when they read out the nominations. I don’t think I have ever been quite so nervous! It was great to go up on stage with Fred, although he did revel in telling everyone the prank he played on me at my house recently. I work with a brilliant team at ITV Meridian and ITV Thames Valley. They make work so enjoyable, an atmosphere where you really can thrive. I would like to thank the Royal Television Society for a great night".



Robin Britton, Head of ITV Thames Valley

During the emergency in July the whole show came live from flood hit Oxford and Berkshire for 5 nights in a row. The RTS judges praised the programme for its ambition, relevance to viewers and it “never put a foot wrong”.

Such a high standard was achieved because everyone pulled out all the stops to make it happen – our colleagues at Meridian South and Meridian East leant us their satellite trucks so we could come from the worst hit locations. We’re absolutely delighted to receive this award in our first year of transmission – it’s a great achievement by all concerned.

And not for getting the Runners-Up of course which included your very own ITV Local Thames Valley for Best Technical Innovation, Sally Mules, Dave Russell, Zoe Gower-Jones , Alistair Batey, Neil Cornish, the Meridian Reports Team, and the Meridian South programme team.

It was a truly fantastic night celebrating the best of regional news and superbly hosted by our very own Fred Dinenage.