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.