Saturday, March 22, 2008

Observations from Cape Town

Having nearly spent a week out in Cape Town, South Africa my holiday out here is drawing to a close. The place itself is a fascinating city and very diverse; it has certainly been a learning experience. One of the most memorable parts will have been visiting a township and seeing some very primitive living conditions andpoverty, it was certainly an eye opener. This country is still very much in transition from the apartheid era; the country has made a start in healing those wounds but it still has a long way to go.

In terms of my week, Table Mountain had to be the highlight. The views from the top are amazing and it has to be one of the best natural wonders in the world.

I have a long flight back to Heathrow tomorrow and then it's back to the reality of life in London.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

In Cape Town

After a twelve hour delay and a night spent in a Heathrow Hotel courtesy of Virgin Atlantic(it was the least they could do) I am now in Cape Town, South Africa. Thankfully getting through immigration, baggage and customs was a great deal quicker then in many other airports in the world(and I've experienced some shambolic airports in the world and that includes some of the London airports) and I was at my hotel just over an hour after I'd landed. On the flight itself, I also managed to watch three films, Juno, The Valley of Elah and Brick Lane which made the time go that much faster given that it's a twelve hour flight, I would also recommend watching the films as well.

Having been here for the last 24 hours, my observations of the place to date is that it's a country with many contrasts especially between those who have and have not. Crime as well is a major issue out here with fear of crime very prevalent and when you see the barbed wire around houses and security it does bring home how lucky we're back England compared to here. Many people I have spoken to have suffered from crime and compared to nearly everywhere else I've been to in the world crime is a huge issue and exercising caution is a must.

That's not to take anything away from the place, Cape Town in itself is a very beautiful city and Table Mountain that overlooks the city adds to the natural beauty. I hope to go up Table Mountain in the next week and from all accounts it gives an outstanding vista of the city.

The one thing as well that I've noticed is how everything shuts up shop at Saturday lunchtime. It really is eerily quiet in the City Centre on a Saturday afternoon with only the bars and some restaurants open. Apparently Sunday is even quieter. The afternoon was spent watching England beat Ireland in the rugby at Catu Irish bar in Cape Town; though I missed Wales triumph against France. Drink is a fraction of the price it is back home with a pint of Guinness being just 20 rand(about half the price it is in London).

Over the next few days I hope to as well see the main attractions in Cape Town, including Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. As well, I hope to visit a township to get some kind of view of how the other half lives. All in all I have a busy time ahead during my stay in Cape Town. The weather here is pretty nippy, with a strong wind making it seem a colder outside the it actually is, apparently it's a feature of Cape Town. No doubt I'll be learning more about this city during my stay here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New intergenerational centre in Mitcham

Thanks to Labour Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, Merton is to get an extra £1.5 million capital funding for the countries first intergenerational centre. When opened next year it will see a range of service under one roof for older people, young people and families.

In the press release announcing the decesion Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said: 'I want the first intergenerational centre in London to be a resource for all age groups, old and young, for families and for individuals. The new centre’s aim is to break down barriers between people of different generations, challenge ageism and generate a sense of shared purpose bringing together and benefitting all members of the community.'

The new centre will be located near the new Eastfields station on the site of a new disused youth centre. Going past the site this morning work has already started to clear the site and it's hoped that it will be open by the middle of 2009

Among the activities at the new centre will be IT, training facilities, arts, crafts and sport activities.

This is a great boost to the local area and it's thanks to Ken that we're getting these fantastic new facilities. Along with the new train station, extra buses and neighbourhood policing, Mitcham has benefitted considerably from having a Labour mayor in Ken. None of this would've ever happened if we had a Tory Mayor of London and if Boris wins on May 1st the area will certainly get none of the benefits it has had under Ken.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Hillary bounces back

You can never rule her out and she is back with a bang with her wins last night in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island. Just when it looked that Barack was about to clinch the nomination back she comes and in impressive style. She still has an uphill struggle ahead of her given Obama's delegate lead and his gaining strength among the super-delegates. The next states are Mississippi and Wyoming and likely Obama wins before we have the next big battle in Pennsylvania at the end of April and the last big state to vote. Everything is still very open, I hope Barack wins but Hillary is certainly a fighter right to the end.

Merton Council Budget meeting and 3.9% council tax rise

After a budget meeting lasting over three hours the Tory administration with the support of the Merton Park Residents' agreed to a council tax rise of 3.9% for the Merton element of the Council tax rise for 08/09. The Labour group on Merton had put forward a series of amendments which included a council tax cut of 1%, 0, 1% rise and a 2.5% rise and also proposed reversing a series of cuts to services from the budget. This would have been funded by reducing the level of reserves which are estimated to be £10.5 million and will increase to £11.5 million after the budget was agreed tonight. We believe this is a cynical attempt by the Conservative administration to build up the reserves and to freeze or cut tax in the final year. At the last election we promised that we'd not increase council tax by more the 2.5% in Merton, since the Tories have got in its risen by 3.6% last year and 3.9% this year, nearly 2.5% more then it would've been under Labour.

At the meeting itself, the Tories tried to filibuster and indeed the Labour opposition leader Andrew Judge did not get the opportunity to speak for nearly an hour as we wasted time hearing remarks from Tory cabinet members about the budget. We did however debate all eight amendments and put our point across about the hoarding of money and the impact the Tory cuts will have on the borough.

I got to speak at 10.10 despite Tory allegations by Tory leader David Williams that I was keeping quiet, it was just that my amendment was last in the running order for the meeting but it did mean I got to make one of the last speeches of the night.

This budget is bad for Merton and the residents' will be paying extra over the next year as part of the Tories con trick pay in advance scheme. Sadly though the people who'll suffer the most from their cuts and higher council tax will be the people on low income.