The first big question that went through my mind the day the riots kicked off in Hackney and around the country was, “Carnival… what about Notting Hill Carnival?”
That was back on August 8th and as the debates swirled and the column inches mounted the one thing that was ominously absent was any mention of carnival. Behind the wall of silence, it was obvious that Government and the police were confronted with a serious scenario. One that the Met describe as “unusual and exceptional”. However, at a largely unreported meeting between the acting Commissioner of the Met, Tim Godwin, and the home affairs select committee, he made it clear he wanted Carnival to go ahead. Maybe it was the spat between Cameron and the Met which prompted Godwin’s commitment to carnival. After all, the police have to demonstrate both their independence and their ability to control the streets.
I was at carnival back in ’76 when it first exploded into a battle between the youth and the police and up until recent times remained a carnival devotee. Despite the fact that the event has gone from attracting around 150, 000 people in ’76 to being the biggest street party in Europe with a million revelers, I’d argue that carnival is rooted in constantly shifting, culturally volatile territory. Lest we forget, Carnival was initiated in 1958 after gangs of youth went “nigger hunting” in Ladbroke Grove.
Times have changed and while the physical identity of Notting Hill Carnival has been under constant threat it remains Black Britain’s most expressive and high profile event. I, for one, give thanks for the community groups and associations and the pan orchestras (and the more recent additions of Brazilian blocos and samba schools) who work all year round to produce their themes and costumes for carnival. As a nation we have to give thanks for that. That’s the root of Notting Hill Carnival. It’s now part of our collective history and that needs to be encouraged and supported both culturally and financially.
Carnival is an institution and any talk of a post-riot ban would have result in serious conflict. Therefore, one has to conclude that the lack of media has been orchestrated to reduce both consciousness of the event and numbers taking to the streets.
It all makes sense as it’s the policy of the Met that clubs and venues are not allowed to advertise certain artists, who have a reputedly troublesome following, simply because the police do not want them in their area. Plus, following the riots, Operation Razorback, is in full swing monitoring the social networks and busy arresting any potential troublemakers and drug dealers ahead of the event.
So, people, if you’re heading off to the Grove this weekend, be aware that the Carnival organisers have decided the street parades will start and finish earlier this year to avoid any potential trouble as darkness falls. Also, pubs are being encouraged to close by 9.
Basically, policing will be heavy. They plan to use Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This could definitely spark off aggravation as it gives officers powers to stop and search individuals in a designated area without reasonable suspicion that they are about to commit an offence!
On Sunday, the children’s carnival, 5,500 police will be on the streets. On Bank Holiday Monday, which can attract a million people, 6,500 police will be at the event. Add to that a reserve of 4,000 additional officers who will be available across London to cope with any disturbances in other areas. In fact on the day a total of total available at 16,000 police officers will be on duty in London town!
All in all, past experience tells us that carnival will be carnival. While I’m 100% sure Gaz Mayall will be doing his thing, that other veteran of Notting Hill Carnival, Norman Jay MBE, will not be offering up his usual and most popular dose of Good Times! Let the sun shine… let life, love and unity prevail!