Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Unity needed to save Notting Hill Carnival

The news reported in the Guardian that the only two directors of Notting Hill Carnival Ltd Chris Boothman and Ancil Barclay have resigned in protest at the chronic lack of funding and political support from Mayor Boris Johnson, Kensington & Chelsea and  Westminster Councils will result in the current company being closed down.

This is a disaster in the run up to the Olympic year where Carnival should have been centre stage celebrating the  hyper diversity that makes London one of the worlds most diverse cities on the face of the planet. Both Mr. Boothman and Mr. Barclay worked incredibly hard to ensure the event was a huge success since their election in 2008. Working as unpaid volunteers they put their heart and soul into the event and remarkably were able to stabilise the event that has had a turbulent history.

The funding bodies including Boris Johnson, Tory London Councils, the Arts Council and the Metropolitan Police have conspired to undermine the efforts of Carnivalists to provide the necessary funding to ensure adequate levels of public safety and enhance the artistic platform that is the essence of Carnival. Boris Johnson is leading a covert strategy in effect a Tory led conspiracy to shut down Notting Hill Carnival.

Despite the Tory penchant for decrying ‘ elf and safety rules”, funding bodies have used this issue and placed more and more demands for strict compliance with a raft of safety legislations without providing the much needed necessary funding. This bureaucratic tactic has left the Carnival unable to meet these completely unreasonable demands.

Carnival generates over £150 million pounds to London’s economy and is the largest Black led street festival in Europe and yet its funding is comparable with a parish garden event. What is absolute clear is that there is determined agenda to allow the Carnival to wither on the vine with year on year reductions in funding and ever increasing demands from the funding bodies. Despite the benefits to the local economies income earned both Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Councils both have sought to scale Carnival back and constrain it’s obvious potential.

Carnival is Europe’s premier black cultural event and yet its treatment at the hands of the Mayor and local Councils has been one of appalling neglect, racism and hypocrisy.
Compare the way Carnival is treated with that of any other major London festival and the difference becomes clear. USA day, Thames Festival, Lord Mayors Parade, and many others provide examples of acute difference.

Carnival has in the last three years been funded to fail and subject to covert attempts to close the Carnival down. This follows a pattern of cultural marginalisation from the Mayors Office including cutting Africa Day, London’s Black History Season, Trans Atlantic Slavery Memorial Day 23rd August, the Rise Anti Racist Festival and many more have been axed leaving the capital cultural calendar bereft of any major black cultural event that is funded and supported by City Hall. Anywhere else in the world Carnival would be fully supported and endorsed at the highest level. Take a look at Rio Carnival for example well funded, officially endorsed by Government and part of the fabric of Brazilian culture in contrast Notting Hill Carnival is seen as cultural interloper an alien cultural event foreign and agonistic to British culture.

Chris Boothman hit the nail on the head when he said:
"Carnival is not just a free-for-all party. Its roots lie in celebrating the emancipation of slavery and it has high artistic values, but it is a struggle to uphold those values when it is so underfunded."
Ancil Barclay added,
"Carnival has to grow up. Everyone loves carnival, but when it comes to putting the right structures in place there is a total lack of investment."
This disgraceful treatment of Carnival is further evidence is that London’s black communities cultural events are being removed from the cultural landscape of London in an effort to ethnically cleanse the culture of the City prior to the Olympics.

What has not helped is the internecine strife that plagues Notting Hill Carnival Ltd. The old proverb that a house dived among itself must fall and that fact that both Directors were subject to internal criticism and political jockeying contributed to their decision to resign.

The issue of greatest concern this year was the demand by the funders that the Carnival Bands finish early as a result of the recent riots. This is virtually impossible for the Carnival Board to deliver and in my view they were foolish to agree to such demands form the funding bodies as a result they faced a massive internal backlash led by the Steel Bands who were enraged that this had been conceded by board members.

After a heated post-carnival meeting on 21 September the pair wrote to funding bodies stating "it increasingly became obvious that we had lost the level of support required to continue effectively". In effect the Steel Bands stated they wanted Directors who stand up to what they saw as unreasonable demands for the Mayor, the Police and Councils.

The current status of the company is that it has no Directors so will in due course be struck off the Companies House register. Funding bodies are trying to gerrymander the creation of a new Carnival company with their preferred list of Directors as we speak. This is an attempted coup d'├ętat by the funding bodies led by the Mayor and Tory Councils

What happens next will determine the very future of Carnival and without complete solidarity and unity of vision among the Carnivalists themselves both the Mayor and the local Councils will out maneuver them in pursuit of their real agenda and that is and always will be to seek to close the event down.