Minister for London Greg Hands today told London Mayor Sadiq Khan to consider moving Notting Hill Carnival the capital’s biggest annual outdoor event from the streets of west London where it started over half a century ago.
Hands told the Mayor: “We have to ask ourselves if it is appropriate to stage a Carnival in the near proximity of a major national disaster [the Grenfell Tower fire, in which more than 80 people are believed to have died]. I would like you to consider moving the location…”
According to the Evening Standard, Khan replied that any attempt to move Carnival from Notting Hill would be a mistake, “particularly at a time when the community is mistrustful of many of those in positions of authority”.
The Mayor cited NHC’s strong roots in the African-Caribbean community of North Kensington and Notting Hill. “It’s only right that this remains its home,” Khan added.
Hands Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham also suggested that the Greater London Authority (GLA) take over the running of the event. Earlier this year responsibility for the day-to-day management and logistics of Notting Hill Carnival was passed to an external event manager, Street Event Company.
In fact, neither a takeover nor a move is remotely realistic with just seven weeks left before Carnival takes place over the August bank holiday. Hands was clearly unaware of the detailed planning that has to be carried out a year in advance by organisers, participants, councils, police, emergency services and transport operators.
Hands did not propose an alternative venue for what he called “an important and symbolic community celebration”.
Most of the plans to clear Carnival from the streets envisage it moving to Hyde Park. However, gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, writing in The Guardian on 6 July, pointed out that Royal Parks will not allow the annual London Pride march to use Hyde Park. Tatchell (a former Pride organiser) claims that “onerous controls and draconian costs” mean that no more than 26,500 can march in the streets. Adding in spectators and participants in Soho and Trafalgar Square, he estimates the total crowd at 216,500 – around a quarter of Notting Hill Carnival’s attendance. So if Royal Parks will not allow Pride to sully its green acres, it is highly unlikely that Hands or anyone else will persuade it to accept NHC’s one million-plus revellers.
Pride is often mentioned as a potential model for a revamped Notting Hill Carnival, so it is worth looking at its progress over the past 20 years. In language familiar to long-time carnivalists, Tatchell said Pride “has been dumbed down. For many people, it is now mostly a gigantic street party. Big corporations see it as a PR opportunity.”
Carnival-goers will have to ask themselves whether that is a model they wish Notting Hill to copy.