Bureaucrats are trying to take over the Notting Hill Carnival
The Notting Hill Carnival, due on the August bank holiday, faces an enormous difficulty. It may not happen at all - and if it does, then it is likely to be a seriously truncated version of what we have known it to be.
The chief executive of the Notting Hill Carnival Trust is Claire Holder. Hers is a paid job but, above her, there is a board of trustees who are divided in their allegiance to her. The former vice-chairman of the trust Ansel Wong, when interviewed by the London Evening Standard, complained that Holder employed both her brother and her sister and paid them both up to £60,000 without the say-so of the trustees. This is simply untrue.
Then members of the board tried to lock her out of the office; she eventually got inside and hired two huge security men to guard her there.
I do not understand the opposition to Holder. I once speculated that being a woman at the heart of Carnival is to face machismo of the most unrelenting kind. Others say that people are jealous that, for her services to Carnival, Holder has been awarded an OBE.
Anyway, the accusations against her are frivolous in the extreme. She tends to be a bit haughty, but no more than most women have to be when surrounded by gangs of men.
Even without these conflicts, Carnival is in a parlous state. Last year, the numbers who attended were down by one million. This was partly because of the murders the previous year but, more importantly, because the festival has turned into one in which the spectators watch spectators who are watching spectators.
You may stand at the roadside on the carnival route for hours without seeing a single carnival costume. When costumes do appear, they are second-rate, entangled in a crowd of ordinarily dressed civilians. At this level, the carnival has degenerated hugely. Yet the squabbles are not about this. They relate largely to personalities.
Enter the funding bodies - the London mayor's office, the Arts Council of England and London Arts - and the pains of Carnival become multiplied.
The contribution of the funding bodies to the central organisation is minimal. Currently, they are about to take over the running of the festival from their offices in central London. They want to manipulate those who are personally disaffected in order to get a clear run. Why? It is simply the authoritarian streak in the modern bureaucrat.
The mayor, Ken Livingstone, has a plan. In exchange for public funds, Ken's commissars of art and culture have demanded that a new company limited by guarantee be formed by the end of this month; the current chairman and his friend would be appointed to the board of directors. In short, Ken's office will see to it that he and his allies own the carnival, lock, stock and smoking barrel. All this is contained in documents slipped to me in the still of the morning.
Ken's plan involves 29 conditions that the trustees must meet before any funds leave his office, including £159,000 owed from last year. There is obviously a 30th requirement: Claire Holder's head.
I was chairman of the carnival once. We applied for funds from the arts bodies. They paid us, we accounted for it, and that was all. Never did they attach conditions that went to the root of the organisation and the choice of personnel.
It is a scandal. Carnival has to be improved, an artistic policy implemented, the organisation rethought and fine-tuned - but never, never by the funding bodies. There are more conditions written and elaborated here than the International Monetary Fund ever exacted of a third-world country down on its luck.
I talked to one of the bureaucrats, a fine young woman who means well. But I still concluded that the mayoral office must keep its grubby hands off Carnival.
And I asked one of the authors of Ken's plan: "What prevents the mass of carnivalists from telling you to go to hell?"