Darcus Howe

Notting Hill Carnival is not a spectacle to watch from corporate boxes

Upwards of a million people from all over the UK, North America and the Caribbean will attend the Notting Hill Carnival on August bank holiday. Thousands will be dressed in costumes, others will provide music. This carnival is intact, healthy and improving. On Saturday last, with my daughters and their friends, I attended a fundraising carnival party organised by Poison, a new entrant to the costumed section of the festival. I danced all night, even though the average age of those who attended was almost half my own.

At one point in the evening, I was surrounded by angry voices. For nearly 23 years, the carnival organising committee was made up of elected members from the different artistic disciplines featuring in the festival. By 2000, the London Arts Board, one of the carnival's funders, had assessed the organisation thus: "The Notting Hill Carnival is in a very healthy financial position." Then came a coup d'etat from Ken Livingstone's office and Kensington & Chelsea Council. They placed their lackeys at the head of the organisation. The democratic constitution was scrapped amid denigration of the CEO, Clare Holder. The new group launched last year's carnival with £215,000 at their disposal, plus the Arts Council grant. All this money disappeared without trace, leaving huge debts behind. To this day, last year's champion steel band is owed £4,000 in prize money and appearance fees.

The accounts provided by the "new committee" failed to satisfy the Arts Council and this year's grant was withheld because last year's faces returned under a new company. Yet the Greater London Authority persists in funding this set-up with Londoners' taxes. It is a disgrace involving, at best, gross incompetence and, at worst, who knows?

Carnival is a festival born of the socially committed from the Caribbean working class - a festival of the people, by the people, for the people. The black middle classes have had their eyes on it for years. Now the cookie jar is empty and there are huge debts, they want to organise corporate boxes from which the high and mighty can look down as we monkeys prance and dance.

This is provocation unlimited. A festival that embraces all will now be divided between the elite and the people. Let the bankrupt leadership try it. I am sure of the result. The solution is crystal clear. Come back, Clare Holder.

Next Article