Why do we have to pay £3m just to have a New Year party?

We are not going to have a whale of a time at London's New Year's Eve party. It is going to be a scaled-down shindig - half a party. Don't be surprised if there is no party at all. And why? The police are asking us Londoners to pay a punitive cost of £3m for extra policing on the night. They say the extra force is necessary because, at last year's party, such was the disorder that the police were needed to prevent thousands from being crushed to death.

I am flabbergasted. I was employed first as a consultant and then as a creative director of the stage just in front of the Royal Festival Hall. My programme was titled "Save the Last Dance for Me". From midday to midnight, I toured the entire party area and I saw no danger of anybody being crushed. It is a monumental piece of nonsense.

Prince Andrew was brought to the stage and introduced to me and a couple of the staff, and the audience stared curiously, and that was all. His two, or perhaps three, bodyguards stood aside quite casually, and that was the tenor of the evening. I remember writing in this column that the party was almost self-policed. So hugely successful was the event that Max Hastings and his mob on the London Evening Standard called for a repeat. Ken Livingstone responded and appointed a party-giver and a party-goer of note, Bob Geldof, to organise it. And now this whopping, great and unnecessary expense. Who shall deliver us from this evil? But much nonsense is in the air.

Take Winston Silcott. A friend of his began the campaign for his freedom from the day Silcott was arrested for murder. He never gave it up, even though Silcott has been arrested and charged 19 times since the battle of Broadwater Farm in 1984. On all 19 occasions, he was acquitted. Astonishing! His most recent appearance was a few weeks ago at Highgate Magistrates Court for an assault on the police. An independent witness, a journalist, happened to be passing by and gave an account of the arrest far different from that of the police officers, who gave accounts far different from each other. In short, it was an unholy mess. Silcott has since been stopped again.

In the very same part of north London, a posse of police officers robbed, stole and committed nefarious crimes. Either they or their mates dressed in balaclavas made a successful heist at a local jeweller's shop. They cleaned it out after sticking up the owner with a stun gun. They had already chosen the criminal who committed the crime: a young black man who, in his teenage years, had robbed a jeweller's shop in the same area.

They took their time and raided his house months later, planted a stun gun on him and had him sentenced to jail. Meanwhile, the nefarious deeds of these officers came to light after they stole 80 kilos of marijuana placed in a house by other police officers who were waiting for them.

Yet we have no contrition from the Met, no sense that we the citizens of this fine city are owed huge favours from them. They have nurtured within their ranks bandits posing as police officers, some of them racialists of the worst kind. We the citizens have paid their wages and heard their pleas for understanding as we were promised a better type of policing. We have demonstrated great patience and shown enormous good will. And now we are asked to cough up £3m for a few hours of enjoyment on the basis of a slander against last year's revellers. This is hardly the stuff on which good police- community relations are based.

I see every reason for Bob Geldof to approach Pacesetters, the organisers of last year's party, to gather the facts and figures about our relationship with the police. The account of Pacesetters and the account of the Met must match. All else is propaganda based on spite and malice. Geldof will also find closed bureaucratic doors at every turn.

The Greater London Assembly is stumbling and bumbling into existence. But I do not see it as a source of great strength in these difficult times.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 24 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Miserable small-mindedness