Saturday, 20 August 2011
Rotting Hill Carnival of Chaos
This isn't a carnival, it's a police state
By Damian Thompson Politics Last updated: August 19th, 2011
Carnival, 2008: sometimes you really need all those coppers (Photo: PA)
From Saturday’s Daily Telegraph
Next weekend, I shall be living in a police state. There will be policemen at either end of my little street, policemen on duty outside my local pub, policemen guarding the entrance to the supermarket. If I go to the shops and plan to return to my flat by anything other than the circuitous “official” route, I’ll have to show my local residents’ ID to one of the 5,000 police officers patrolling the neighbourhood.
You see, I live in Notting Hill and it’s Carnival time again. And what a special Carnival it promises to be, coming less than a month after street gangs attacked shops and restaurants bang in the middle of the parade route. Members of those gangs will be back for “Europe’s largest fun-filled event”, as the BBC wants us to think of it. That’s why this year the cost of policing it will approach £10 million for the first time.
I don’t want to sound like a killjoy. There’s plenty of fun to be had at the Carnival, as revellers glug their way through 25,000 bottles of rum to the accompaniment of dozens of screaming sound systems. But that fun comes at a price, believe me. You should read the surveyor’s report on our house. I’ve just forked out 12 grand to fortify walls loosened by the pulsating throb of the Carnival. Or “Carnivaaal”, as right-on folk pronounce it.
It’s not the event I hate so much as the multi-culti fantasy that’s been constructed around it. Here’s the biggest lie: that the Carnival “brings together” 500,000 young white and black people. Nonsense: they’re only really brought together by the unofficial kettling produced when five streams of partygoers barge into each other at the junction of Westbourne Grove and Chepstow Road.
Two groups stand out. There are the kids whose families live locally and have actually been to the Caribbean. All of them are white: the so-called “OK-Yahdies” who go to Antigua at Christmas and grow dreadlocks during their gap year. Then there are the black kids, most of whom live a long Tube ride away from Notting Hill and can’t afford to visit the West Indies.
There’s not much inter-racial banter, unless you count public schoolboys bargaining over the price of a spliff or elderly white diversity officers forcing their “outreach” on black youths. People may drift around but, my goodness, you know when you’re crossing from one sector into another: think late-Forties Berlin. The atmosphere is certainly tense enough – though for some visitors, the edginess is part of the appeal. And 2011 promises to be particularly edgy.
The truth is that the damn thing should have been moved to Hyde Park years ago: it was the only sensible plan Ken Livingstone ever came up with. Perhaps it might have been, if it hadn’t been for the cheerleading of the BBC, which refuses to deviate from its script for the Carnival. I’ve just watched an item on its website which rounds up local shopkeepers to say how bloody marvellous the festival is, and of course there won’t be any trouble etc. Only in the last few seconds of the report do we hear that “some traders do have reservations and didn’t even appear confident enough to appear on camera for fear of prompting trouble”.
An interesting choice of words, don’t you think? If you’re a scared shopkeeper who speaks out, then you’re guilty of “prompting” rioters to smash in your windows, or worse. That’s rich coming from the BBC, several of whose senior executives live in Notting Hill. But then again, something tells me that very few of them will be at home on Bank Holiday Monday to enjoy the multicultural fun.