Oh Don’t Stop the Carnival

The Tribune

At 8.15am on a chill Bank Holiday Monday morning I stood in the sleeting rain outside a pub off Wood Lane waiting for Diane Abbott and Lady Victoria Borwick.

A well-worn Fiesta pulled up and a gentleman in a House of Lords polo shirt opened the door to the MP for Kensington who was wearing a blue cagoule with a message on the back suggesting that the reader should vote Conservative.

Lady Borwick had arrived and after exchanging pleasantries in the rain and realising that Diane was either making her way via a different route or was indulging in a spot of canvassing we headed over to Burlington Danes Academy to meet Commander David Musker – Gold Commander for the Notting Hill Carnival 2015.

We were part of a four person Parliamentary group observing the policing side of the Notting Hill Carnival and we were to be given unfettered access as well as the opportunity to speak privately to the officers and civilian staff who made up the seven thousand strong group with responsibility for policing and public safety at the Carnival.

In addition to Lady Borwick, Diane Abbott and I there was a Liberal Democrat but they failed to register with me and I cannot recall which of the exclusive brethren he was.

The briefing in the school not only featured the Commissioner, Bernard Hogan Howe, but all the local “Bronze” commanders and specialists as well as, rather oddly, a large contingent of officers from the Netherlands Police Force who were also observing.

I fully accept that the Met were on their best behaviour and there was quite a bit of seeking refuge in formality and blinding us with a blizzard of acronyms but in the conversations away from the senior staff I found a very positive attitude towards the carnival and a wish expressed almost universally to ensure that a good day was had by all.

Clearly this was not always the case and I – as does any other west Londoner – have bitter memories of the confrontational policing and aggressive tactics of the Met in earlier years.

I also remember the police adjusting the Alan Price Set’s hit and singing “We’re going to stop the Carnival”.

Either I am entirely naïve or Old Bill has changed.

Diane arrived, the Tory had to leave and the Liberal may or may not have been present when we moved off to Sion Manning to see about a thousand people have breakfast and for us to study the maps and learn a little about the “Apollo” teams “spotting” throughout the carnival area and relaying information back to the Special Operations Room in Lambeth.

As it was coming down in stair rods I suggested that this might be a quiet Carnival but I was told that when the streets were full of people the gangs couldn’t confront each other as they usually couldn’t see through the crowds.

Less people meant more visibility and more chance of gang confrontation – as, sadly, it proved to be.

The SOR classified the crowd under five categories: Casual, Cohesive, Expressive, Anti-social and Incident and the density was also classified as very low density, low density, medium or high density.

Joining up with the rain sodden carnival floats as they paraded past the judging panel could have been a depressing experience but it was actually joyful and bursting with energy as well as deafening sounds.

We had been issued with earplugs but as these were distinctively yellow and blue any civilian sporting a set was instantly identifiable as official. For the first time in my life someone looked at me and said “Babylon”.

One of the Dutch officers asked what Five-Oh meant so it was reassuring to hear that some of the less aggressive descriptions still exist.

It may have been raining but this was a real time of pride and every island or island group seemed to have its own float and express its own identity.

It was good to meet a large number of Grenadian friends but also to see St. Kitts and Nevis out in force and the mighty throng of Trinidad and Tobago as well as Nigerian and Ghanaian floats and stalls.

My conclusion?

The Carnival is too important to lose and deserves wider support – one for the next Mayor of London perhaps?

I was genuinely impressed by the logistics of the operation and the efficiency with which it all operated and, yes, I didn’t pick up any covert or overt unpleasantness from the police officers. They were, I was surprised to hear, all volunteers and even if you discount the cliché picture of uniformed officers eating ice-creams I felt that this was a modern London police force seeking to police with public agreement and consent. Mayor Johnson’s cuts to the police budget will inevitably impact on occasions like this and there was very little sympathy for his position. A lot of people asked why he

didn’t’ even bother to turn up to Carnival. Listening to some of the public and police opinions I concluded that it was probably best that he stayed away.

Oh Don’t Stop the Carnival.

At 8.15am on a chill Bank Holiday Monday morning I stood in the sleeting rain outside a pub off Wood Lane waiting for Diane Abbott and Lady Victoria Borwick.

A well-worn Fiesta pulled up and a gentleman in a House of Lords polo shirt opened the door to the MP for Kensington who was wearing a blue cagoule with a message on the back suggesting that the reader should vote Conservative.

Lady Borwick had arrived and after exchanging pleasantries in the rain and realising that Diane was either making her way via a different route or was indulging in a spot of canvassing we headed over to Burlington Danes Academy to meet Commander David Musker – Gold Commander for the Notting Hill Carnival 2015.

We were part of a four person Parliamentary group observing the policing side of the Notting Hill Carnival and we were to be given unfettered access as well as the opportunity to speak privately to the officers and civilian staff who made up the seven thousand strong group with responsibility for policing and public safety at the Carnival.

In addition to Lady Borwick, Diane Abbott and I there was a Liberal Democrat but they failed to register with me and I cannot recall which of the exclusive brethren he was.

The briefing in the school not only featured the Commissioner, Bernard Hogan Howe, but all the local “Bronze” commanders and specialists as well as, rather oddly, a large contingent of officers from the Netherlands Police Force who were also observing.

I fully accept that the Met were on their best behaviour and there was quite a bit of seeking refuge in formality and blinding us with a blizzard of acronyms but in the conversations away from the senior staff I found a very positive attitude towards the carnival and a wish expressed almost universally to ensure that a good day was had by all.

Clearly this was not always the case and I – as does any other west Londoner – have bitter memories of the confrontational policing and aggressive tactics of the Met in earlier years.

I also remember the police adjusting the Alan Price Set’s hit and singing “We’re going to stop the Carnival”.

Either I am entirely naïve or Old Bill has changed.

Diane arrived, the Tory had to leave and the Liberal may or may not have been present when we moved off to Sion Manning to see about a thousand people have breakfast and for us to study the maps and learn a little about the “Apollo” teams “spotting” throughout the carnival area and relaying information back to the Special Operations Room in Lambeth.

As it was coming down in stair rods I suggested that this might be a quiet Carnival but I was told that when the streets were full of people the gangs couldn’t confront each other as they usually couldn’t see through the crowds.

Less people meant more visibility and more chance of gang confrontation – as, sadly, it proved to be.

The SOR classified the crowd under five categories: Casual, Cohesive, Expressive, Anti-social and Incident and the density was also classified as very low density, low density, medium or high density.

Joining up with the rain sodden carnival floats as they paraded past the judging panel could have been a depressing experience but it was actually joyful and bursting with energy as well as deafening sounds.

We had been issued with earplugs but as these were distinctively yellow and blue any civilian sporting a set was instantly identifiable as official. For the first time in my life someone looked at me and said “Babylon”.

One of the Dutch officers asked what Five-Oh meant so it was reassuring to hear that some of the less aggressive descriptions still exist.

It may have been raining but this was a real time of pride and every island or island group seemed to have its own float and express its own identity.

It was good to meet a large number of Grenadian friends but also to see St. Kitts and Nevis out in force and the mighty throng of Trinidad and Tobago as well as Nigerian and Ghanaian floats and stalls.

My conclusion?

The Carnival is too important to lose and deserves wider support – one for the next Mayor of London perhaps?

I was genuinely impressed by the logistics of the operation and the efficiency with which it all operated and, yes, I didn’t pick up any covert or overt unpleasantness from the police officers. They were, I was surprised to hear, all volunteers and even if you discount the cliché picture of uniformed officers eating ice-creams I felt that this was a modern London police force seeking to police with public agreement and consent. Mayor Johnson’s cuts to the police budget will inevitably impact on occasions like this and there was very little sympathy for his position. A lot of people asked why he

didn’t’ even bother to turn up to Carnival. Listening to some of the public and police opinions I concluded that it was probably best that he stayed away.