Anyone who has braved the Notting Hill Carnival will know that it is an experience you’re unlikely to forget. The Mas Bands, Steel Bands, Sound Systems and food stalls are an incredible visual spectacle, albeit one counter-balanced by unsettlingly dense crowds, more police officers than you’ve likely ever seen in one place and an uneasy, unyielding, underlying tension.
Across Sunday and Monday there were 308 arrests; 71 of which were for possession of an offensive weapon, 57 for assaulting police officers with the remainder for offences as serious as GBH and sexual assault. Officers on the perimeter intercepted a firearm. Pictures emerged of men fighting with machetes amid the crowds. On Monday evening eight people were stabbed and one person received slash wounds. One victim is still in a serious condition. There were 198 arrests on Monday alone. To put that into context, that’s well over a third of London’s entire custody suite capacity. When eight people are stabbed in one location you might expect it to be headline news with rolling updates and a reporter dispatched to spend the day as the spectre at the feast, giving timely updates stood against the chilling backdrop of a police cordon. Not after Notting Hill Carnival. The fear of being denounced as a racist has made TV news demur; discussing it is a political hospital pass.
Ahead of the Carnival, a group of ten Labour MPs alleged that Conservative Mayoral Candidate Susan Hall “seems convinced of the innate criminality of Black people”, and called on the party to publicly condemn her previous comments. The comments in question were made during a Police and Crime Committee session of the London Assembly. Hall had said that “problems with crime within the Black community is something I have brought up constantly because we need to assist those communities; the problem is, the minute we do we are accused of being racist or as near as damn being racist.”
Oh the irony. But in the wake of the Carnival, those same MPs have been noticeably quiet. In fact, very few of those who were passionately defending the Carnival last week have condemned the violence on Monday night. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Notting Hill Carnival is already the largest regular single-event policing operation in the country, costing the taxpayer £8.6 million in 2019. The Metropolitan Police have said officers at the event this year were punched, spat on, bitten, head-butted and sexually assaulted. Understandably, the Metropolitan Police Federation says its members dread having to work on it, and it’s difficult to see how the Metropolitan Police could justify or even facilitate committing greater resources.
One of the alternatives proposed was to move the Carnival to Hyde Park, an idea first mooted by Ken Livingstone but dropped after staunch criticism. Moreover, whilst relocating would move it away from a residential area it’s hard to see how that would necessarily reduce the cost of policing it, or the potential dangers. Even Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland saw a stabbing last year. Santa’s Grotto isn’t traditionally a place for gangs to settle scores. Yes, the Carnival is a celebration of Caribbean culture, but that isn’t what is being criticised. Criticism of an event that is marred by serious violence every single year isn’t a contentious point. Suggesting that eight people being stabbed in one small area on a single day is unacceptable isn’t racist. If only there was a Mayoral candidate who had a strong view on tackling its issues. Perhaps people should hear her out.