Sunday, 31 August 2014

Carnival Tax- One Year On

It’s the end of another summer and the end of another carnival season.  The majority of us who attended the Notting Hill Carnival last Monday are fighting off cold and flu in one form or another, the inevitable price to pay from participating in the wettest event in over thirty years.  Of course in hindsight it was a tiny penalty to pay when balanced against the uniqueness of the occasion.

It was whilst wrapped up in my duvet (with my hot orange juice on the sofa) that I stumbled across the BBC’s “Sunday Morning Live” earlier, and observed a discussion about fracking.  It made me smile because I was immediately transported back twelve months when I was very angry with the city I lived in and at the community who had allowed this to happen.  One of the things I suggested a year ago at the height of my fury was that if the Government wanted to introduce fracking, they should look no further than Nottingham as it was a community that would offer “no opposition” and would “roll over” and allow the intrusive activity to take place without any resistance at all.

Just over a year ago I launched a boycott against the Nottingham Caribbean Carnival following their hugely controversial decision to introduce an admission fee to the event.  It was a move I scornfully derided as the Carnival Tax.   I made alternative plans to take my seat at the Emirates Stadium and to be as far away from the city as possible.  It was a horrible day for me.

Things were compounded further when to my horror, my Monday visit to Notting Hill Carnival the following week to watch acts performing on the Mastermind stage, coincided with a performance from none other than Ms Dynamite.  This was the same Niomi who I had clashed with on Twitter decrying her decision to perform at the treacherous festival which was bastardising the name of carnival.  Having highlighted to the fellow north Londoner about what the organisers behind Nottingham Carnival had lined up with their plans for a tax, she blocked me and then spoke of her pride of being part of the sham.

So when I heard Ms Dynamite being introduced to the stage, I left the area.  I had no interest in watching someone I had labelled a “scab” for even a split second.  And I wasn’t going to allow her presence to infuriate me and spoil what is such a special weekend for me. This was quite a turnaround.  Only a few weeks earlier, a picture of Ms Dynamite took pride of place in my front room.  It was taken with my cousin in Ayia Napa who had mutual friends at the time.  We all did.  We were all roughly the same age and her secondary school was approximately 15 minutes’ walk from where mine was.

I’d always been proud of her accomplishments, someone from our corner of north London who had achieved a significant level of success.  Being mixed race from a single parent family, she was a role model for lots of us.  That all changed when she committed such an unforgivable betrayal.  This was someone who shot to fame on the back of being a break from the contemporary artists at the time.  Her track “It Takes More” contained lyrics about the exploitation of the third world back in 2002.  Eleven years later she was happy to participate in the exploitation of one of the poorest cities in the UK.

About a month ago I was contacted by some very distressed residents of Nottingham who realised that the “voluntary contribution of £1” which had been introduced to the Nottingham Carnival in 2013 had now evolved into a compulsory admission fee of £2.  More worryingly, neighbouring Leicester had also pushed ahead with its own Carnival Tax and was charging patrons £3.

It’s fair to say I did my fair share of “I told you so” and proudly reposted my piece from July 2013.  Practically everything I had warned had come to pass.  That the fee wouldn’t stay at £1, that it was compulsory in all but name and that the disgraceful idea would be copied by other events around the UK under the guise of coping in times of austerity.  But once I had savoured my moment of posturing, I knew that the most important thing was to communicate to everyone why boycotting the Leicester and Nottingham events was so important.

However shortly after recommencing the boycott campaign, I was deeply alarmed that the local radio station Kemet FM wanted to support the boycott.  I maintained last summer that the station were complicit in the implementation of the Carnival Tax because of their support for the 2013 event, despite me pleading with the station to change their stance.

This is the radio station that I had proudly supported since its creation, a broadcaster I told family and friends in London to listen to online as they were the natural successors to Choice FM.  It was a local community station who upheld the values of that original south London radio station from 1990.  I will never forgive Niomi Daley for what she did and she has forever lost my respect.  I hope whatever she was paid for sacrificing her ethics was worth it but I struggle to understand how she can sleep at night.  But her damaging actions only formed part of the problem and it would be wrong to place all of the blame at her doorstep.  Reya El Salahi, Marcia Griffiths, Kemet FM & every performing artist must share equal responsibility for the role they played in the betrayal of carnival values in 2013.

I was horrified to learn that Kemet FM now wanted to play the role of local saviours after proclaiming that they would now boycott the 2014 event.  This was what I urged them to do in 2013.  I stopped listening to the radio station on the day the 2013 Nottingham Carnival took place and vowed never to tune in again.  I felt the position they were trying to adopt in 2014 was deeply offensive, not to mention incredibly hypocritical.

Some might argue that they saw the light in the end and tried to make amends for the mistakes or error of judgement they made in 2013.  It’s an argument which also extends to the majority of the people who supported the 2014 boycott but attended the 2013 gathering.  But I think we need to make a distinction here.  Yes the local community were duped, “sold a dream” as I described at the end of July this year.  It is easier to understand why they were conned, but less so for the broadcaster, who I had been in direct contact with right up to a couple of days before the 2013 event.  I only stopped engaging with them at that late hour when it became crystal clear that there was no way they would back down from their stance to support the Nottingham Carnival and therefore the Carnival Tax.

The 2014 boycott was much more successful.  I explained to fellow campaigners straight away that it was a waste of time communicating with Renwick and the rest of the Nottingham Carnival Committee; I cited the email exchange from July 2013, the campaign I had pushed a year ago and the piece I had written.  I explained that the best course of action was to contact the local authority instead.  Nottingham Council still allocated an annual funding grant because the event was being promoted as a carnival, even though this was a festival in all but name due to the Carnival Tax policy.  It was essential that the local authority was lobbied on this basis.

About two weeks after I began actively promoting the boycott again, the alcohol licence for the 2014 event was withdrawn.  It was to be a significant act because it eventually led to Nottingham Carnival organisers altering their policy overnight.  John Holt had been advertised as being the lead act to perform at this year’s event, and was immediately pulled from the bill.  In addition the Carnival Tax was cancelled.

Nobody from Nottingham Council has ever communicated with me directly to state that the pressure I applied and helped to mobilise to its doorstep was responsible, partially or otherwise, for the alcohol licence being withdrawn.  So it will remain open to speculation as to whether or not our pressure really did achieve anything.  But I think most who followed the campaign last year and again this year will probably put two and two together and with the absence of any definitive evidence to the contrary, it is a fair conclusion to reach.

Of course the late shifting of the position of the Nottingham Carnival organisers was incredibly amusing.  A year ago I contacted the committee and Renwick in July, a full three weeks before the event was taking place.  Among the reasons offered as an explanation as to why the Carnival Tax would stay in 2013 was because it was “too late” to change the literature for posters etc.  So imagine my laughter when Renwick and his ghastly committee members scrambled to change their stance (and literature) with barely a week to go until the staging of the 2014 event.

On the day of the carnival, once again I was 144 miles away in north London.  Although unlike the events of summer 2013, this time I was basking in the joy of an opening day victory as I commenced my fourth season as an Arsenal Season Ticket holder.  I even had a picture of Chris Hudson smiling, the fan I sit next to and whose rant after the defeat to Aston Villa twelve months ago epitomised so much of the pain that I suffered that weekend.

The 2014 event was not a success and this was down to the resolve of local campaigners who helped to ensure that the boycott was widely publicised ahead of the weekend.  As an aside, I would have been at the carnival in Nottingham under the revised plans, but not while it was being administered by Renwick and his colleagues.  I think it is time for a new committee to step forward in Nottingham.  Renwick and his fellow committee members have no credibility left and are a part of a toxic brand now, contaminating anything they organise.

I was furious with Nottingham a year ago and said some things which I now recognise were not accurate.  The people of Nottingham will stand up and resist when something very wrong is brought to their doorstep.  At the height of my distress last summer I suggested that the people of Nottingham would allow anything to be imposed upon them.  Perhaps I was partly right last summer, but I am definitely wrong this year and nothing makes me happier. The community has fought back and once again I am so proud to live in a city that has been my home for over a dozen years.  Nottingham is once again free from the Carnival Tax and that is something we should all be immensely proud of.

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