TiL Carnival Special: Politics and the Carnival
[Part of a series of posts marking the 40th anniversary of the Notting Hill Carnival.]
William Hague, leader of the Conservative party for some laughably short period of time in the late 1990s, was roundly mocked for being a repulsive oik throughout his unfortunate period in the public eye, but never more so than after his ridiculous attempt to boost his standing by appearing at the carnival wearing a baseball cap [picture].
Absurd though this strategy was, he was not the first or last opposition leader to attend the carnival. The first was Margaret Thatcher, who visited in 1977. Her visit was unremarkable beyond the fact that she overdid the Red Stripe and was found face down in the gutter on Westbourne Grove.
Michael Foot eschewed the carnival after his bid to relocate it to County Durham failed. But his successor as leader of the Labour opposition, Neil Kinnock, went to the carnival in 1986 in an effort to rebrand it as "Labour's carnival". This Effort failed miserably, partly because many of the popular music stages were replaced with debates on issues such as nuclear disarmanent, proportional representation and Welsh devolution, but also because the Red Stripe was replaced with Northern bitter. However, on seeing the exuberant floral displays on many of the floats, the young Peter Mandelson allegedly found his inspiration to rebrand the Labour party with a red rose here.
Tony Blair never visited the carnival while leader of the opposition after his unfortunate LSD bad trip at Glastonbury in 1995, where he believed that God had spoken to him and told him to fight a crusade in a Middle Eastern country, an experience that never quite left him.
After that came William Hague's regrettable episode. We are left with the conclusion that the most successful visit to the carnival by an opposition leader was conducted by Ian Duncan Smith in 2002. Riding the lead float in the procession, IDS wowed the crowd with his reggae solo, his rapping of the Tory position on the European single currency, and a spirited session on the steel drums. The visit was almost entirely unreported in the UK press because of IDS's almost total irrelevance. However, it has led him to a successful life after leading parliament, touring as he does with Ja Rule.