A Conservative MP has been accused of exploiting the Grenfell Tower fire for political gain after he called for the Notting Hill Carnival to be moved from its west London home in the wake of the recent tragedy.
In a letter to London mayor Sadiq Khan, Greg Hands, the MP for Chelsea and Fulham, said he wanted to "further explore the arrangements" for this year's carnival.
Hands, the international trade minister and minister for London, said he wanted the Greater London Authority to take over the running of the carnival, and to consider moving the event from west London, “given the recent tragic events in the area”.
He wrote: “The carnival is an important and symbolic celebration in our capital’s calendar, and one greatly valued and enjoyed by both Londoners and visitors alike. Clearly it must go ahead.
“However, we have to ask ourselves if it is appropriate to stage a carnival in the near proximity of a major national disaster.”
After he posted a copy of the letter on Twitter, Hands was criticised by members of the local community, including Justice4Grenfell campaign coordinator Ishmahil Blagrove, who said the MP was "exploiting any opportunity to create this discussion that the carnival should be stopped".
Blagrove, a longstanding west London resident who has coauthored a book on the history of the carnival, told BuzzFeed News that the mood among the community was "overwhelmingly that the carnival should go ahead". He said Hands had "never been supportive of carnival", and that he was "totally exploiting" the Grenfell tragedy.
Blagrove added: "He has no idea what he's talking about. I haven't heard much that it shouldn't [go ahead], apart from from MPs that have been pushing this agenda always, and exploiting any opportunity to create this discussion that the carnival should be stopped.
"The majority of people [in the community] have said carnival should go ahead. Almost every year they try to stop it, it's nothing new. That racial undertone – or overtone – is always there."
He said that after such a difficult few weeks, the community needed the carnival more than ever.
"There's been no reference to what carnival is about," he said, "If you look back to the history of carnival, it's about unity, solidarity, racial harmony. Now more than ever that sentiment applies.
"People died in an inferno from our community, many people will have known people in there. Saying this event should be stopped – he hasn't understood this community. There's never any focus on honouring those from Grenfell, from the Notting Hill community."
Blagrove said that while the local community wanted the event to go ahead, the carnival will have a more sombre mood this year. "We've requested that there should be a minute's silence," he said. "A million people standing still in honour. It will be a very sombre carnival, given that the tower will still be there in the distance."
He also said any discussion about the carnival should centre around way to improve the event for the local community. "How to make the event safer, how to make the event better, that's where the discussion should be," he said.
Grime artist Stormzy also weighed in on Twitter, calling Hands a "scumbag" and saying the MP was using the Grenfell tragedy to promote a "get rid of carnival" agenda.
"We ain't buying it mate," he added.
Last year the then Conservative MP for Kensington Victoria Borwick – who lost her seat last month – also wrote to Sadiq Khan asking for the carnival to be moved out of the area, claiming residents and local traders had had enough of disruption and violent crime during the street party.
However, the London mayor today steadfastly refused to move the event, saying it was born in north Kensington and Notting Hill and should remain there. Any attempt to move the event in the wake of the tragic fire would be "a mistake", the mayor added.
In a statement, City Hall said: “The Notting Hill Carnival is one of the world's biggest street festivals and has become a firm London tradition over many decades. It was born out of the African-Caribbean immigrant community in North Kensington and Notting Hill in the 1950s, and it's only right that this remains its home.
"Any attempt to impose a move to another location on the carnival, particularly at a time when the community has little trust in those in positions of authority, would be a mistake."
It continued: "Since Sadiq became Mayor, City Hall has provided enormous support to the organisers of the carnival, working closely with the Metropolitan Police, residents, local councils and experts to ensure everything is done to make this year's - and future years carnivals successful and safe.
"The Metropolitan police will continue to review the policing plans for the carnival to ensure there is an appropriate policing presence to ensure the safety of carnival.
"It is only right that this year's carnival marks the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the Mayor will work closely with the organisers and the wider community to ensure they are consulted and involved in the planning for an appropriate commemoration."
Kensington's new Labour MP Emma Dent Coad, who unseated Borwick on 8 June, hit out at Hands on Twitter, calling his suggestion "ill informed".
"Greg ur office is next to mine. Didn't you think it a good idea to speak to the Kensington MP before making this ill informed proposal?" she tweeted.
In a statement, she later said Hands should "show more respect for the community for once", and added that "Notting Hill Carnival will stay in Notting Hill".
Dent Coad said: “It is frankly bizarre for Greg Hands to propose moving Carnival. Who would benefit from this?”
“The Carnival community are already coming up with their own ideas of how to best pay their respect to their friends and neighbours who lost their life in this horrific man-made disaster.”
She added: “Greg Hands should show more respect to the community for once. Survivors and the community must decide. Notting Hill Carnival will stay in Notting Hill.”
BuzzFeed News has approached Greg Hands for comment.
Hannah Al-Othman is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Hannah Al-Othman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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