Tim Bennett-Goodman looks at the uncertainty surrounding World Pride 2012 in London and asks what this saga tells us about the very British tradition of ‘muddling through’.
LGBT Londoners have grown used to the annual panic surrounding Pride – will it happen or won’t it? Will it have to be scaled down, scaled back or cancelled outright? Usually it manages to lurch along and a good time is eventually had by all. This year, however (without wishing to sound too apocalyptic a note – there are after all far worse things going on in the world at the moment) a setback of global proportions looks to be on the cards, with potentially humiliating consequences for a city which finds itself the focus of world attention as it makes the final preparations to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
When London won the right to host World Pride 2012 as far back as October 2008, newly-elected Mayor, Boris Johnson, said:
I’m absolutely thrilled that London has won. London has one of the largest and most diverse LGBT communities on the planet and it is a fantastic opportunity to inspire cities across the globe. In an Olympic year, the eyes of the world will already be on London and the city will give an enormous welcome to LGBT people, their friends and families, for what we want to be the most colourful and exciting World Pride festival yet.
What a difference four years and a second term in office can make!
On 27 June, with less than ten days to go to the event on Saturday 7 July, an emergency meeting at City Hall led to a shock announcement that World Pride 2012 was to be significantly reduced in scale due to a funding “shortfall”. As rumour swirled and the finger of blame was pointed at the Mayor and Pride London organisers, only to be swiftly rebutted, Peter Tatchell entered the fray, calling the situation “absolutely outrageous”. The Labour Group on the London Assembly was swift to condemn what it described as “a shambles”. However, given the uncertainty at this stage, and the pressure of time to find a solution, accusation and counter-accusation looked likely to generate more heat than light.
Into this febrile atmosphere, the LGBT Consortium stepped cautiously, with its CEO Paul Roberts writing to members:
The Consortium is working closely with all parties involved to try to mediate for the original parade to go ahead and for our LGBT communities to be fully involved… We need to remain positive about why the Parade should go ahead as originally planned. It provides us with a unique opportunity to stand side-by-side and promote the huge array of work we all undertake. If we work together to lobby for a positive solution to this, then the world will look on in awe at what our communities can achieve together.
Then Labour London Assembly Member, Tom Copley, issued a statement:
This is a huge embarrassment for London, and damages our reputation as an open and welcoming City that takes pride in its diversity. While the organisers sort out their cash flow issues the Mayor should step in and provide temporary funding to save the event. The Mayor has £5.6 million in his contingency fund for an emergency such as this. It’s time for him to put his money where his mouth is and step in to save World Pride.
And Mark Healey of 17-24-30 says:
We need to focus on rallying hundreds of thousands of people to get dressed up, bring their own banners and be creative; to make this the loudest, proudest demonstration of our love and solidarity in living memory. We did it before when we were fighting Section 28 so we can do it again. We need to show Westminster and the World that we won’t be treated as second class citizens in our own country and that we are not going to let what has happened this year dampen our spirits. This is a chance to show our real pride.
The Pride London website (www.pridelondon.org) carries the following statement:
…it is prudent to deliver an event that is affordable, without compromising the safety, security and integrity of the event. As a result, we are returning to the roots of the original Pride London rallies. The ‘parade’ as we know it will now be a procession. It will cover the same route as planned, but with the exception that there will be no vehicles or floats participating. The procession will commence at an earlier time of 11am instead of the scheduled 1pm kick-off.
The celebrations in Trafalgar Square are expected to proceed, but with some changes to the programme, including an earlier start and finish time. There will be no official World Pride events in Soho. Licensing regulations will be that of any normal day, the Golden Square event will be cancelled and the Family Area in Soho will proceed independently. Nonetheless, whilst World Pride will have no official activities in Soho, we do expect the day’s celebrations to continue and for Soho to be very busy.
All this sounds like an ‘austerity’ event whose motto might well be ‘Keep calm and carry on’!
One is bound to draw unfavourable comparisons between this seeming debacle and the triumphs of the London Olympic Games in 1948 and the Festival of Britain in 1951 when, despite the country still being on its knees after an exhausting and ruinous world war, London managed to stage two magnificent events of world status.
Sometimes, ‘make do and mend’ is absolutely not what is needed in a time of austerity. Not for nothing did the Zeigfeld Follies and the Gold Diggers films of the 1930s help lift the public mood at a time of global depression.
So my advice to the Mayor and his team (for what it’s worth) is that this is an occasion where throwing money at a problem is the right response. Is it really worth jeopardising London’s international standing as a fun city to live, work and do business in for the sake of a reported measly £65,000, which probably amounts to little more than a bankers’ bonus-celebration dinner?
Let the last word go to Tom Copley AM:
If the Mayor does not step in he will be letting down London’s LGBT community. It will also be a huge embarrassment for London internationally if World Pride does not go ahead as planned.