Renton eloquently portrays the political battlefield on which all this happened, not just through high-profile events, but also his experience at primary school in late-1970s west London: “the inkwell beside which a pupil had carved a swastika… the day ‘Jew’ became a verb among my classmates: ‘Jew him, Jew you’.” His observations are particularly acute when he traces the links between the UK’s economic decline and some people’s aggressive longing for the days of empire, which fed into the rise of a newly emboldened far right... [T]he book comes to life when it zeroes in on their opponents, and two things in particular: the bravery that led thousands of activists to confront the NF – and the police – whenever they gathered; and the inspired thinking, as manifested in a wider and deeper cultural fight that took place on the terrain gifted to them by punk and reggae. His treatment of the music and musicians concerned is sometimes inept (The Sex Pistols were not “utterly mercenary”; Elvis Costello was never a punk), but the stories he tells of Rock Against Racism gigs are vivid and stirring.
Readers who are primarily interested in RAR should turn to Daniel Rachel’s prize-winning oral history, Walls Come Tumbling Down. David Renton, a barrister, historian and former anti-fascist organiser, is much sketchier when it comes to music...Still, their story has been told many times and Renton’s brisk yet rigorous book excels on the political context. He elucidates the toxic internal politics of the NF under John Tyndall, an accountant who modelled himself on Oswald Mosley, and the role of those MPs and journalists who echoed the NF’s white supremacist rhetoric in the name of thwarting it. Turning to the anti-fascist camp, Renton doesn’t skimp on the numerous disagreements that churned beneath the surface image of multi-racial solidarity