Shot the Sheriff?” is a new film by firefighter and part time
documentary film-maker, Alan Miles, operating through his Mad
Inertia Productions unit, that covers the history of the Rock
Against Racism movement and the wider political fight against the
National Front. As well as covering the history, the film sets out
to connect the RAR heyday of the late 70s to its new incarnation
as Love Music, Hate Racism. It’s
a worthwhile attempt to inject some impetus into the current fight
against the BNP by reflecting on past glories but, in so doing, it
also makes some interesting comparisons with some of today’s
efforts. But we’ll
come on to that.
film does a good job of charting both the political and musical
development of the movement.
Starting with the rise of the NF in the late 60s, on the
back of Enoch Powell’s hysterical rants, it describes how this
process snowballed as disillusionment with successive Labour
governments and the failure of mass industrial militancy in the
early 70s combined with the country’s slide into post-oil crisis
recession. That the
failure of left(ish) parties in government leads to the escalation
of support for opportunist right wing extremists among working
class communities is a central assertion made here.
is handy in explaining the rise of the BNP in, say, the Becontree
estate in Dagenham, less useful in explaining why the prosperous
citizens of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire returned fascist
class racism always seems to avoid the scrutiny that fixes on the
working class variety. The
skinhead and the football thug have always been the currency of
this debate. Trade unions have a proud tradition of fighting
fascism and racism yet the image that endures in the public realm
is the dockers striking for Enoch. And while ‘it doesn’t make
it all right’, losing your job and living on a shit forgotten
estate seems to me a better reason to get narky about immigrants
than living in a paranoid suburban bubble of fear created by
nothing more than a gullible hunger for Daily Mail scare stories.
was pretty much founded when Tom Robinson read a letter in the NME
from Roger Huddle and Red Saunders forcefully slating Eric Clapton
for his infamous rantings at a gig in
. Robinson, always a
very political artist, claims a moment of clarity occurred and he
set out to build a movement to fight the rise of racism in the
political sphere while simultaneously galvanizing the new wave of
young bands to react against bloated, reactionary pricks of
Clapton’s generation in the music scene.
Building on the energies unleashed by punk and the
occasional links with British reggae artists, Robinson, Huddle and
Saunders went about putting on gigs around
under the banner Rock Against Racism.
developed quickly and festivals (of varying quality, it would
seem) sprang up all over the shop, culminating in the two big
events that came to define the era, the Anti-Nazi League
counter-demonstration to prevent the NF marching through Lewisham
and the huge march and gig headlined by The Clash at Victoria
film makes good use of the excellent but limited amount of footage
and photos, combined with well edited interviews with the likes of
Don Letts, Mick Jones, Darcus Howe and others that give you a real
picture of the times. You’re
obviously spoilt for choice for a half-decent soundtrack and they
don’t miss much of
a trick with this either.
said before, the film attempts to update the story with the
current Love Music, Hate Racism campaign.
In doing so, the demise of RAR in its original form is
skirted over, or at least attributed to the virtual annihilation
of British fascism as a credible political movement for most of
the 80s. The
emergence of the BNP in the mid-90s and, specifically, the
election of Derek Beacon to a seat on the council of Tower Hamlets
led to re-activation of the anti-fascist movement.
The film skirts over this slice of the history, we’re
left with a shift to 2004 and The Libertines taking the stage with
Mick Jones in tow. There’s
less explanation on how we got to this situation, why fascism was
back on the agenda and who and what happened to get Love Music,
Hate Racism back on track. But
the film is just 60 minutes long and its main focus is supposed to
be on the history of RAR, so you can forgive the odd short cut.
the film works well at what it does.
Its entertaining and evocative, there’s stirring stuff in
here and Alan’s emphasis on using archive footage, interviews
with people who were properly involved and straight-forward edits
is a refreshing change in a documentary these days.
It’s a good story, told well and one that we can learn
what, infact, can we learn from this film about then and now?
political anti-racist movement appeared to be a more
multi-cultural, broad based and popular movement back then.
And it was a movement not afraid to flex its muscle when
required. Given the
explicitly racist nature of the NF under Webster and Tyndall, it
was perhaps a more straight-forward task to mobilize large
sections of the community against them.
Likewise, given the thuggish nature of the NF, it was
imperative that a forceful approach was taken.
is quite clear when viewing the footage, for example, that in
Lewisham the resident black community and leftist activists were
present in similar numbers and that the NF were stopped by force.
Not force as in force of numbers, but force as in plenty of
fascist and police getting a good shoeing off the combined mob of
locals and protestors.
movement in comparison appears to be largely confined to an
overtly political and trade union sphere.
Black and Asian groups play a part too but the impact of
activists from both sides within the communities is less profound.
Furthermore, the newer migrant communities and asylum
seekers who form the main targets of the BNP these days are much
harder constituencies to penetrate and mobilize.
parallel to the political movement, the musical movement of RAR
may also have had a more equal billing between black and white
artists on their rostas. The
plethora of different live events with line ups like Sham 69 and
Misty in Roots and Generation X and Dennis Bovell bears testament
to this. Jerry
Dammers ascribes this legacy as the roots of the development of 2
Tone, for example. The
extent to which this led to a mix of black and white in the
audience is less evident in the film but if Don Letts is to be
believed, it seems that there was a genuine punky reggae party
Love Music, Hate Racism events also feature black artists
alongside rock and pop acts and the change of name was an explicit
attempt to rid the image of ‘Rock’ as an exclusively white
genre. Love Music,
Hate Racism is deemed a more inclusive monicker for what is
supposed to be a diverse musical movement.
But few of the events these days have black
artists as top billing. The
event at the Scala in September, where the film was launched,
featured Roll Deep but as the warm up act to both The Beat and
headliners, Hard-Fi. This
seems to be the pattern for the LMHR gigs that I’ve seen.
What’s more, the virtually all white crowd of students
and leftists seem a bit bemused by the Roll Deep performance,
though not as bemused as Roll Deep themselves look on stage.
This may be harsh, perhaps the audiences were similar back
in ’78 but I reckon that history will link the likes of Steel
Pulse much more with RAR than Estelle or Roll Deep will resonate
with this generation of activists.
this film also illustrates, on the music front, is that beyond the
and McClaren’s bullshit, punk was a genuine and inspirational
movement to a massive section of youth across the country.
Its easy to forget that at times.
My soulboy ears and (relative) youth mean that punk in its
narrow definition looks and sounds like an art school wankers
fetish. New Romantics
with the amps turned up. But
this film places it back in its real context, a genuinely
politicized (if not political) movement full of energy and
positive anger. For
this reason, RAR is primarily viewed as a political movement and
not a musical fad.
always easy to get lost in nostalgia.
So we should be cautious of making unfavourable comparisons
between now and the heights of 1978.
Depicting today’s anti-fascist struggle as something more
mundane and marginalized is a temptation but not something that
the RAR/LMHR organizers fall into.
While leafletting for ‘Barking and Dagenham Together’
on a Saturday morning doesn’t seem half as sexy as Joe Strummer
screaming ‘White Riot’ to 80,000 people at Victoria Park, it
is probably true to say that the job in hand is more urgent than
might have taken the BNP away from the storm
trooper tactics of Webster’s NF, but they are polling hundreds
of thousands more votes. While
the last general election and assorted local council defeats have
seen a recent dip in their electoral power, this could often be
attributed to the re-emergence of overt racism within the
Conservative Party and the relative strength of UKIP.
Racism in politics is as big in the mainstream now as it
was in the mid-70s. It
looks blander, everything does in dumb
, but who was it who spoke about the mundanity of evil?
current anti-racist movement has its share of problems.
But on close inspection its encouraging to see that away
from the pompous nonsense of Live 8 and the often confused nature
of the anti-globalisation hippiedom, there are still people who
are fired up and care enough to engage in real politics.
They belong to voluntary groups, trade unions, some of them
even belong to the Labour Party.
They operate under the radar of our one-dimensional and
brain dead press but, judging by the recent collapse of the BNP
vote in Dagenham, they’re getting a job done.