John Harris

Journalist & Author

Walls Come Tumbling Down by Daniel Rachel review – where have all the political musicians gone?

This is a triumphant oral history of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge, a timely account of 1970s-80s musicians who fought against bigotry and Thatcherism

In the penultimate paragraph of this triumphant book, the writer and radio presenter Robert Elms casts his eyes back over four decades of British history, and comes to an equally triumphant conclusion. “Thatcher might have won elections, but culturally we won,” he says. “Look at Britain now: it’s a society where racism is absolutely frowned on; where gay marriage is accepted. It’s totally different from the Little England that Thatcher tried to hold on to.”

I read those words on the same day that police in Milton Keynes announced that they were looking for a man who had “racially insulted” a pregnant woman, before kicking her in the stomach and causing her to lose her child. My copy of Walls Come Tumbling Down had arrived just as reporters were being dispatched to Harlow, in Essex, to report on the murder of a 39-year-old man from Poland called Arkadiusz Jóźwik. And as I took in a story that stretches between the late 1970s and the end of the 80s, the Britain of 2016 – the Brexit vote, the years of resentment that fed into it, and the acts of hate that have happened since – inevitably blurred into what I was reading.

Related: 1978, the year rock found the power to unite

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