Thirty years after Rock against Racism, a new generation of bands confronts rise of the BNP

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It came into existence as the rebel yell of the Seventies generation; the harnessing of punk against an incipient racism which, in 1974, had helped the National Front secure 44 per cent of the vote in a London council election.

Today, 30 years on from its inception, the movement once known as Rock Against Racism (RAR) will stage arguably its most important event as it seeks to counteract the British National Party's (BNP) plans to flood next week's local elections with a record number of candidates.

Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR), as the movement was renamed when relaunched several years ago, will stage a free concert in London's Trafalgar Square where performers are to include Pete Doherty's band Babyshambles, the Mobo winners Kano and Lethal Bizzle, the Scottish band Belle and Sebastian, the east London grime act Roll Deep, ska outfit The Specials and the acclaimed indie guitar band The Paddingtons.

Speakers at the event, which attracted 40,000 people last year, will call upon voters to reject the BNP at the polls. Among them will be Donna and Dominique Walker, sisters of the teenager Anthony Walker, who was murdered with an axe in a racist attack in Liverpool last year. "In a so-called civilised society, no one should lose their life for the colour of their skin," said Miss Walker. "That is why we are calling on people to support this rally against racism and fascism." The BNP is fielding a candidate in the Knowsley borough of Merseyside, where the Walkers live and where a parish priest, Fr Anton Fernandopulle, has been among those to have faced racism since the murder.

Other speakers will include the London Mayor Ken Livingstone and the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain. The day, organised by LMHR and Unite Against Fascism (UAF), marks the final push by anti-fascist groups to thwart the BNP next Thursday. UAF, backed by Glenys Kinnock, the Commission for Racial Equality chairman Trevor Phillips and 50 MPs including Diane Abbott and Keith Vaz, has a van travelling around the country this week in a mass leafleting campaign. "It is vital we hand a knockout blow to the BNP," said the UAF's Weyman Bennett. London and the South-east are among the BNP's top targets. It is fielding 36 candidates in the capital, including wards in Barking, Dagenham, Havering, Epping, Basildon and Thurrock. Other targets are in Yorkshire and the West Midlands.

Even as campaigning for the local elections proceeds, the BNP has been forced to pay libel damages to Dr Raj Chandran, a GP and mayor of Gedling, Nottinghamshire, for claiming that he had been struck off the medical register for having sex with a female patient. The party was spared the embarrassment of another court case yesterday when Neville Poynton, who is standing for the party in the Wakefield South ward, West Yorkshire, failed to attend court to face charges of racially aggravated disorderly conduct. His solicitor produced a self-certifed sick note on Mr Poynton's behalf.

Among supporters of today's concert are Gurinder Chadha, the director of hit films such as Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, who recalled not being allowed to attend a RAR rally in the Seventies because her father feared she would be attacked by the National Front. RAR was launched in 1976 after a flood of letters to the New Musical Express, then the house journal of the emerging punk scene, prompted by comments from an inebriated Eric Clapton at a concert that the politican Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech was right and that Britain was "overcrowded."

In its early days, RAR was embraced by the political wing of the emerging punk movement, led by The Clash and The Tom Robinson Band. Doherty is as empassioned about the issue today as Robinson was then. "I don't think you have to be a particularly developed human being intellectually or spiritually to despise racism," he said. "It may be easy to be complacent, but we need to encourage people to fight racism whether with words or actions. Count me in."