Poll Tax Protests


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  • Created by: Lalala
  • Created on: 30-05-11 17:51


What was the poll tax? - 1990, Conservative govt wanted to change way local govt was financed - came up with a tax on everyone over 18, with everyone paying the same amount.

Old rates system based on value of each house - didn't matter how many people lived there, the rate was the same.  New system meant wealthy and poor were paying the same amount.  It took no account of a person's ability to pay, unless they were in very poorest income categories.

1987 - law passed to introduce new tax in Scotland on 1st April 1989.  Would then apply to rest on Britain from 1st April 1990.

As soon as changes were announced opposition bgan and became increasingly widespread.  Surveys shows more than 70% of population would be worse off as a result of the introduction of the poll tax.  People living in private accommodation were worse off as many landlords did not reduce their rents, which had included the rates under the old system.  This meant they had been paying extra rates which was no longer necessary and the poll tax - The Observer estimated private landlords in England and Wales would make over £100 million.

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Protest or resistance?

Scotland - where poll tax was first introduced, public opinion was divided on how to act.Labour Party and trade unions were against the poll tax and argued for traditional protest marches and campaigns within the law to persuade the govt to drop the tax.  Many leaflets, stickers and posters were printed and some groups organised events, letter-writing and information campaigns.

Many local grass-roots communities called for the establishment of a network of local groups to oppose the tax and also decided to resist the law.

Set up an important divide in the tactics of opposition to the poll tax - There was protest within the law: campaigns to build public oppostion to the point at which it would vote out Conservatives.  Resistance to the law: people prepared to disobey the law and take the consequences.

Methods of resistance:

  • non-registration (not registering as a taxpayer) - ignoring fines imposed
  • non-payment - done as organised local groups that would defend all those taken to court
  • non-implementation - calling on councils to refuse to administer the tax
  • non-collection - asking all union-members responsible for collection to refuse to do it.
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Grass-roots organisation and tactics!!

Most significant form of resistance - non-payment on poll tax.

By April 1990, nearly 1 million people in Scotland had not paid any of the new tax.  Poll tax ended in 1993 and it was estimated that£2.5 billion of the tax was unpaid.

Non-payment caused huge problems for govt as they couldn't arrest 18 million people as it wasn't seen as simple criminal behaviour.  It was seen as a form of protest.  People taken to court for non-payment often refused to pay their fine and only 28% paid up in England and Wales.  Protest was not organised by Labour Party or the trade unions as they felt uncomfortable breaking the law.  Protest was organised in a new way - by local groups called ANTI-POLL TAX UNIONS (APTUs).  First one was set up in April 1987 and by January 1988 it had over 2,000 members.

The APTUs gave out information and supported those not registering or paying the poll tax.  They gave out leaflets, made posters, t-shirts, badges etc which had anti-poll tax slogans.

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The All-Britain Anti Poll Tax Federation (ABAPTF)

ABAPTF set up in 1989 to organise more national campaign.  At first, they organised a series of regional protest demonstrations to take place just before the poll tax was implemented in England and Wales.  Wherever local councils met to set the rate of the new poll tax, protests took place.  Some were peaceful, others saw clashes between protesters and police.

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The Battle of Trafalgar Square - 31st March 1990

All-Britain Federation called for a national demonstration at Trafalgar Square on 31st March 1990 and 200,000 protesters turned up.  They were expecting 20,000 and Trafalgar Square only had the capacity for 60,000.

Initially, there was low-profile policing and the crowd was good natured.  Then, about 20 protesters staged a sit-down outside Downing Street, after they had been refused permission to hand in a petition at Number 10.  Some then tried to get over the barricades at the end of Downing Street.  Demonstrators claimed that the police deliberately provoked the demonstrators.

Another 300 people then decided to sit down in protest.  Increasingly violent clashes began between police and a minority of demonstrators, mainly anarchists.

Mounted riot police charged the crowds with bottles, rocks and sticks being thrown at them.  As the rest of the crowd moved away, about 3,000 demonstrators remained and a major riot broke out.  Cars were damaged, shop windows were smashed and shops were looted.

By the end of the day, 341 people had been arrested and 542 police officers had been injured.  It is though that some thousand demonstrators had also been injured.

A minority of demonstrators were responsible for the rioting.

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The end of the poll tax

The non-payment protest had been impossible for the government to tackle whilst the Battle of Trafalgar Square was more like a 'traditional' protest, which the authorities were trained for.  Photographs of heavy handed police and rioting suggested the government had no control over events.  Many were asking whether this was the end of 'Thatcherism'.  Some feared that the riot may have lef to a loss of public support, but in fact, the campaign grew in strength and protests continued.  Conservative MPs became more and more unpopular and did badly in the local elections in May 1990.  Thatcher was eventually forced to resign as PM by Conservative leaders in November 1990.

M.T was replaced with John Major.  In April 1991 J.M announced that poll tax would be replaced by a new council tax in April 1993.  Protests continued as poll tax had not yet been stopped.

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The role of the media

At first the media generally reported the refusal of resisters to pay the tax and the various local campaigns and demonstrations against it.  It was difficult to identify and attack individuals.  However in March 1990 when local demonstratioons outside town halls against poll tax resulted in clashes between protesters and the police, many newspapers condemned wha were described as 'rent-a-mob' extremists from political groups - they were there just to cause trouble.

Most newspapers strongly criticised actions taken against the council officers who tried to collect registration forms or bailiffs trying to collect payments.

After riots on 31st March 1990, national newspaper took a strong line against those involves.  They printed photos taken by police of demonstrators they wanted to question and asked readers to give their names to the police.

Television footage broadcasted showed demonstrators being deliberately hit by police vans or trampled by horses.

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