“One of the steadfast poll tax warriors”
Graham Lewis, who has passed away aged 68, will be remembered by Socialist Party members in the East Midlands and London for his drive and unwavering commitment to socialist change over decades.
Born and educated in Derby before graduating in Manchester, he taught English in Borneo, returning just after Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979. Angered by the Tories’ victory, Graham joined Militant (the forerunner of the Socialist Party) in Nottingham and formed the Long Eaton Labour Party Young Socialists branch. He developed a huge paper round, delivering the Militant newspaper, in all weathers, on his moped.
On moving to London, Graham trained as a paralegal, which he put to excellent use during the poll tax non-payment campaign which eventually saw off Thatcher.
He helped countless Lambeth residents as a ‘McKenzie Friend’ (lay advisor) and, as Steve Nally, the secretary of the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation recalls, “Graham certainly had his ‘day in court’. Lambeth Council attempted to deal with 70,000 non-payers in one go at Camberwell Magistrates Court. Graham proved the council had incorrectly issued the summonses, leaving the magistrate with no option other than to dismiss all 70,000, effectively breaking the back of Lambeth’s attempt to batter the poor for non-payment. It was a decisive victory.”
Anne Hollifield, then an elected Militant-supporting Lambeth Labour councillor, remembers Graham priming her to ask detailed questions, to which the officers had to respond and have their answers recorded in council minutes. Graham then used these in court to get the cases thrown out.
“Most of the 70,000 didn’t know what had happened or why, just that they stopped getting poll tax bills. The people who turned up in court were relieved to have their bills cancelled, but Graham insisted on going one step further and demanded costs for everyone present whose case hadn’t been heard!” The costs were then duly spent in a local pub with dozens toasting Graham for his work!
Some years later, Graham returned to the East Midlands, helping a new generation of Socialist Party members. Sadly, his health deteriorated and he was diagnosed with dementia. He donated a significant book collection to the party to raise funds and help educate younger socialists but he had to move into a care home.
Graham remained committed to his ideals, insisting he retain a monthly subscription to the Socialist Party right up to his passing. He died peacefully in August with family present. We will be raising a collective glass to a lovely, gentle and kind man (but one with a booming voice on public activities!) So long, Graham.
East Midlands Socialist Party regional committee