Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 7 July 2021

Terry Fields MP, Prisoner DV 3695 - The jailing of 'poll tax' rebel and Militant

The late Terry Fields was Labour MP for Broadgreen in Liverpool, and a supporter of Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party.

On 11 July 1991, Terry was imprisoned for refusing to pay the Thatcher government's hated poll tax. He was released on 6 September, having served 58 days in Walton Jail as prisoner DV 3695.

Former Militant-supporting Labour MP Dave Nellist - who 'shared a windowless room in the Commons with Terry' - recounts Terry's role in the Militant-led All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Union struggle to defeat the iniquitous tax.

Terry took a principled stand by refusing to pay the poll tax, photo Dave Sinclair

Terry took a principled stand by refusing to pay the poll tax, photo Dave Sinclair   (Click to enlarge)

The battle to defeat the poll tax was the most extensive civil disobedience campaign of the 20th century in Britain.

Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted to shift the burden of paying for local services from the rich by making working-class families pay far more. It meant that a multi-millionaire living in a mansion would pay less than two low-paid adults living in a one-bedroomed flat.

The tax was introduced in April 1989 in Scotland and a year later in England and Wales. It was described as Margaret Thatcher's 'flagship' legislation. We turned it into her Titanic!

By November, the captain went down with the ship, as a mass non-payment movement of millions of working-class people, led by Militant, so frightened Tory MPs that they forced Margaret Thatcher to resign.

Local authorities (mainly Labour) initiated over 25 million court cases from April 1990 to September 1993 seeking punitive action against those unable or unwilling to pay the tax.

Once a magistrates' court confirmed a poll tax debt, by issuing a 'liability order', further refusal to pay led to deductions from wages or benefits, or up to three months imprisonment.

Non-payers were sent to maximum-security prisons, including many Militant supporters. Even some Militant supporters that could pay still vowed to defy the law in solidarity with those who couldn't.

Terry served 58 days in Walton jail - over eight weeks in prison for a 373 bill at a cost to jail someone in 1991 of 260 a week!

He got a great reception: "My cellmates already had a Free Nelson Mandela poster on the wall. They had crossed out Mandela and written 'Free Terry Fields - pay no poll tax - vote Labour'."

Outside, Terry had his supporters too. 2,000 marched to a 'Free Terry Fields' rally outside Walton jail, where Arthur Scargill (the miners' union leader) was the main speaker.

Prison officers saw Terry as different. One said: "Management can't handle Terry... they expect him to be demanding special privileges for himself, but as each day passes, Terry blends in with the rest of the prisoners. Not one of the prisoners said a bad word about him. Quite the opposite. The prison officer in charge of Terry's wing has joked that there is no need for the usual applications for things by prisoners now because Terry will be holding a prisoners' surgery on the landing!"

Inside the prison, Terry was still the Labour MP for Liverpool Broadgreen. Outside the prison, views were mixed. In the Daily Mirror, Anne Robinson (now the presenter of Channel 4's Countdown) said: "I've known Terry since I was a child, and he was a fireman. He'd give you his last penny. He'd fight to the death if you thought you were a victim of injustice. I loathe everything Militant stands for, but it's difficult to condemn one of their most fervent supporters when you've only ever known him as a thoroughly decent guy."

However, Labour's leader, Neil Kinnock, was prepared to condemn those advocating mass non-payment of the poll tax. According to Kinnock, we were "toytown revolutionaries". At the September national executive committee of the Labour Party, Roy Hattersley and Clare Short proposed Terry's and my expulsion. Neil Kinnock said: "The Labour Party does not and never will support breaking the law. Mr Fields has chosen to break the law, and he must take the consequences. He is on his own."

As an editorial in Militant (forerunner of the Socialist) said: "No one expects the Labour Party leader, or any rank-and-file members, to support theft or drunk driving. Throughout its history, the working class has been forced to defy laws that blatantly served the ruling class. Four years ago, at party conference, Kinnock presented Labour's merit award to a 102-year-old suffragette who was 'jailed for a day for breaking into the House of Lords' (applause and cheers). If those women were using the same methods to fight for their rights today, would Kinnock tell them they were on their own?"

A socialist MP

Parliament is not designed for socialists. Actually, that's not entirely true; it's intended to emasculate socialists. But Terry Fields wasn't to be bought. For a start, as with Militant supporters then and Socialist Party members now, when elected to public office, he only took from his parliamentary salary the average wage he had received in his previous job (for 26 years) as a firefighter.

He never took a drink in parliament. If the Commons finished early enough, he would go to Peckham Labour Club instead.

It was said that Terry didn't 'like' parliament. In fact, he hated it! But he took it seriously, making almost 400 interventions, speeches and questions, in his nine years.

Some of his campaigns arose from casework, such as how he successfully forced the government in 1987 to change the regulations on child-resistant packaging following the death of a child, making screw tops mandatory on household bleach. But most of his work was outside the Commons, in hundreds of meetings with working-class people, supporting strikes and campaigns.

Terry made few foreign trips, and when he did, they had a purpose. For example, the delegations he went on to Israel to build solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian activists and to support, in particular, a Palestinian trade unionist and socialist falsely imprisoned for ten years by Israel's secret service. Or to the Russian mining areas of Novokuznetsk in Siberia to address a congress of hundreds of delegates from independent trade unions.

His speeches in parliament could be powerful, such as following the tragedy of the fire at the King's Cross station in London in November 1987. 30 people were killed, and Terry, with his lifetime of work in the fire service, lambasted governments waiting for tragedies before bringing in safety legislation.

There are many ways MPs used Parliament in the 1980s (and I suspect it's not too dissimilar today) as a club, as a travel agent, as a rung on a career ladder.

For Terry, it was a platform, the chance to expose the workings of society and its government, and the real effect that had on working people.

As Scottish revolutionary socialist John Maclean, famously said: "Rise with your class, not out of it."

In a letter to his constituents in July 1991 from Walton Jail, Terry wrote:

"I am no martyr. I did not wish to go to prison, to be separated from my family. I know from many of my constituents just how appalling prison conditions are. But I was elected to defend your interests. If imprisonment is the price for being principled, for saying what I mean and meaning what I say, so be it. Hopefully my stand will hasten the complete abolition of the poll tax.

The Tories and their rich friends in industry are the ones who should be on trial. They have destroyed our NHS, underfunded our education system, and condemned our children to a life on the dole. The fat cats in industry reap in profits one day, award themselves obscene pay rises and sack workers the next. These are the real criminals, guilty of crimes against all of us.

I remain at your service, standing with you against injustice, feeling privileged to represent you. I will not rest until all my constituents are free from the fear of poll tax debt, bailiffs and jailings."

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 7 July 2021:

What we think

Batley & Spen byelection: Another condemnation of Starmer's New Labour

The Struggle for World Socialism

The struggle for world socialism


Fight is on to save our NHS

NHS workers' protests


Fund the measures needed to stop the Covid spread in schools

Manchester death rate caused by deprivation

Bristol: Police to blame for protest violence

Workplace news

Royal London Hospital strike win

Morrisons private equity takeover proposals - Usdaw needs to move to a war footing

Safety campaign in DWP: What has happened to our ballot?

Striking Brush workers continue to protest 'fire and rehire'

Striking Ealing parking attendants rally outside council

Derby academies closed by strikes against brutal cuts and changes

Oaks Park strikers rally

Socialist history

Terry Fields MP, Prisoner DV 3695 - The jailing of 'poll tax' rebel and Militant

International news

COP26: Socialist change to end the climate crisis

Israel: Hospital ancillary workers strike over pay parity and workload

Campaigns news

Rising against a rigged and rotten system

Why did I choose the Socialist Party?

Housing: Join the service charge 'strike'

Stop environmental destruction in Barnsley

"It's great to be back": Come to a Socialist Party in-person meeting

We need funds to fight Tory NHS attacks

Road closures: Hackney residents have not been consulted


The story of Joe Clough - Britain's first black bus driver

Exhibition: What next for the statue of slave trader, Edward Colston?

TV - Statue wars: one summer in Bristol


Home   |   The Socialist 7 July 2021   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:

Terry Fields:

triangleMPs take 1k raise

triangle1983: A political voice for the working class

triangleHillsborough - eventually, the truth


trianglePay NHS and care staff to address worker shortages

trianglePandora leaks put capitalism in the dock

triangleTax fraud could be over 20 billion annually

triangleW Sussex 'disability tax' - protest not going away

Poll tax:

triangleBristol North Socialist Party: The biggest civil disobedience - the Poll Tax?

triangleWest London Socialist Party: How the anti-poll tax movement brought down Margaret Thatcher


triangleObituary - Tony Davison: "I work for Militant, but Laing's pay my wages"

trianglePlace Unite at the head of the anti-Tory movement


triangleFighting the cuts at the ballot box in Liverpool

Historic events

Historic events


South Africa

The fall of Apartheid in South Africa


South Africa

The fall of Apartheid in South Africa


Winter of Discontent

The 'winter of discontent' - When workers could take no more



Ten years since our 330-mile Jarrow March for Jobs



10 years since Occupy



9/11 and the 'War on Terror' twenty years on



Lessons from Poplar 100 years on


Soviet Union

August 1991 - The aborted military coup in the 'Soviet Union'


Terry Fields

Terry Fields MP, Prisoner DV 3695 - The jailing of 'poll tax' rebel and Militant



The 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupation and work-in


Bob Marley

Get up, stand up - don't give up the fight!


Northern Ireland

British state absolves itself from killings during 'the Troubles'



How partition of Ireland derailed a revolutionary struggle for national and social liberation



1920s-30s Britain: A working-class movement fighting unemployment and capitalism



1981 Brixton riots: Racism and poverty - the anger explodes

triangleMore Historic events articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793



Alphabetical listing

October 2021

September 2021

August 2021

July 2021

June 2021

May 2021

April 2021

March 2021

February 2021

January 2021