Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 7 April 2010

Readers' comment

The real lessons of the poll tax

The centre page article about the massive anti-poll tax demonstration of 1990 by Steve Glennon (issue 617) was excellent, mainly because as chief steward, Steve had a very good overview of events.

Rob Windsor, Socialist Party councillor, Coventry

There are a number of people and groups on the left who pitch the riot following this demonstration, and indeed the preceding angry demonstrations at town and city hall poll tax-setting meetings, as the main cause of the demise of Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax.

I would ask one question: why was the tax not abolished, or concessions introduced, in the spring and summer of 1990? Why was the fountainhead of British capitalism, Thatcher, not removed by her own government until November 1990, roughly the same time as massive reductions to the poll tax were proposed, eight months after the demonstration?

A reporter at Trafalgar Square hinted at the reason when commenting that mass non-payment in Scotland was a reality and that: "organisers hope that this will become ten million who do not pay in England and Wales - this remains to be seen".

This hinted at what really beat the tax. In 1991, when it was finally scrapped, Tory Minister Michael Heseltine made a mealy-mouthed statement that the tax was being abolished because: "The public had not been persuaded that it was fair". With over 17 million people in England and Wales having either paid nothing or having serious arrears, this was an understatement, but also showed that it took more than big demonstrations to defeat the Thatcher government.

Thatcher blamed

It was clear that prior to the demonstration forces were at work to precipitate violence as a means of trying to discredit the movement in the eyes of the millions. The state's plans backfired as a lot of people blamed the riot, not on the anti-poll tax campaign, but on the Thatcher government.

But the demonstration was only the first massive step in the three-year battle to disrupt the courts, picket the homes of non-payers against bailiffs and ultimately, fight to stop the penalty of imprisonment.

There were many important scenes in this battle. Blows were struck against the tax with the collapse of the first 'poll tax court day' on the Isle of Wight; the first time bailiffs were turned away by 'bailiff busters' in Northampton; the ludicrous attempt by a council of pro-poll tax zealots to pick on an ex-World War 2 paratrooper and Arnhem veteran as the first person to be threatened with jail.


This battle of intense attrition took planning, stamina and perseverance after the spectacular scenes of March 1990 had long gone. In this key part of a vital battle, the determination and imagination of working class people shone. This movement of millions over years of the various phases dealt Thatcher and her tax a death blow.

Perhaps at the time some may have thought that angry demonstrations were a substitute for the painstaking building of over 1,500 anti-poll tax groups.

Perhaps they somehow thought that the angrier the demonstrations got, the need for a mass campaign following them would somehow be 'short-circuited'. But the Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party) knew that Thatcher had faced down other demonstrations. She and her government, while surprised there was such strong opposition given the capitulation of the Labour leaders, clearly wanted to see if resistance would carry on. The leadership of Militant ensured that organised resistance continued. Militant was key in building that movement, arming it with a strategy and sustaining it.

The worst aspect of this piece of history however, was that often the worst enforcers, in terms of bailiffs and moves to jail people, were Labour councils.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 7 April 2010:

Defend jobs and services - Fight for a workers' alternative - Vote TUSC

General Election 6 May: A Socialist Challenge

Socialist Party editorial

Mobilise to defend the right to strike

London Underground workers balloting

Socialist Party election campaign

Stand up for the millions, not the millionaires!

Reject the parties of cuts and privatisation

Socialist Campaign launched in Coventry

New Labour meltdown in Stoke

Making an impact in Huddersfield

Hazel Must Go! opposes cuts to Salford NHS

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

Socialist Party campaigns

Cuts bite in north west

March to defend the welfare state

Tories reveal yet more anti-gay bias

'Free schools' or free-for-all?

News in brief

Socialist Party workplace news

NUT conference again calls for action on workload

Ex-Visteon workers continue fight for pensions

Industrial news in brief

Socialist Students

Mobilise students and workers to defeat cuts and tuition fees

International socialist news and analysis

Kazakhstan: "change the politicians - or they will change you!"

Mass protests and strikes continue to shake Algeria

Tekel workers brutally attacked by police


The real lessons of the poll tax


Home   |   The Socialist 7 April 2010   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:

Poll tax:

triangleThe significance of the anti-poll tax movement

triangleThe Socialist Inbox

triangleCuts drive council tax debt

triangleLewisham Socialist Students & Socialist Party: The battle against the Poll Tax

triangleWirral Socialist Party: We beat the poll tax!


triangle35th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave

triangleObituary: Pauline Dunlop (1947-2019)

triangleWirral Tories raise spectre of Militant

triangleObituary Joan Beale - Labour women's activist and Militant supporter


triangleThe 'national unity' threat to Corbynism

triangleGeneral election looms... Capitalists in chaos: Fight for socialism

triangleBoot out Boris and all the Tory toffs - fight for socialist policies for the 99% not the 0.1%

Rob Windsor:

triangle800 celebrate life of Rob Windsor, a socialist champion of Coventry's people

triangleFuneral details for Rob Windsor, socialist councillor

Historic events

Historic events


Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, August '69: 'Battle of the Bogside' and British troops on the streets



The Peterloo Massacre 1819: When a fearful ruling class tried to crush working-class political aspirations



The 45th anniversary of the strike



50 years since Apollo 11 - 'One giant leap': how political conflict launched the moon landing



Stonewall riots' legacy shows need for socialist struggle to win LGBT+ liberation



35th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave


Tiananmen Square

The Tiananmen Square massacre - 30 years on


Nuclear power

40 years after Three Mile Island disaster



Visteon: when factory occupations stayed the hands of the bosses



Lessons of the heroic 1984-85 Miners' strike



Leon Trotsky's struggle against Stalinism



40 years since the Iranian revolution: Learning the lessons for today's new working-class struggles



Cuban revolution at 60: defend the gains and fight for workers' democracy


Winter of Discontent

The 1979 'Winter of Discontent'


Rosa Luxemburg

Heroic martyrs of German Revolution

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


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

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07954 376 096

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

August 2019

July 2019

June 2019

May 2019

April 2019

March 2019

February 2019

January 2019