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Poll Tax Riots

Poll Tax Riots

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The UK Poll Tax Riots were a series of mass disturbances, or riot
Riot
A riot is a form of civil disorder characterized often by what is thought of as disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against authority, property or people. While individuals may attempt to lead or control a riot, riots are thought to be typically chaotic and...

s, in British towns and cities during protests against the Community Charge
Community Charge
The Community Charge, popularly known as the "poll tax", was a system of taxation introduced in replacement of the rates to part fund local government in Scotland from 1989, and England and Wales from 1990. It provided for a single flat-rate per-capita tax on every adult, at a rate set by the...

 (commonly known as the Poll Tax
Poll tax
A poll tax is a tax of a portioned, fixed amount per individual in accordance with the census . When a corvée is commuted for cash payment, in effect it becomes a poll tax...

), introduced by the Conservative
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 government led by Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

. By far the largest occurred in central London
Central London
Central London is the innermost part of London, England. There is no official or commonly accepted definition of its area, but its characteristics are understood to include a high density built environment, high land values, an elevated daytime population and a concentration of regionally,...

 on Saturday 31 March 1990, shortly before the tax was due to come into force in England and Wales. The poll tax was voted the most disruptive tax introduced to the United Kingdom and was also voted the least fair by 10,000 people in 2010.

The disorder in London arose from a demonstration which began at 11am. The violent confrontations between police and demonstrators ended up in rampaging and looting that ended at 3am the next morning. This unrest is sometimes called the Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar was a sea battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars ....

, particularly by opponents of the poll tax, because much of the rioting took place in Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a public space and tourist attraction in central London, England, United Kingdom. At its centre is Nelson's Column, which is guarded by four lion statues at its base. There are a number of statues and sculptures in the square, with one plinth displaying changing pieces of...

.

Trafalgar Square preparations


In November 1989 the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation
All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation
The All Britain Anti Poll Tax Federation was an organisation in Great Britain to co-ordinate the activities of local Anti-Poll Tax Unions campaigning against the Community Charge brought in by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1989 and 1990 .The BBC technicians' union, Broadcasting...

 (The Fed) was set up largely by the leftist Militant tendency
Militant Tendency
The Militant tendency was an entrist group within the British Labour Party based around the Militant newspaper that was first published in 1964...

 as a national body which included many Anti-Poll Tax Unions
Anti-Poll Tax Unions
Anti-Poll Tax Unions were set up in local areas throughout Scotland, England and Wales to organise against the Community Charge brought in by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1989 and 1990 ....

. The committee called a demonstration in London for 31 March 1990, the Saturday before Community Charge implementation in England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

, its having been introduced in Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 a year earlier.

Three days before the event the Metropolitan Police
Metropolitan Police Service
The Metropolitan Police Service is the territorial police force responsible for Greater London, excluding the "square mile" of the City of London which is the responsibility of the City of London Police...

 realised the march would be larger than the 60,000 capacity of Trafalgar Square. It asked permission from the Metropolitan Police Service and the Department of the Environment
Secretary of State for the Environment
The Secretary of State for the Environment was a UK cabinet position, responsible for the Department of the Environment . This was created by Edward Heath as a combination of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Public Building and Works on 15...

 to divert the march to Hyde Park
Hyde Park, London
Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in central London, United Kingdom, and one of the Royal Parks of London, famous for its Speakers' Corner.The park is divided in two by the Serpentine...

. The request was denied.

In the days before the demonstration two "feeder" marches had followed the routes of the two mob armies of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. These arrived at Kennington Park
Kennington Park
Kennington Park is in Kennington in London, England, and lies between Kennington Park Road and St Agnes Place. It was opened in 1854. Previously the site had been Kennington Common. This is where the Chartists gathered for their biggest 'monster rally' on 10 April 1848...

 in South London
SE postcode area
The SE postcode area, also known as the London SE postcode area, is the part of the London post town covering part of south east London, England...

 on March 31.

Events of the day


On 31 March 1990, people began gathering in Kennington Park
Kennington Park
Kennington Park is in Kennington in London, England, and lies between Kennington Park Road and St Agnes Place. It was opened in 1854. Previously the site had been Kennington Common. This is where the Chartists gathered for their biggest 'monster rally' on 10 April 1848...

 from 12pm. Turnout was encouraged by fine weather, and between 180,000 and 250,000 arrived. The police report, a year after the riot, suggested close to 200,000. An abandoned rally by the Labour Party may also have contributed to the number of protesters.

The march began at Kennington Park at 1:30pm, moving faster than planned because some of the crowd had forced open the gates of the park, presumably in order to avoid being forced through smaller gates. This spilt the march over both sides of the road, and continued in much the same way for the rest of the route.

By 2:30pm, Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a public space and tourist attraction in central London, England, United Kingdom. At its centre is Nelson's Column, which is guarded by four lion statues at its base. There are a number of statues and sculptures in the square, with one plinth displaying changing pieces of...

 was nearing its capacity.

Unable to continue moving easily into Trafalgar Square, at about 3pm the march stopped in Whitehall
Whitehall
Whitehall is a road in Westminster, in London, England. It is the main artery running north from Parliament Square, towards Charing Cross at the southern end of Trafalgar Square...

. The police, worried about a surge towards the new security gates of Downing Street
Downing Street
Downing Street in London, England has for over two hundred years housed the official residences of two of the most senior British cabinet ministers: the First Lord of the Treasury, an office now synonymous with that of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the Second Lord of the Treasury, an...

, blocked the top and bottom of Whitehall. The section of the march which stopped opposite Downing Street reportedly contained veteran anarchists and a group called Bikers Against The Poll Tax, all of whom became aggravated by several heavy-handed arrests, including one of a man in a wheelchair.

Meanwhile, the tail-end had been diverted at the Parliament Square
Parliament Square
Parliament Square is a square outside the northwest end of the Palace of Westminster in London. It features a large open green area in the middle, with a group of trees to its west. It contains statues of famous statesmen and is the scene of rallies and protests, as well as being a tourist...

 end of Whitehall, and the anarchists it had attracted were at the head of this diverted and unpoliced march which made its way to Richmond Terrace, bringing the diverted march into Whitehall, opposite Downing Street.

Mounted riot police were brought in, in an attempt to clear the protesters from Whitehall , despite both retreat and advance being blocked by further lines of police. Fighting and scuffles broke out and the Whitehall section of the march fought its way into Trafalgar Square.

From 4pm, with the rally nearly officially over, contradictory reports began to arise. According to some sources, mounted riot police (officially used in an attempt to clear Whitehall of protesters) charged out of a side street into the crowd in Trafalgar Square. Whether intentional or not, this was interpreted by the mob as a provocation, fuelling anger in the Square. At 4:30pm, four shielded police riot vans drove into the crowd (a tactic in dealing with mass demonstrations at the time) outside the South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

n Embassy, attempting to force through to the entrance to Whitehall where police were re-grouping. The crowd attacked the vans with wooden staves and scaffolding poles. Soon after, rioting began to escalate.

By 4:30pm police had closed the main Underground
London Underground
The London Underground is a rapid transit system serving a large part of Greater London and some parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex in England...

 stations in the area and southern exits of Trafalgar Square, making it difficult for people to disperse. Coaches had been parked south of the river, so many tried to move south. At this point, Militant Fed stewards were withdrawn on police orders. Sections of the crowd, apparently unemployed coal miners, climbed scaffolding and rained debris on the police below. Then, at 5pm builders' cabins below the scaffolding caught fire, followed by a room in the South African Embassy on the other side of the Square. The smoke from the fires caused near darkness in the Square and there followed a 20-minute lull in rioting.

Between 6 and 7pm the police opened the southern exits of the Square and slowly managed to move people out of Trafalgar Square. A large section of the crowd was moved back down Northumberland Avenue
Northumberland Avenue
Northumberland Avenue is a London street, running from Trafalgar Square in the west to The Embankment in the east. The avenue was built on the site of Northumberland House, the London home of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland....

 and allowed over the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 in order to return to their organised transport. Two other sections were pushed north into the West End
West End of London
The West End of London is an area of central London, containing many of the city's major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings, and entertainment . Use of the term began in the early 19th century to describe fashionable areas to the west of Charing Cross...

, which suffered reported theft and vandalism. Published accounts detail shop windows being broken, goods looted, and cars being overturned in Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus is a road junction and public space of London's West End in the City of Westminster, built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with the major shopping street of Piccadilly...

, Oxford Street
Oxford Street
Oxford Street is a major thoroughfare in the City of Westminster in the West End of London, United Kingdom. It is Europe's busiest shopping street, as well as its most dense, and currently has approximately 300 shops. The street was formerly part of the London-Oxford road which began at Newgate,...

, Regent Street
Regent Street
Regent Street is one of the major shopping streets in London's West End, well known to tourists and Londoners alike, and famous for its Christmas illuminations...

, Charing Cross Road
Charing Cross Road
Charing Cross Road is a street in central London running immediately north of St Martin-in-the-Fields to St Giles Circus and then becomes Tottenham Court Road...

, and Covent Garden
Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a district in London on the eastern fringes of the West End, between St. Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. It is associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square, now a popular shopping and tourist site, and the Royal Opera House, which is also known as...

. Police ordered pubs to close.

The demonstrators became mixed with the public. By midnight, released figures claimed 113 were injured, mostly members of the public but also police officers, and a further 339 had been arrested. Scuffles between rioters and police continued until 3am. Rioters attacked numerous shops, most notably Stringfellow's nightclub, car showrooms, Covent Garden
Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a district in London on the eastern fringes of the West End, between St. Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. It is associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square, now a popular shopping and tourist site, and the Royal Opera House, which is also known as...

 café
Café
A café , also spelled cafe, in most countries refers to an establishment which focuses on serving coffee, like an American coffeehouse. In the United States, it may refer to an informal restaurant, offering a range of hot meals and made-to-order sandwiches...

s and wine bar
Wine bar
A wine bar is a tavern-like business focusing on selling wine, rather than liquor or beer. A typical feature of many wine bars is a wide selection of wines available by the glass. Some wine bars are profiled on wines of a certain type of origin, such as Italian wine or Champagne...

s were set on fire, as well as motor vehicles.

Responses


The response of the London police, the government, the Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

  and the labour movement
Labour movement
The term labour movement or labor movement is a broad term for the development of a collective organization of working people, to campaign in their own interest for better treatment from their employers and governments, in particular through the implementation of specific laws governing labour...

 and some of the Marxist and Trotskyist left, notably The Militant Tendency, was to condemn the riot as senseless and to blame anarchists. On ITV News at Ten that evening, Tommy Sheridan of The Fed/Militant Tendency condemned the protesters. The next day, Steve Nally, also a Militant member and Secretary of the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation said that they would "hold an enquiry and name names". Some anarchists, especially the high-profile Class War
Class War
Class War is a UK class struggle based group and newspaper originally set up by Ian Bone and others in 1983. It subsequently mutated various forms, becoming specifically anarchist....

 organisation and those from the Anarchist 121 Bookshop in Brixton were happy to defend the actions of the crowd in response to the police, and were joined by other sections of the libertarian left
Libertarian socialism
Libertarian socialism is a group of political philosophies that promote a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic, stateless society without private property in the means of production...

 in condoning the riot as legitimate self-defence against police attack. According to Danny Burns: "Often attack is the only effective form of defence and, as a movement, we should not be ashamed or defensive about these actions, we should be proud of those who did fight back."

The Trotskyist Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), which was blamed for the violence by some in the media and by Labour MP George Galloway
George Galloway
George Galloway is a British politician, author, journalist and broadcaster who was a Member of Parliament from 1987 to 2010. He was formerly an MP for the Labour Party, first for Glasgow Hillhead and later for Glasgow Kelvin, before his expulsion from the party in October 2003, the same year...

, refused to condemn protesters, calling the events a "police riot
Police riot
A police riot is a confrontation between police and civilians. The term can also describe a riot by civilians caused or instigated by police...

". Pat Stack, then an SWP Central Committee member, told the Times "We did not go on the demonstration with any intention of fighting with the police, but we understand why people are angry and we will not condemn that anger."

In contradiction to what was said at the time by the London police, the government, the Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

  and the labour movement
Labour movement
The term labour movement or labor movement is a broad term for the development of a collective organization of working people, to campaign in their own interest for better treatment from their employers and governments, in particular through the implementation of specific laws governing labour...

 and most of the Marxist and Trotskyist left, the 1991 police report concluded there was "no evidence that the trouble was orchestrated by left-wing anarchist groups".

Afterwards, the non-aligned Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign
Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign
The Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign was an organisation set up to provide practical support for the hundreds of people who were arrested during and after the 1990 Poll Tax Riots and in particular, to push for the release of all prisoners and the dropping of all charges...

 was set up, committed to unconditional support for the defendants, and to accountability to the defendants. The Campaign acquired more than 50 hours of police video and these were influential in acquitting many of the 491 defendants, suggesting the police had fabricated or inflated charges.

In March 1991, the police report suggested additional contributing internal police factors: squeezed overtime budgets which led to the initial deployment of only 2,000 men; a lack of riot shields (400 "short" riot shields were available); and erratic or poor-quality radio, with a lag of up to five minutes in the computerised switching of radio messages during the evening West End rioting.

Prime Minister
Prime minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

 Thatcher was at a conference of the Conservative Party Council in Cheltenham
Cheltenham
Cheltenham , also known as Cheltenham Spa, is a large spa town and borough in Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswolds in the South-West region of England. It is the home of the flagship race of British steeplechase horse racing, the Gold Cup, the main event of the Cheltenham Festival held...

. The Community Charge was the focus of the conference; as coverage of the demonstrations unfolded, speculation developed for the first time about Thatcher's position as leader.

Fall of Thatcher


The riot in central London, with the countrywide opposition to the Community Charge (especially vehement in the North of England
Northern England
Northern England, also known as the North of England, the North or the North Country, is a cultural region of England. It is not an official government region, but rather an informal amalgamation of counties. The southern extent of the region is roughly the River Trent, while the North is bordered...

 and Scotland) contributed to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher, who resigned as Prime Minister in November the same year, defending the tax when opinion polls were showing 2% support for it. The next Prime Minister
Prime minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

, John Major
John Major
Sir John Major, is a British Conservative politician, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990–1997...

, announced it would be abolished.

Changes in policing of demonstrations


The trials of demonstrators confirmed doubts about policing styles which had been developed during the 1980s to deal with mass protests such the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is an anti-nuclear organisation that advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom, international nuclear disarmament and tighter international arms regulation through agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty...

, the New Age Travellers
New age travellers
New Age Travellers are groups of people who often espouse New Age or hippie beliefs and travel between music festivals and fairs in order to live in a community with others who hold similar beliefs. Their transport and homes consist of vans, lorries, buses, narrowboats and caravans converted into...

, anti-Apartheid
History of South Africa in the apartheid era
Apartheid was a system of racial segregation enforced by the National Party governments of South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority 'non-white' inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and white supremacy and Afrikaner minority rule was maintained...

 groups, and the Miners' Strike
UK miners' strike (1984–1985)
The UK miners' strike was a major industrial action affecting the British coal industry. It was a defining moment in British industrial relations, and its defeat significantly weakened the British trades union movement...

. The trials highlighted the ease with which miscarriages of justice could take place, even after the compensation and acquittals arising from the Battle of the Beanfield
Battle of the Beanfield
The Battle of the Beanfield took place over several hours on the afternoon of Saturday 1 June 1985 when Wiltshire Police prevented a vehicle convoy of several hundred new age travellers, known as "The Convoy" and referred to in the media as the "Peace Convoy" from setting up at the 11th Stonehenge...

, the New Age Travellers at Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about west of Amesbury and north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks...

, CND at Greenham Common, and the miners at the Battle of Orgreave
Battle of Orgreave
The Battle of Orgreave is the name given to a confrontation between police and picketing miners at a British Steel coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, in 1984, during the UK miners' strike...

.

Abandonment of the Poll Tax


John Major
John Major
Sir John Major, is a British Conservative politician, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990–1997...

 announced in his first parliamentary speech as Prime Minister that the Community Charge was to be replaced by Council Tax
Council tax
Council Tax is the system of local taxation used in England, Scotland and Wales to part fund the services provided by local government in each country. It was introduced in 1993 by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, as a successor to the unpopular Community Charge...

, which, unlike Poll Tax, took account of ability to pay. While less harsh on lower-income earners than Poll Tax, the new tax took no account of the income earned by the taxpayer, but did take into account the value of the property on which the householder was taxed, being in effect the old rates
Rates (tax)
Rates are a type of property tax system in the United Kingdom, and in places with systems deriving from the British one, the proceeds of which are used to fund local government...

 system restored. The anti-poll tax movement believed it was partially responsible for the abolition of the poll tax.

See also

  • Riot
    Riot
    A riot is a form of civil disorder characterized often by what is thought of as disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against authority, property or people. While individuals may attempt to lead or control a riot, riots are thought to be typically chaotic and...

  • Urban riots
    Urban riots
    Riots often occur in reaction to a perceived grievance or out of dissent. Riots may be the outcome of a sporting event, although many riots have occurred due to poor working or living conditions, government oppression, conflicts between races or religions....

  • Rebellion
    Rebellion
    Rebellion, uprising or insurrection, is a refusal of obedience or order. It may, therefore, be seen as encompassing a range of behaviors aimed at destroying or replacing an established authority such as a government or a head of state...

  • Revolution
    Revolution
    A revolution is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.Aristotle described two types of political revolution:...

  • Class war
    Class conflict
    Class conflict is the tension or antagonism which exists in society due to competing socioeconomic interests between people of different classes....

  • List of riots in London
  • 2011 United Kingdom anti-austerity protests
    2011 United Kingdom anti-austerity protests
    The 2011 United Kingdom anti-austerity protests were a series of anti-austerity protests that took place in the United Kingdom in early 2011...


Further reading


Films

  • The Battle Of Trafalgar, (Despite TV). Broadcast on Channel 4
    Channel 4
    Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

    , September 18, 1990.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzM_DAy3pnE

External links