Dispatches from the Poll Tax Rebellion

Here are a couple more dispatches from the Poll Tax rebellion in Britain a few decades back. First, this from the Catholic Herald of :

Catholic MP leads “poll tax” assault

by Brian Dooley

Catholic MP John Battle revealed to the Catholic Herald this week he is set to embark on a campaign of “creative resistance” against the poll tax, which could involve refusing to pay.

Mr Battle, the Labour MP for Leeds West, said he would support local people who refused to pay the tax in their efforts, and would join with them in refusing to pay the tax voluntarily if they asked him to. Mr Battle’s stand against the poll tax follows last week’s declaration by Jesuit head Michael Campbell-Johnson that politicians should side with the poor (Catholic Herald, ). “In the end, the government can get the money out of you by deducting it from your income but there’s a lot of scope to resist this law”, he said.

Mr Battle elaborated on his plans at a “Poll tax — no way!” meeting on , organised by the Independent Labour Party.

“There is a lot of space to fight this tax from the ground upwards”, he said. Mr Battle spoke too at the meeting about the Housing Bill which is set to become an act within weeks. “This should also be resisted. The government can simply take over whole sections of cities from local authority control, and we’re just not going to accept it. Tenants are going to refuse to co-operate with government officials”, he said.

“Like with the poll tax, the law can be made to look an ass. There’s still a long way to go before they start taking the money for the poll tax — it was blasted through the House of Lords by wheeling in peers, despite the opposition in the House of Commons. It’s unfair and it’s certainly not a fait accompli that it will be enforced”, he stressed.

Mr Battle was applauded for his stand by fellow Catholic MP Denis Canavan, the Labour MP for Falkirk West, who has already been fined £50 for refusing to register for the poll tax. The tax is due to be introduced in Scotland in , a year before it is implemented in England and Wales.

“We’ve tried every means to stop it, but the only way to defeat it is if enough people like John Battle stand up and refuse to pay”, he told the Catholic Herald.

Mr Canavan has refused to pay the fine he has received, and said the money will have to be taken from him against his will.

However, Mr Battle suggested that a firm undertaking not to pay the tax was not necessary at the stage. “What I don’t think I should do as a public official is to encourage people to get into a situation where I’m all right but they’re not”, he said. He believes the bureaucracy involved in the bill will provide ample opportunity for resistance.

“There is a line in the bill at the moment, for instance, which concerns registering for payment of the tax. It says ‘if no-one lives at this address, please fill in that no-one lives here’. It’s ridiculous”, he said.

John Battle’s campaign has drawn criticism from other Labour MPs, however. Catholic Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, voiced his concern to the Catholic Herald.

“The only way to beat this poll tax is by a united campaign which must come from a decision taken by the Party at a national level. Without that large scale sort of action, people are not really in a position to take individual action”, he said.

Vaz turned out not to be right about that. The Party floundered around, trying to milk the controversy, while individuals organized at the grassroots level in a civil disobedience campaign independent from Party leadership that proved to be successful in defeating the tax.

Here’s an article from the same paper :

Halifax priest fined for poll tax refusal

by Rita Wall

A Halifax priest has said he will go to jail rather than pay the poll tax in a public stance which mirrors the mounting national opposition to the planned reform of local government finance.

Fr Peter Sheridan of St Bernard’s Presbytery in Boothtown, Halifax, is one of the first poll tax protestors to be fined for his opposition to the tax. Calderdale Council fined him £50 for refusing to complete a community charge registration form. He now faces a further £200 fine and ultimately a possible jail sentence.

“It’s an unfair and unjust tax and will place a burden on millions of people who can ill afford to pay it,” said Fr Sheridan. “This is like a reversal of the Robin Hood trend where the poor are being robbed to help the rich. It’s ridiculous.”

Having worked with the Catholic Housing Aid Society (CHAS), Fr Sheridan stressed that “this tax will cause homelessness, and will weigh heavily on the already vulnerable in our society including the elderly, the handicapped and the poor.”

Having talked to the local media and the national radio, Fr Sheridan is hopeful that other religious will follow his example in refusing to pay. “This is a totally unChristian tax, and the government has most certainly failed the people of Britain here,” he said.

“As yet the Church in England has not taken a public stance against this tax”, said Sr Deirdre Duffy, of the St Joseph of Peace Order who is active in the social justice field. “However, at a grassroots level there are many like Fr Peter Sheridan who are opposed to this tax which will cause many to suffer,” Sr Duffy said.

The poll tax will tax poor and rich alike at a consistent level, with no means test, and will most certainly contribute to the rising poverty and homelessness in Britain, Sr Duffy said. “There is also a considerable amount of confusion among religious about what orders will have to pay the tax,” she said. “There are some orders who have property and will be liable for a noncommunity tax, which works out higher than a poll tax, and many orders are exempt but they have not received exemption forms,” Sr Duffy said.

The Christian churches in Scotland have been united in their stance against the Poll Tax, taking part in many public demonstrations against its imposition in Scotland.

“Catholic social teaching stresses that those who are better off should be responsible for those who are less well off,” said Sr Kilpatrick of the Peace and Justice Commission in Glasgow. “We have been opposed to this tax from the start”.

There has been great opposition to the tax in Scotland not only because it discriminates against the poor, but also because it was introduced into Scotland first, and “it was using Scotland as a ‘guinea-pig’ trial for this tax, and is coming from a government which is not supported in Scotland,” said Sr Kilpatrick.

“We are also opposed to the centralisation of this tax, which militates against the autonomy of the local authorities who are being bypassed and will not control the allocation of the local tax money,” Sr Kilpatrick said.

The churches in Scotland have opposed the poll tax on economical, political and cultural grounds in Scotland “and we are determined to keep up our stance against it,” she said.

“Hopefully we can now join with those who are protesting in Britain so that we can protect those who will directly suffer as a result of this unfair tax,” said Sr Kilpatrick.