Head Logo Picture Text Logo

Link to Home page

Link to news pictures

Link to features photos

Link to travel pictures

Link to my books

Link to articles and other writing

Link to tools and equipment

Go to links page

Link to credits page

Tax Riots in London

In the late 1980s Margaret Thatcher's government was determined to reform the system of collecting local taxes. They introduced what was to become known as the Poll Tax. This was to be identical sum paid by each person regardless of their income.

It was hugely unpopular. In the spring of 1990 a series of demonstrations erupted around the country. Some of them were violent. They culminated in a large demonstration in Trafalgar Square on March 31st 1990 which turned into one of the biggest riots ever seen in central London.

More than 100,000 people of all ages marched from Kennington Park in South London to Trafalgar Square to hear various speakers. Initially the march was peaceful and good humoured.

But a small group near the tail of the march staged a sit down protest outside Downing Street. As the Police started to move them on scuffles developed and the first arrests were made.

As the riot escalated in size and violence the first Police were injured. The police tactics used to quell the riot were the subject of some controversy.

Some rioters broke into a construction site overlooking Trafalgar Square and set fire to it. Others went on looting sprees.

The Aftermath

Over 400 arrests were made and property damage was estimated at UKP400,000. The Poll tax eventually caused the downfall of Margaret Thatcher in November 1990 although the riot probably had little to do with that. John Major, the new Prime Minister, immediatly appointed Michael Heseltine who dismantled the Poll Tax.

Why I was There

The UK's leading local government magazine, The Municipal Journal, sent me to cover the demonstration.

Further Reading

Failure in British Government, The Politics of the Poll Tax by Butler, Adonis and Travers. Oxford University Press (1994), ISBN 0-19-827876-4

It is a very detailed heavyweight book giving all the political background and the aftermath.

Link to contacts page