Poll Tax Riot: it was 20 years ago today

Q: How is the Council like a Pelican?

A: They can both stick their bills up their arses.

I suppose this counts as history now? That’s definitely a sign of getting old.

A bunch of us headed down to Kennington Park and marvelled at the massive turnout. It is the second biggest demo I have ever been on, eclipsed only by the big fuck of anti- Iraq War one.

There were all sorts of people on the march, from pensioners and families to a load of punks marching under a very nice pisstaking “Freemasons Against The Poll Tax” banner.

Everyone was in good spirits, undiminished even by the patronising lefty paper sellers. The Poll Tax was one of those rare examples of a massive political issue which engaged (if not enraged) virtually everyone. The demo was culmination of mass resistance across the country, local meetings, demos and support groups springing up all over the place – everywhere.

People weren’t paying it. Like, lots and lots of people. My housemate Jon and I were eventually summoned to court for not paying it. The anteroom to the court was packed out with people of all ages. For some reason we were first up. We’d had a chat with the guy from the local anti-poll tax group and he’d given us some pointers.

The judge called me to the stand. I confirmed my identity and then demanded to see my printed record because I was sure there was an error on it. The clerk went off to get the record. There wasn’t an error on it. We then moved on to me “agreeing” to pay the poll tax in installments. I argued about the actual rate. Case closed.

Jon had been listening keenly and picked up some tips. He was also sure there was an error on his record, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was. He had to think about it a bit. And then some more…

Eventually the judge had enough: “YOU ARE BEING PERVERSE, MR XXXX”. I was very proud of him. He moved onto the bit about paying in installments. Which needed to be negotiated again, of course.

This all took a very long time. Which was of course the whole point. Lots of people don’t pay, lots of people jam up the court system. Our weight of numbers makes the unjust law unenforceable. Behind us the queue of other non-payers were stifling giggles. Hopefully our routine could be built on and extended by other people…

As far as I know both Jon and I stil owe a certain local council hundreds if not thousands of pounds for the poll tax. Eventually this debt had to be written off…

Anyway, twenty years ago today we rocked up at Trafalgar Square after the march and hung around a bit looking at the banners and probably buying anarchist newspapers. Waves and waves of people continued to come into the square. On the march we’d seen a lot of people, but now everyone was together the sheer scale of the event began to hit home.

Then the speeches started and someone said “come on, this is going to be really boring”. So we fucked off home. When we got in we turned the telly on, to see if the demo had made the news. And saw this:

So that kids, is how I managed to miss probably the biggest riot in my lifetime.


  1. STN Mater says ‘well done, good for you’ and toasts your non-payment (and, I think, rather more mummishly, riot non-involvement).

  2. Ha ha, well thanks in return to STN Mater, that’s nice to hear! My non-involvement was a complete accident, but I doubt I would have been on the frontline if I’d stayed…

  3. Ten thousand babylon — I left London forever, indeed, left UK shortly before these riots, some twenty years ago.

    How did that Junior Byles song go now ?

    How about the beautiful Fabien tune ?

    How long…..How long….

  4. Crusties in the frontline! I miss the political crusties. Did they all die or move outta Babylon? They could be annoying but they were like the shocktroops in 90’s riots. Crusties, I salute you!

  5. When they left ‘punk’ the crusties I knew either got heavily into dub, techno, or went down the Gothy rock route, or became dedicated hippies or class war-ites. Lots of the people from the Stamford Hill squat scene got heavily into techno sound systems and free parties by the late 80’s, a prime example being the Liberator Sound, who were once part of the Crass scene.

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