The Poll Tax Riots: Twenty Years On

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 170 months ago

Last Updated 31 March 2010

The Poll Tax Riots: Twenty Years On

Photo / aka John Spence

Twenty years ago today, the simmering resentment toward the Government's plan to impose a hugely unpopular poll tax across England and Wales erupted into violent protests. A large group of protesters marched from Kennington Park to Trafalgar Square, and the demonstration turned nasty in the afternoon, with looting and disorder running through into the wee hours of the morning.

Londonist is far too short in the tooth to recall such heady days, but luckily the newspapers have permitted their rheumy-eyed correspondents to wax lyrical about the Battle of Trafalgar Square. John Andrew, writing in the Observer, recalls the air "thick with missiles, ranging from bricks to bottles to wooden placards"; the Independent's David Graham interviews those who took part, and counts the cost — "£400,000 worth of damage, 400 arrests, 113 injured"; while the Socialist Worker sounds a triumphalist note, claiming that the riots "[forced] Margaret Thatcher from office", as if the cheering hoardes had borne Her Maggiesty aloft and carried her toward Traitor's Gate.

Twenty years on, how have things changed in Trafalgar Square? Well, there may be precious few riots in these times, but last Saturday a group of merry-makers staged a Spaced gunfight flashmob, which succeeded in bringing no government down but did prove great larks for all those involved. Who says we're less politically engaged as a nation?