31 March 1990

Approximately 200,000 protesters take to the streets of London to protest against the newly introduced Poll Tax.

Poll tax riots
Poll Tax Riot 31st Mar 1990 Trafalger Square - Horse Charge.jpg
Poll tax riot 31st Mar 1990.jpg
Poll Tax Riot 31st Mar 1990 Trafalger Square - Protesters Stand Firm.jpg
Poll Tax Riot 31st Mar 1990 Trafalger Square - Police Pinned down.jpg
Scenes from the day of the event
Date31 March 1990 (1990-03-31)
LocationTrafalgar Square, London
Non-fatal injuries113
Arrests339

The poll tax riots were a series of riots in British towns and cities during protests against the Community Charge (colloquially known as the "poll tax"), introduced by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The largest protest occurred in central London on Saturday 31 March 1990, shortly before the tax was due to come into force in England and Wales.

Background

The advent of the poll tax was due to an effort to alter the way the tax system was used to fund local government in the UK. The system in place until this time was called "rates" and had been in place in some form from the beginning of the 17th century.[1] The rates system has been described as "a levy on property, which in modern times saw each taxpayer paying a rate based on the estimated rental value of their home".[1]

1989

The Thatcher government had long promised to replace domestic rates, which were unpopular, especially among Conservative voters. They were seen by many as an unfair way of raising revenue for local councils.[2] It was levied on houses rather than people.[2]

The proposed replacement was a flat-rate per capita Community Charge—"a head tax that saw every adult pay a fixed rate amount set by their local authority".[1] The new Charge was widely called a "poll tax" and was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales a year later.[3] The Charge proved extremely unpopular; while students and the registered unemployed had to pay 20%, some large families occupying relatively small houses saw their charges go up considerably, and the tax was thus accused of saving the rich money and moving the expenses onto the poor.[4]

Two stickers, still on their backing sheet, from the group "Luton Against The Poll Tax", using the slogan "Can't pay won't pay" which had been popularised by the Dario Fo play of that name.

In November 1989 the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation was set up by the Militant tendency. Other groups such as the 3D (Don't Register, Don't Pay, Don't Collect) network provided national coordination for anti-poll tax unions who were not aligned to particular political factions.[5] The All Britain Federation called a demonstration in London for 31 March 1990 which all of the major networks organised for. Three days before the event, organisers realised the march would be larger than 60,000 (the capacity of Trafalgar Square) and asked permission from the MPS and the Department of the Environment to divert the march to Hyde Park. The request was denied[6] on the basis that the policing had been arranged for Trafalgar Square and there was no time to re-plan it. A building site on Trafalgar Square with easily accessible supplies of bricks and scaffolding was left largely unsecured while the police set up their centre of operations on the other side of the square.

Events of the day

Protesters marching in front of the Palace of Westminster carrying red banners and placards with anti-poll tax slogans: "Don't Pay – Don't Collect"
Peaceful anti-poll tax protesters outside the Palace of Westminster on the afternoon of 31 March, before the rioting began.

On 31 March 1990, people began gathering in Kennington Park from noon. Turnout was encouraged by fine weather, and between 180,000 and 250,000 arrived. The police report, a year after the riot, estimated the crowd at 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 1:30 pm, 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 split the march over both sides of the road, and protesters continued in much the same way for the rest of the route.

By 2:30 pm, Trafalgar Square was nearing its capacity. Unable to continue moving easily into Trafalgar Square, at about 3 pm the march stopped in Whitehall. The police, worried about a surge towards the new security gates of Downing Street, blocked the top and bottom of Whitehall, and lined the pavement refusing to let people leave the road. Additional police units were dispatched to reinforce the officers manning the barrier blocking the Downing Street side 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", some of whom became aggravated by reportedly heavy-handed arrests, including one of a man in a wheelchair.[6]

Mounted riot police were brought in behind this immobilised section of the march, in theory to clear the protesters from Whitehall, despite both retreat and advance being blocked by further lines of police. Meanwhile, the tail-end had been diverted at the Parliament Square end of Whitehall, and the anarchists it had attracted were at the head of an unpoliced portion of the march. These people walked to Richmond Terrace, bringing the diverted march into Whitehall, opposite Downing Street and behind the police lines on that side of Whitehall. The protesters at the rear of the stationary group, being faced by mounted police seemingly preparing to charge, sat down on the road for safety. Despite black-clothed and scarf-masked people running through seemingly from behind the police lines and urging them up, they remained seated until physically dragged away and arrested for "obstructing Whitehall". The mounted police then advanced at speed, forcing the Whitehall section of the march to fight its way into Trafalgar Square.

From 4 pm, 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 crowd as a provocation, fueling anger in the Square where the police had already been pushing sections of crowd back into corners, leaving no way out except through the police. At 4:30 pm, four shielded police riot vans drove into the crowd (a tactic in dealing with mass demonstrations at the time) outside the South African 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 4:30 pm police had closed the main Underground 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 marchers tried to move south. At this point, Militant Fed stewards were withdrawn on police orders. Sections of the crowd, including unemployed coal miners, climbed scaffolding and rained debris on the police below. At 5 pm, 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 produced a 20-minute lull in rioting.

A broken shop window and debris, including crumpled posters with anti-poll tax slogans
Damage, including a broken shop window, caused during the rioting on Trafalgar Square.

Between 6 and 7 pm, the police opened the southern exits of the Square and slowly moved people out of Trafalgar Square. A large section of the crowd was moved back down Northumberland Avenue and allowed over the River Thames in order to return to their organised transport. Two other sections of demonstrators, now very angry and aggravated, were pushed north into the wealthy shopping streets of West End, which suffered reported theft and vandalism. Published accounts detail shop windows being broken, goods looted, and cars being overturned in Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Charing Cross Road, and Covent Garden. Police ordered pubs to close.

The demonstrators mixed in with the general public. By midnight, released figures claimed 113 were injured, mostly members of the public, but also police officers; and 339 people had been arrested.[7] Scuffles between rioters and police continued until 3 am. Rioters attacked numerous shops, most notably Stringfellow's nightclub, and car showrooms; and Covent Garden cafés and wine bars were set ablaze, along with motor vehicles.

Responses

The response of the Metropolitan Police, the Government, the Labour Party and the labour movement and some of the Marxist and Trotskyist left, notably the Militant tendency, was to condemn the riot as senseless and to blame anarchists. Tommy Sheridan of Scottish Militant Labour condemned the protesters. The next day, Steve Nally, also a Socialist Party member and Secretary of the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, said that they would "hold an enquiry and name names".[8] Many others denounced the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation position and defended those who fought back against the police attacks. Danny Burns (secretary of the Avon Federation of anti-Poll Tax Unions)[9] for example said: "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."[10]

The UK Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), which was blamed for the violence by some in the media and by Labour MP George Galloway,[11] refused to condemn protesters, calling the events a "police riot". Pat Stack, then a member of the SWP's Central Committee, 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."[12]

A 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 was set up, committed to unconditional support for the defendants, and to accountability to the defendants.[13] The Campaign acquired more than 50 hours of police video. Use of these was influential in acquitting many of the 491 defendants, suggesting the police had fabricated or inflated charges.[7]

In March 1991, the police report suggested additional contributing internal police factors: squeezed overtime budgets which led to the initial deployment of 2,000 men, insufficient given the number of demonstrators; 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 Thatcher was at a conference of the Conservative Party Council in Cheltenham; the poll tax was the focus of the conference—as coverage of the demonstrations unfolded, speculation developed for the first time about Thatcher's position as leader.

Abolition of the tax

The national opposition to the poll tax (especially vehement in the north of England and Scotland) was the major factor; an opinion poll had found 78% opposed to it.[14]

John Major announced in his first parliamentary speech as Prime Minister that the poll tax was to be replaced by Council Tax. The council tax came into effect in 1992. Similar to the previous system of rates, the new system set tax levels on property value. Although it was not directly linked to income, the council tax took ability to pay into consideration, unlike the poll tax.[1]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d Nick Collins (9 March 2011), "Local government funding timeline: From rates to poll tax to council tax", The Daily Telegraph, retrieved 22 May 2018
  2. ^ a b Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume Two: Everything She Wants, p. 58–9, at Google Books
  3. ^ "Secret papers reveal push to 'trailblaze' poll tax in Scotland", BBC News, 30 December 2014, retrieved 10 October 2015
  4. ^ Wilde, Robert, "Community Charge / Poll Tax", About Education, retrieved 10 October 2015
  5. ^ Burns, Danny (1992), Poll Tax Rebellion, AK Press
  6. ^ a b Channel 4 Critical Eye documentary, "Battle of Trafalgar", 9 July 1990, Despite TV
  7. ^ a b Verkaik, Robert (21 January 2006), "Revealed: How police panic played into the hand of the poll tax rioters", The Independent, p. 10, retrieved 17 May 2008
  8. ^ London: Anti Poll Tax Riot: The Violence | Archive Footage, ITN Source, 1 April 1990, retrieved 8 August 2012
  9. ^ https://libcom.org/history/poll-tax-rebellion-danny-burns
  10. ^ "Poll Tax rebellion", AK Press 1992, p. 116.
  11. ^ "Poll tax spurs riot", The Gainesville Sun, 1 April 1990
  12. ^ "Bloody battle of Trafalgar – London poll tax riot", The Sunday Times, 1 April 1990
  13. ^ Gross, David M. (2014), 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns, Picket Line Press, pp. 37–38, ISBN 978-1490572741
  14. ^ Wood, Nicholas; Oakley, Robin (30 April 1990), "Poll shows 35% want to bring back rates", The Times, MORI found 35% wanted 'Rates', 29% a local income tax, 15% a 'Roof tax' combining property values with ability to pay, 12% the poll tax, with 9% in favour of neither of these options.

Further reading

Films

External links

31 March 1921

The Royal Australian Air Force is formed.

The Royal Australian Air Force traces its history back to the Imperial Conference held in London in 1911, where it was decided aviation should be developed within the Armed Forces of the British Empire. Australia implemented this decision, the only country to do so, by approving the establishment of the Central Flying School in 1912. The location for the proposed school was initially to be at Duntroon, Australian Capital Territory, but in July 1913 Point Cook, Victoria, was announced as the preferred location. The first flights by CFS aircraft took place there in March 1914.

The Australian Flying Corps was formed as a Militia unit, with staff and students to be selected from the Citizen Forces. After an abortive deployment to German New Guinea at the end of 1914 as part of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, it earned a most creditable reputation in both Palestine and France during World War I as a part of the Australian Imperial Force. The Australian Flying Corps remained part of the Australian Army until 1919, when it was disbanded along with the AIF. Although the Central Flying School continued to operate at Point Cook, military flying virtually ceased until 1920, when the Australian Air Corps was formed. The Australian Air Force was formed on 31 March 1921. King George V approved the prefix “Royal” in June 1921 and it became effective on 31 August 1921. The RAAF then became the second Royal air arm to be formed in the British Commonwealth, following the British Royal Air Force.

The service was rapidly expanded during World War II and at its height, it was the fourth largest air force in the world, consisting of 53 squadrons based in the Pacific and a further 17 in Europe.

In 1911, the Imperial Conference that was held in London determined that the armed forces of the British Empire needed to develop an aviation branch. At the time, aircraft were a newly emerging technology, but nevertheless Australia implemented the decision, the only country to do so. The first step taken by the government was to approve the establishment of the Central Flying School in 1912. Initially, it had been proposed to establish the school at Duntroon, in the Australian Capital Territory, where the Royal Military College had been established in 1911, but in July 1913 it was determined that Point Cook, Victoria, was the preferred location. The Australian Flying Corps was subsequently formed as a Militia unit, with staff and students to be selected from the Citizen Forces, and the first flights by CFS aircraft took place in March 1914.

Soon after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the AFC sent aircraft to assist the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force in capturing German colonies in what is now north-west New Guinea. These colonies surrendered quickly however, before the planes were even unpacked. The first operational flights did not occur until 27 May 1915, when the Mesopotamian Half Flight was called upon to assist the Indian Army in protecting British oil interests in what is now Iraq. The corps later saw action in Egypt, Palestine and on the Western Front throughout the remainder of World War I. By the end of the war, four squadrons – Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 – had seen active service; another four squadrons – Nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8 – had also been raised to provide training in the United Kingdom. The AFC was disbanded along with the rest of the Australian Imperial Force in 1919, following the end of hostilities. Although the Central Flying School continued to operate at Point Cook, military flying virtually ceased until 1920, when the Australian Air Corps was formed. The following year, this was separated from the Army on 31 March 1921, when the Australian Air Force was formed as an independent service; in June that year King George V gave his assent for the service to use the prefix “Royal” and this came into effect on 31 August 1921.

Upon formation, the RAAF had more aircraft than personnel, with 21 officers and 128 other ranks, and just 170 aircraft. Initially, it had been planned to expand the force to 1,500 personnel – three-quarters permanent staff and one quarter reserves – who would serve in six squadrons: two of fighter aircraft, two of reconnaissance aircraft, and two squadrons of seaplanes. These plans were scuttled a year after formation due to budget constraints and until 1924, the service’s strength remained steady at just 50 officers and 300 other ranks; of the six planned squadrons, only five had been raised, albeit cadre strength, and these were subsequently merged into a single mixed squadron until 1925. A slightly improved economic situation in 1925 allowed the re-raising of Nos. 1 and 3 Squadrons, which were initially composite units equipped with fighters and bombers. Later in the decade, they were reorganised with No. 1 Squadron becoming a solely bomber formation, while No. 3 focused on army co-operation roles; smaller squadrons – in reality only flights – of fighters and seaplanes were formed within the RAAF’s flying training unit, No. 1 Flying Training School, which had been raised at Point Cook.

Throughout the inter-war years the fledgling RAAF focused on local defence and providing training opportunities to Australia’s naval and military forces. It also undertook aerial survey missions, meteorological flights, public displays, and provision of defence aid to the civil community, undertaking search and rescue missions and bush fire patrols. In the late 1930s, the force was expanded amidst concerns about a future war in Europe. Additional squadrons were raised and bases established away from the south-east coast, including airbases in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. This expansion saw the RAAF increase its personnel from under 1,000 in 1935 to around 3,500 in 1939, and the establishment of a force of 12 squadrons, with plans for a further six, by the outbreak of World War II in September 1939.

31 March 1889

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is officially opened.

March 31st saw the grand opening of the iconic Eiffel Tower! Named after engineer Gustave Eiffel whose company constructed the tower, it was a huge controversy of the art world, dividing opinions of it’s design but has gone on to become one of the most visited monument in the world, receiving its 250 millionth visitor in 2010.

On March 30 1885, Gustave presented a paper to the Societe des ingienieurs Civils detailing the project, it’s possible technical difficulties and the practical uses that the tower would have. He concluded by highlighting that it would symbolise “not only the art of the modern engineer, but also the century of Industry and Science in which we are living, and for which the way was prepared by the great scientific movement of the eighteenth century and by the Revolution of 1789, to which this monument will be built as an expression of France’s gratitude.”

The main structural work was completed at the end of March 1889 and, on 31 March, Eiffel celebrated by leading a group of government officials, accompanied by representatives of the press, to the top of the tower. Because the lifts were not yet in operation, the ascent was made by foot, and took over an hour, with Eiffel stopping frequently to explain various features. Most of the party chose to stop at the lower levels, but a few, including the structural engineer, Émile Nouguier, the head of construction, Jean Compagnon, the President of the City Council, and reporters from Le Figaro and Le Monde Illustré, completed the ascent. At 2:35 pm, Eiffel hoisted a large Tricolour to the accompaniment of a 25-gun salute fired at the first level.

There was still work to be done, particularly on the lifts and facilities, and the tower was not opened to the public until nine days after the opening of the exposition on 6 May; even then, the lifts had not been completed. The tower was an instant success with the public, and nearly 30,000 visitors made the 1,710-step climb to the top before the lifts entered service on 26 May. Tickets cost 2 francs for the first level, 3 for the second, and 5 for the top, with half-price admission on Sundays, and by the end of the exhibition there had been 1,896,987 visitors.

After dark, the tower was lit by hundreds of gas lamps, and a beacon sent out three beams of red, white and blue light. Two searchlights mounted on a circular rail were used to illuminate various buildings of the exposition. The daily opening and closing of the exposition were announced by a cannon at the top.

Illumination of the tower at night during the exposition
On the second level, the French newspaper Le Figaro had an office and a printing press, where a special souvenir edition, Le Figaro de la Tour, was made. There was also a pâtisserie.

At the top, there was a post office where visitors could send letters and postcards as a memento of their visit. Graffitists were also catered for: sheets of paper were mounted on the walls each day for visitors to record their impressions of the tower. Gustave Eiffel described some of the responses as vraiment curieuse.

Famous visitors to the tower included the Prince of Wales, Sarah Bernhardt, “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Thomas Edison. Eiffel invited Edison to his private apartment at the top of the tower, where Edison presented him with one of his phonographs, a new invention and one of the many highlights of the exposition. Edison signed the guestbook with this message:

To M Eiffel the Engineer the brave builder of so gigantic and original specimen of modern Engineering from one who has the greatest respect and admiration for all Engineers including the Great Engineer the Bon Dieu, Thomas Edison.

Eiffel had a permit for the tower to stand for 20 years. It was to be dismantled in 1909, when its ownership would revert to the City of Paris. The City had planned to tear it down but as the tower proved to be valuable for communication purposes, it was allowed to remain after the expiry of the permit.

31 March 1889

The Eiffel Tower is officially opened in Paris.

 photo 94062192_ROGER-VIOLLET_Paris-World-Fair-1889-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqXW61vz_3bSmK0KpgrSXHYTdESC3FBk1DSYgqaD24EGY_zpslgojpw9e.jpg

On March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower is dedicated in Paris in a ceremony presided over by Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s designer, and attended by French Prime Minister Pierre Tirard, a handful of other dignitaries, and 200 construction workers.

In 1889, to honor of the centenary of the French Revolution, the French government planned an international exposition and announced a design competition for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris. Out of more than 100 designs submitted, the Centennial Committee chose Eiffel’s plan of an open-lattice wrought-iron tower that would reach almost 1,000 feet above Paris and be the world’s tallest man-made structure. Eiffel, a noted bridge builder, was a master of metal construction and designed the framework of the Statue of Liberty that had recently been erected in New York Harbor.

Eiffel’s tower was greeted with skepticism from critics who argued that it would be structurally unsound, and indignation from others who thought it would be an eyesore in the heart of Paris. Unperturbed, Eiffel completed his great tower under budget in just two years. Only one worker lost his life during construction, which at the time was a remarkably low casualty number for a project of that magnitude. The light, airy structure was by all accounts a technological wonder and within a few decades came to be regarded as an architectural masterpiece.

The Eiffel Tower is 984 feet tall and consists of an iron framework supported on four masonry piers, from which rise four columns that unite to form a single vertical tower. Platforms, each with an observation deck, are at three levels. Elevators ascend the piers on a curve, and Eiffel contracted the Otis Elevator Company of the United States to design the tower’s famous glass-cage elevators.