The popular politics of the poll tax : an active citizenship of the left?
The Community Charge (poll tax) was seen by both its supporters and opponents alike as an attempt to promote the British New Right's concept of responsible active citizenship in local politics. The reaction of different groups of citizens to the tax is explored through a detailed case study of events in the London Borough of Ealing, an archetypal London suburb. Here, as in most urban areas, organised anti-poll tax protestors clashed with MPs, councillors and the local magistracy, who played a large role in enforcing the measure. It shows how the protestors attempted to mobilise a 'moral community' built around the idea of 'fair' taxation and promote a campaign of civil disobedience to force abolition. This in turn compelled local actors to make principled choices about the enforcement of a law of which many of them strongly disapproved. The protestors' tactics seemed to strike a popular chord and at least a fifth of all Ealing charge-payers (and eight million people nationally) failed to pay the tax in 1990/91. However, the detailed evidence also suggests that non-payment can best be seen as a mass expression of bloody mindedness, rather than a concerted and organised campaign of civil disobedience. Nevertheless the protests had important implications for the practise of left-wing citizenship in contemporary Britain and served to highlight growing divisions between the mainstream and radical Left. Previously published academic accounts have addressed the 'high' politics of the poll tax. The thesis explores instead the 'popular' politics of the poll tax crisis in a suitably local setting and so redresses an imbalance in the literature. It therefore makes an original contribution to knowledge and understanding of the relationship between conventional means of political participation, radical popular protest movements and competing concepts of citizenship.