Published On: 8th March 2020

Thirty years ago the struggle against the hated poll tax was reaching its peak. It was the biggest civil-disobedience campaign of the twentieth century. 

In a normal year in the 1980s the number of cases (summonses) brought before the magistrates’ courts of England and Wales was about two million. Between April 1990 and September 1993 the number of cases of unwillingness, or inability, to pay the poll tax totalled an additional (and staggering!) 25 million.

It is estimated that up to 14 million people were involved in resisting the poll tax, with many receiving multiple summonses. That’s just under one-third of the entire adult population. The sheer volume of cases overwhelmed the legal system and the enforcement of the poll tax was made impossible. What had once been described as Margaret Thatcher’s ‘flagship’ policy was sunk. 

A new book, Couldn’t Pay, Wouldn’t Pay, Didn’t Pay, edited by Eric Segal, secretary of the South East Kent Trade Union Council, outlines the struggle against the poll tax in Kent. Eric was an organiser of the anti-poll tax struggle in Kent and was sent to prison as a result of his refusal to pay.

Our Paul Heron contributed a chapter to this book. His chapter, entitled How Labour councillors fails us and why they shouldn’t, makes links between the poll tax struggle and the contemporary political situation. Heron highlights the need for Labour councils to set a no-cuts needs budget and stop passing on cuts to working-class communities.

Copies of Couldn’t Pay, Wouldn’t Pay, Didn’t Pay can be ordered by e-mailing