Labour should remember the Poll Tax and the Peasants’ Revolt

Over the last two days we have been discussing the Finance Bill in the Commons. It has given me the opportunity to remind the government just how successful Ireland has been by setting low company tax rates. The Irish economy has grown much faster than the UK economy as a result, and has generated more tax revenue from the lower rates. Today we learn that more large companies are thinking of leaving the UK for a more favourable tax jurisdiction – they don’t have far to go given the Dublin offer.

It gave the chance to speak out for the motorist, highlighting the successive tax raids this government has launched against people driving to work, taking their children to school, and bringing heavy shopping back in the boot.

It allowed me to expose why so many people think green taxes are a scam, because the government does not always undertake proper carbon accounting, or decides to increase taxes that cannot have the desired impact on people’s behaviour. The decision to lift Vehicle Excise Duties on older cars is a good example of this.

During the course of the debates it also reminded me that Labour’s most successful campaign in opposition to the last Conservative government was surprisingly for them an anti tax campaign. Labour’s attack upon the Community Charge led to the removal of a Prime Minister, and the decision to abolish the tax. It meant I as Local Government Minister had to perform the last rites for the tax, and introduce the slightly less unpopular Council Tax.

It is instructive to look back at why this greatest Opposition campaign of the last thirty years worked. Labour decided early on to rename the tax the Poll Tax. In a rare foray into England’s rich and argumentative history, Labour at one fell swoop conjured images of the Poll Tax riots of the fourteenth century, and the injustice of taxing the poor that hazy memories might manage. The attack worked because the Poll Tax brought a lot of people into paying a local tax who up to that point had avoided it. Labour thought it was time for another Peasants’ revolt, time to unfurl the banners of 1381.

The Conservative government adopted the Poll Tax (against my advice) because opinion polling told them people said they would pay more for better services, and because some households had three or four earners but still only paid one lot of rates. Why not give them all a chance to contribute to local services which they said they valued? I never thought making so many more people pay tax would go down well, and for once Labour also thought a tax would be unpopular. They were right.

It is interesting that 18 years on from the great Poll Tax rows, the Labour government is so desperate to get its hands on more of our money that they are now taking more income tax from low earners,(poll tax on working) taking more VED and petrol tax from low income motorists (poll tax on wheels) and taking more Stamp duty from people trying to buy a home (poll tax on home).

One of the things we need to do to get the message across to the government that they are taxing too much is to change the names of the taxes. I would like your contributions so the taxes can be more accurately described. I have some proposals for starters:

Income Tax – Work Tax
Stamp Duty – Homes Tax
Petrol and diesel duty – Travel Tax
Congestion Charge – Poll tax on wheels
VAT – Shopping Tax
Capital Gains Tax – Enterprise Tax
Corporation Tax – Investment Tax
Climate Change Levy – UK industry Tax
Tax on interest and dividends – Savings Tax.

Click here to read the full text of John’s contributions to the Finance bill.


  1. Stuart Fairney
    April 30, 2008

    You may also wish to add

    Employers national insurance contributions ~ tax on jobs
    Employees national insurance contributions ~ tax enforced Ponzi scheme
    Insurance tax ~ tax on rational behaviour
    Alcohol duty ~ Fun tax

  2. David Hannah
    April 30, 2008

    Don’t forget; Inheritance Tax = Death Tax

  3. Alfred T Mahan
    April 30, 2008

    National Insurance – Jobs Tax

  4. Letters From A Tory
    April 30, 2008

    Impossible to disagree with your analysis. Labour are taxing anything that moves, talks or creates money.

  5. Tony Makara
    April 30, 2008

    The English, rather like their American cousins have a healthy dislike for taxation. Reading the article sent my mind spinning back to an old movie called 'The sword and the rose' in which king Henry VIII played brilliantly by James Robertson Justice is trying to raise revenue to pay for a wedding between Mary Tudor played by the delicious Glynis Johns and king Louis XII of France. The artfully loyal Duke of Buckingham played by Michael Gough is given charge of raising the money through a tax by Henry's decree, The good duke knowing the English attitude all too well replies by saying "Ask them to pay more…they will squeal like pigs!" To which Henry replies "If they object lock the blighters in the tower!"

  6. Martin C
    April 30, 2008

    Here's a few more:

    BBC License fee = Telly tax
    Paying fares on Bendy Buses = Honesty tax
    Insurance Premium tax = Prudence tax

  7. niconoclast
    April 30, 2008

    As petrol tax is 70% under Labour what would it be under yhe Conservatives.Please try and answer as you had some difficulty last time re corporation tax when I enquired.

    Reply: I do not know, as this has not yet been decided. Conservatives are probably two years away from government, electorate willing. My view is we need to cancel the next petrol tax increase, and reduce motoring taxes by the amount of the excess of revenue over budget from this source.

  8. Rose
    April 30, 2008

    And tax on singing together or just playing the piano – Live Entertainments Licenses

  9. Acorn
    April 30, 2008

    What was it that Reagan said?. If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidies it.

    The remaining taxes that HMRC admit to collecting:-

    Petroleum Revenue Tax – Substitute For More Fuel Duty Tax
    Tobacco Duty – Nasty Habit Tax
    Betting & Gaming Duty – I Have a Dream Tax
    Customs Duty – Should Have Holidayed in Britain Tax
    Air Passenger Duty – Substitute Aviation Fuel Tax
    Landfill Tax – Greenhouse Gas Tax
    Aggregates Tax – Building Buildings Tax


    BTW. Your comments in parliament yesterday – Finance Bill – concerning the Leaseholder buy-out stamp duty, were spot on. Only man can make life this complicated. It has been a problem for years; it involves parts of previous Acts that were never enacted because they would not work; and, nobody knows how to fix it.

  10. Donitz
    April 30, 2008

    My particular favourite is Employers NI contribution.

    As mentioned above, its an "Employment Tax".
    Lets tax people that create jobs!!!

    Other suggestions:

    National Lottery – Benefit Claimant Tax

  11. APL
    April 30, 2008

    Capital gains tax – success tax
    Tax on savings interest – dare I say it, a prudence tax

    Fuel excise tax – economic activity tax
    VAT on fuel excise tax – tax on tax tax

  12. Cliff
    April 30, 2008

    The other "tax" many forget about is the use of the criminal justice system to raise tax, although they call them fines or penalties. The victim surcharge comes to mind. The number of new offences under this government, each with a fine attached of course, has rocketed.
    Quangos and agencies, each with the power to issue fines, add to the "tax" burden as business pass these fines on to customers.
    The TV license, getting people to fund a government biased broadcaster.
    The government effectively forcing companies to take on what one considers to be the government's job. I think of the new money laundering legislation and the extra responsibilities put on banks, employers, accountants etc etc in relation to checking identities as examples. The government has clearly forced business to take on many of the duties one expects the state to perform. All these extra costs will have to be paid for and business will eventually pass them on to customers.

  13. Derek W. Buxton
    April 30, 2008

    One word sums up most of the taxes, especially the recent ones, THEFT.
    One point on the "poll tax", this in fact made sense because, as now, councils had become rapacious and the rates had become untenable. You lost the fight, one that you should have won, because the local council aided by Labour and the BBC cheated. The idea was correct, many more people paying so smaller take per person, but that did not happen. The Councils cheated and increased the payment to almost the same per person as the previous amount for the house. The socialist propaganda machine, the BBC was in full flow and then councils did not attempt to get the money of the "refusenicks" so we all had to pay more. No politician to my knowledge ever attacked what was clearly happening so now we get another bad system, but guess what, now you go straight to jail if you do not pay. That is "socialism" writ large, but again no politician will fight.
    That is why I am not, regretably, able to vote for your party, well that and the deafening silence on the EU.

  14. David Hannah
    April 30, 2008

    Cliff, you’re right about the penalties aspect. Surely one of the biggest tax increases has been the increased abundance of speed, nay, safety cameras. Where I live in Ayrshire, my local council constructed a network of average speed cameras at a substantial cost. Due to their nature, these SPECS cameras enforce a far greater level of speed-limit compliance. Dismayed by the lack of revenue this investment generated (literally earning a handful of fines), the council further reduced the speed limit to 50mph (on a four-lane duel carriageway) for no apparent reason (although I think we know the real reason).

    This has resulted in many motorists choosing to leave the carriageway (myself included) at the new limit zone, and instead diverting through the adjacent country roads and villages at a higher speed. Never mind though; it’s all for road safety don’t-yer-know! What makes this worse though is that we have a Conservative Council!

    So there we have it. Speed cameras – the journey-time tax!

  15. Sacerdote
    April 30, 2008

    National Lottery – Stupidity tax
    Speed Cameras – Long Distance Tax (because it's only people who don't know the area who get caught by them).

  16. mikestallard
    April 30, 2008

    I am a teacher at two weekly classes where, for free, we teach anyone who cares to turn up. At the moment, we have about 5 volunteer teachers and we get somewhere in the region of 20 students. We also have a lady who gives out free cups of tea. The church picks up the bill.
    BUT last week a girl of 9 years old came along with her Aunt. So we are all now faced with CRB checks.
    What do you call that tax?
    Also, we have people who visit housebound people's homes with the sacrament. They, too, are potential abusers, apparently. So they all have to have a CRB check too. When this was announced in Mass, somebody at the back shouted "Shame!"
    What do you call that tax?
    How about a slander tax?

    PS I really admire the way you speak the truth in parliament from a real business experience. I am just wondering what businesses Mr Brown and his coterie have ever run – between them.

  17. Mr Leatherhead
    April 30, 2008

    One hidden tax which is increasingly being used by Nu Labour is to levy fines on tax funded Public Sector organisations for missing targets or, for cock ups.

    This is clearly a Recycling (of tax) Tax

  18. John of Enfield
    April 30, 2008

    Tax Credits. Your-own-money-back tax.

    PFI. The off-balance-sheet tax. A tax all the same.

    Public Sector Final Salary Pensions. A tax on our grandchildren's children.

    Inheritance Tax – A tax-on-what's-left-after-all-the-other-taxes tax.

  19. Steven_L
    April 30, 2008

    Tobacco Duty = Too lazy to get on a plane, train or boat tax
    BBC Licence fee = Jonathon Ross tax
    Congestion charge fine = forgetful tax

  20. Thortung
    May 1, 2008

    Assuming the stated "justification" for high fuel taxes is to encourage limited usage, income tax must also surely be designed to discourage working or striving for a higher income.

  21. Donitz
    May 1, 2008

    Mikestallard, I read your post and was to say the least moved by the goodwill and action that you and your colleagues have taken to improve others lives.

    Do not let Government prevent this.

  22. Stuart Fairney
    May 1, 2008

    Sacerdote ~ I have never seen a better definition of the national lottery than yours

  23. Rose
    May 1, 2008

    A couple more for your consideration:
    VAT on all building works – "Church repairs tax"; "Home repairs tax"; "historic building repairs tax", "office/shop repairs tax", etc.
    All expensive and time-consuming PC rules for charities – risk assessment, police checks, equalities legislation, etc. etc. – i.e. tax on all charitable activities, or "Altruism Tax".

  24. Stuart Fairney
    May 1, 2008

    One more that occurs to me

    Uniform Business Rate ~ shift the money up North tax to give to our friends on the fig-leaf justification of a horribly out of date formulation by a minister from the 1974 (!) Labour government.

  25. niconoclast
    May 1, 2008

    People need to know the tax policies of the opposition NOW -not two weeks before an election! Parties are like brands, we need to be familiar with what they stand for from the get go.Anything else is pure cynicism.

    'I don't know what our tax policies are, we haven't decided ' is frankly a risible and pathetic response. What's so difficult about telling us what level you think corporation tax in the UKshould be? Businesses are fleeing abroad to escape as a result of the swingeing tax.And petrol tax is 70%,robbing the poor and the useless tories don't have a clue what they would do about it. Mind blowing…

  26. Bazman
    May 1, 2008

    Should have been called 'pool tax'. A tax for not having a swimming pool.

  27. Rose
    May 6, 2008

    Stuart, I thought the uniform business rate came in in the 80s to stop councils like Lambeth bleeding busines to death – or just driving it out. No doubt our cyber-tutor will tell us.

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