18 April 2013


I went to Trafalgar Square yesterday to watch the hearse go by and with the intention of speaking to journalists who would inevitably be looking for reaction from the crowd. There were no cheers in Trafalgar Square. The Telegraph and Mirror live blogs carried my comments (shown below) but only the Mirror in this morning's paper.

I take issue with the following phrase in the Bishops of London's address at the funeral yesterday; "Life is a struggle to make the right choices and to achieve liberation from dependence, whether material or psychological. This genuine independence is the essential pre-condition for living in an other-centred way, beyond ourselves. The word Margaret Thatcher used at St Lawrence Jewry was "interdependence" ".

Life is certainly a struggle for the people I have met for over 20 years. They have no money. They have no choice but to depend on the rest of us, beg, borrow or steal. None has fallen into the moral hazard of benefit dependency; they all prefer work. Because of laws enforcing the poll tax introduced by the Thatcher government, over 1000 vulnerable and impoverished benefit claimants, charged 20% of it, had no choice but to go to prison when they could not pay. Only to find that the decision of the magistrates was unlawful when challenged on judicial review. 1000s more suffered the indignity and stress of enforcement by bailiffs.

Now they cannot chose an affordable home because the Thatcher government deregulated lending, abolished rent controls and allowed the free flow on money in and out of the UK. No government to the present day has curbed the international free market in property in the UK forcing rents and prices of homes out of the range of families and individuals with the lowest to middle incomes, but to the immense profit of speculators and landlords.

Now councils tell homeless tenants which town to live in when any of the three current caps on housing benefit hit their inadequate incomes with rent arrears and eviction. It is too often a home with a leaky roof. Many councils are also hitting tenants with 8.5% to 30% of council tax. Prison or bailiffs remain possible for non payment.

Daily Telegraph live blog.

9.52am The Rev Paul Nicolson, a retired Anglican priest, was one of the first onlookers to gather at Trafalgar Square, Ed Malnick reports.

Arriving shortly before 9am, Nicolson said he felt it was the duty of priests to "grieve for both sides".

Mr Nicolson, 80, from Tottenham, north London, who founded a campaigning group called Taxpayers Against Poverty, said as a parish priest he dealt with people who "could not cope" with the poll tax in the 1990s. He said: "Clergy support grieving families. I am sure the clergy will have been looking after the Thatcher family - that is quite right too."

"But there is an awful lot of grief on the other side as a result of the policies to which she inspired and which many other people implemented. Under Tony Blair the Labour Party fell for it hook, line and sinker.

"I remember more than a thousand people being unlawfully imprisoned for not paying their tax and over the years there has been a great amount of grief created by arrears and bailiffs.

"It is all the fault of an extreme free market philosophy which treats as collateral damage the grief and pain it creates."

As a priest in Henley-on-Thames in the 1980s Mr Nicolson refused to pay poll tax, believing it was "unjust" for the poor.

"It caused a great stir and ultimately they got their tax through the Church Commissioners," he said.

Daily Mirror live blog.

Among those who gathered early to line the route was The Reverend Paul Nicolson, 80, founder of Taxpayers Against Poverty.

He remembers well the agony caused by the Poll Tax, and was one of many who refused to pay it.

He said: "It caused quite a stir in Henley-on-Thames. I know because I have been working for over 20 years with people who can't afford their council tax the grief that causes.

"I know the grief eviction causes. Over 1000 people were put into prison for non payment of poll tax. It was mostly mothers who suffered.

"They eventually took me to magistrates court and the church took it from my pay."

He added: "The clergy always support grieving families and of course her children are going through a very difficult time.

"But there is another side to the story. The poll tax was a gross injustice to the poor."