The Norfolk couple who challenged Margaret Thatcher over the poll tax

Margaret Thatcher PA Wire

Margaret Thatcher PA Wire - Credit: PA

Margaret Thatcher was given a forthright assessment of her plans for a poll tax at the height of its controversy by a Norfolk couple, newly released papers reveal.

A letter from Great Snoring couple Mr WE Jones and his wife - who were both in their 70s at the time - has been released by the National Archives.

The constituents of the late Conservative North Norfolk MP Sir Ralph Howell accused Mrs Thatcher of being uncaring as they would have been paying more then twice what they paid under the old rates system.

According to the BBC, the letter to the former Prime Minister says: 'You have taken advantage of your position to impose your will upon us to the point where you are now virtually a Dictator riding roughshod over anyone who opposes you,' he wrote on 3 March.'

A memo in the files reveals they lived in a house called Dream of Delight in Great Snoring.


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Mr Howell asked for a meeting and the Prime Minister's adviser Mark Lennox-Boyd suggested he should be granted an audience: 'The meeting will be a waste of time, but I am afraid she will have to do it to keep his frustration at bay,' the file reveals.

The records also reveal that Mrs Thatcher herself was threatened with a fine for failing to register for the poll tax.

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She was warned she would be in breach of the law unless she completed her registration form on time.

The embarrassing oversight - due in part to a bureaucratic wrangle between the Cabinet Office and Westminster City Council - was quickly rectified, but it marked an inauspicious start for a measure widely regarded as the biggest policy blunder of her 11 years in power - one which finally cost her the premiership.

What was the poll tax?

The poll tax - or community charge, as it was officially known - was brought in to replace the old system of rates, based on property values, with a flat-rate levy on all local residents.

Mrs Thatcher had hoped it would encourage voters to kick out high-spending Labour councils by making them financially more accountable to the electorate.

But as it became apparent that residents across the country - including in many traditional Tory areas - were facing huge increases in their bills as a result of the changes there was a furious political backlash, with a wave of protests.

The files show Mrs Thatcher appeared bewildered by the reaction. In March 1990 she told chancellor John Major that she had always assumed the public would blame councils for any rises.

'But in recent weeks that has not happened,' she lamented. 'Rather the general public blamed the high levels of community charge on the government because of their responsibility for introducing the new system.'

She acknowledged that with those on low incomes protected through various 'safety net' measures, it was the 'conscientious middle' - traditionally her strongest supporters - who were being hit hardest.

Despite ordering a 'rapid review' of possible changes for the following year, the political damage had been done.

On March 31 1990 - days before the tax was due to come into effect - a mass march through central London resulted in some of the worst rioting in the capital for decades.

Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Peter Imbert told the prime minister some of his officers 'came close to being murdered'.

It was Mrs Thatcher, however, who was fatally damaged politically and by the end of the year she was out of office.

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