Thatcher Blames Leftists for Tax Revolt Violence
LONDON (AP) _ Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Friday blamed leftist militants for violent protests of a new tax that has sparked a popular revolt, and the opposition leader said the demonstrators were playing into the government’s hands.
New violence broke out in the south London borough of Lambeth Friday night as councilors met to set the tax figure. Police guarding City Hall were splattered with cans of paint and six people were arrested.
Close by, in the borough’s Brixton district, a crowd halted traffic, overturned a police patrol car with a woman officer inside and threw rocks, bricks and paint at police officers. Police in visored helmets, carrying riot shields and batons, charged the crowd.
Later reports indicated the protests were breaking up.
Authorities in the east London borough of Hackney were cleaning up after Thursday night’s rampage by opponents of the tax, called the community charge by the Conservative government but popularly known as the poll tax.
The revolt is presenting Mrs. Thatcher with a serious political setback, and rumors circulated Friday that she would resign or be fired as Conservative leader.
″We are not at the peak of our popularity,″ said Sir Geoffrey Howe, deputy prime minister, in a radio interview. But he added, ″We have to keep our nerve.″
The crisis also is dividing the opposition Labor Party. Some Laborites are urging a campaign of civil disobedience against the tax, but leader Neil Kinnock said all opposition must be within the law.
Mrs. Thatcher blamed a leftist group known as Militant Tendency for the violence that left Hackney’s main street strewn with glass, and police have said the disturbances were caused by people from outside the boroughs.
″As you know, it is not the way to conduct affairs at all,″ the prime minister said in Glasgow, Scotland ″Any conduct intimidating or violent is absolutely contradictory to democracy.″
Police arrested about 60 people. They said 20 gave addresses outside the borough.
About 30 police officers were injured, and the extent of the damage was being assessed, police said.
The community charge replaces the system of taxing homeowners to pay for government services. Instead, municipal councils will now divide the costs of services equally among all adults in their districts.
Charges vary widely, depending on the level of services provided by a district. And since each adult is taxed, it means two people living in a two- room apartment would pay twice as much as one person living next door in an eight-room house.
Local legislators in the borough of Haringey met Friday to discuss their district’s tax, which at $974 is one of the highest in the country.
Both Mrs. Thatcher and Kinnock were in Scotland, which has had its own poll tax for the past year and an estimated half a million people are being prosecuted for failure to pay.
Kinnock told the Scottish Labor Party’s conference that a Labor government would abolish the poll tax and replace it with a tax based on property and the ability to pay. But he urged that opposition to it stay within the law.
He said demonstrators were helping the Conservatives’ cause by using violence to protest.
Mrs. Thatcher tried to dismiss rumors of worries within her government that the poll tax would make the Conservatives lose the next election.
″I find no nervousness in the Cabinet at all,″ she told the BBC.
The new tax takes effect April 1 in England and Wales.
Disabled people and those with low incomes can receive rebates of up to 80 percent. But critics say that apart from this, the new tax is unfair because it takes no account of an individual’s ability to pay.
In latest opinion polls, the Conservatives trail Labor by as much as 19 points.