The 1979 Conservative Party election manifesto promised reforms to local tax laws in Great Britain. The resulting Community Charge legislation was due for implementation on 1 April 1990.
Despite vociferous opposition, prime minister Margaret Thatcher refused to back down on what became known as the ‘Poll Tax’.
On 31 March, around 200,000 protesters marched on Trafalgar Square in London, and in the late afternoon, as the rally was coming to an end, violence broke out in the crowds, initiating “the Battle of Trafalgar”.
The battle began in Whitehall as police in riot gear drew truncheons and charged at crowds that had streamed down from Trafalgar Square towards Downing Street. Mounted police were then called in and charged the crowds.
Protesters responded by showering police with placards, milk crates and traffic bollards. Several Portakabins were set on fire and a car showroom was smashed with rocks, torn up paving slabs and iron rods, and all the cars had their windows broken. Terrified theatregoers huddled in doorways.
Fighting spread to the streets of Soho as police snatch squads fought running battles with small bands of demonstrators in the streets around Cambridge Circus.
The ensuing riot was the largest civil disturbance seen in the British capital in the 20th century and resulted in thousands of injuries and massive damage to property – including the burning and looting of businesses and cars. More than 340 people were arrested.
This bitter message to the government was the first step in Thatcher‘s decline from power.