barry lewis winning election

GLORY DAYS: Barry Lewis and partner when he won election to Thanet Council in 1987

One of the most controversial characters on Thanet’s political scene is bidding to make a comeback 30 years after he was first elected.

Famous for his comic wit and outspoken outbursts in the council chamber the rebellious Barry Lewis was elected district councillor in Cliftonville, Margate, for the Labour Party in 1987.

Barry said he made a big impact.

“At that time politics in Thanet were very stuffy and formal.  I wanted to shake things up a bit, try to get people rethink their ideas – but do things with a smile. Sometimes even the opposition couldn’t help but laugh.”

Barry threw his energy into the political battles of the 1980s, taking a stand on things like AIDS, nursery education and low wages.

“I threw a competition to find out who was the Scrooge Employer of the Year to highlight how little some people were earning with a prize of an inscribed copy of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” for the winner,” Barry said.

“The Scrooge employer at that time was the council itself – paying some people as low as £1.50 an hour.”

Barry (nicknamed Bolshie Barry) has a scrapbook bulging with newspaper cuttings documenting his clashes with the political establishment of his day.

He faced criticism from his opponents for publicity seeking and doing “stunts”. Once a council committee voted to ban him from their meetings – but he fought the ban and won.

Barry said: “My idea was that I was there to represent my electors, residents of one of the poorest wards in the south east of England and that I should do everything I could to fight for their interests.”

But it was the row over the poll tax which Barry is now best remembered for. The poll tax, or community charge as it was officially called, was a new way of charging rates on homes brought in by Margaret Thatcher. Many saw it as unfair to poorer people and Barry put his neck on the line to oppose it.

Believing the local Labour members weren’t doing enough to oppose the tax, he resigned his seat and fought it as an independent candidate.

Barry said: “The idea was to make the poll tax an election issue, to give people a chance to show their feelings about it.”

Against all expectations Barry won the election.

“It was a brilliant victory,” said Barry, “and showed how strongly ordinary people felt about this disgusting tax.”

But Barry faced prosecution when he refused to pay the tax himself.

“I was taken to court and the magistrate told me I should pay up. I told him I had an electoral mandate to oppose the poll tax.”

Eventually, facing huge popular opposition, the Conservative government were forced to scrap the poll tax and many credit this as an important factor in Mrs Thatcher’s fall from power.

Barry believes the poll tax protests may have an important lesson for today.

“The poll tax was very unpopular,” he said. “But it also became a focus for people’s growing discontent with the Thatcher government. What might become a similar focus for discontent today?  My bet it will be the NHS.”

Barry is standing for Labour in the Margate division of Kent County Council Elections on Thursday 4 May.



One comment

  1. While it is absolutely correct to highlight Barry Lewis’s campaign against the poll tax in Margate in the early 1990s. It must be remembered that Barry’s actions were only a small cog in the multi-million non-payment campaign that brought down not only the poll tax, but Thatcher as well. The battle against the poll tax started in early 1988 by MILITANT supporters in Glasgow to defy the poll tax in Scotland by politically developing the strategy of Non-Payment of the Poll Tax and organisationally developing Anti-Poll Tax Unions to actively put forward the non-payment strategy and at the same time defend the working class against the Tory government’s law and order forces. The Tories implemented the Poll Tax in Scotland in April 1989 a full year before in England and Wales; out of that developed the SCOTTISH ANTI-POLL TAX FEDERATION and this became the bench mark on how to fight the Poll Tax through-out Britain and eventually developed into the ALL BRITAIN ANTI-POLL TAX FEDERATION.

    I, myself, was living in Ramsgate in that epoch and as a member of the MILITANT TENDENCY started campaigning and building, along with others, in early 1989 the structures of a Ramsgate, then all Thanet, Anti-Poll Tax Union; and I was jailed in May 1991 in Canterbury Prison for non-payment of the poll tax, and then suspended and eventually expelled from the Labour Party for my troubles, never to be readmitted until the Blairite entryists either are expelled or leave the Labour Party.

    The Poll Tax was defeated by the 18 million non-payers by March 1991 and the lessons of the battle against the poll tax are many, but what was critical was correct strategy and tactics. Mass non-payment, put forward by Militant was essential. But to build that required a serious level of organisation that could take on councils, courts and above all Thatcher and the government. Local anti-poll tax unions were the bedrock of our resistance. They gave people information, protection and above all the confidence to stand firm against the onslaught they faced.

    I wish Barry well in his election as a Labour Party Councillor; I am standing for the SCOTTISH TRADE UNIONIST AND SOCIALIST COALITION – STUSC – in a ward in East Lothian on the policy of the Scottish Government and SNP and Labour Councils stand up to the London Government and set LEGAL NO-CUTS BUDGETS and the return of the money stolen by the Tories since 2010 by building a mass campaign amongst the Scottish people. As far as I am, and STUSC – concerned capitalism means a future of continued cuts while the top 1% carry on getting richer. I stand for an independent socialist Scotland run in the interests of the majority, not the bankers or billionaires. I support the major companies and banks that dominate the economy to be brought into democratic public ownership, where production and services could be planned to meet the needs of all, while protecting the environment. I leave an article on how the 18 million non-payers destroyed Thatcher and the Poll Tax.

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