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Poplar Rates Rebellion

The Poplar Rates Rebellion, or Poplar Rates Revolt was a tax protest that took place in Poplar, London in 1921. It was led by George Lansbury, the Labour Mayor of Poplar, with the support of the Borough Council, most of whom were industrial workers. The protest defied government, the courts, and their own Labour Party leadership.

Poplar was one of the poorest boroughs of London; there was no government support to alleviate the high unemployment, hunger, and poverty in the borough. The Government had levied taxes on the people of the borough, but wished to spend it elsewhere. The Borough Council collected the levies, but failed to remit to London the portion to be spent there, instead dispersing it to the needy in Poplar.

The Council defiantly replied to a summons to the High Court with a procession of 2,000 supporters from Bow led by the official mace-bearer, to the accompaniment of a band and a banner proclaiming, "Poplar Borough Council marching to the High Court and possibly to prison". Thirty councillors, including six women, one of whom was pregnant, were sent to prison for six weeks for "contempt" for refusing a court order to remit the monies. The men were put up in Brixton Prison, and the women in Holloway. The latter were taken by cab to Brixton where council meetings were held.

The revolt received wide public support. Lansbury addressed crowds that regularly gathered outside, through the prison bars. Neighbouring councils threatened to take similar action. Trade unions passed resolutions of support and collected funds for the councillors' families. "Poplarism" became a political term. Eventually the Court responded to public opinion and ordered the Councillors released, which occasioned a huge celebration in Poplar. Meanwhile, a bill, The London Authorities (Financial Provision) Act 1921, was rushed through Parliament more or less equalising tax burdens between rich and poor boroughs.

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