VAT fuels protest vote of elderly subversives

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AT THE words: 'The poll tax brought down a Prime Minister, this tax will bring down a Government. . .' a man at the back stood up and punched the air, writes Stephen Ward. He must have been 80, the epitome of respectability in a Viyella shirt, tweed jacket and deerstalker hat.

A pensioners' rally in London yesterday showed how the threat of VAT on fuel has mobilised some unlikely subversives. A nun had a sticker on her back pleading 'Hands off the State Pension, ' while George Maskell, 65, from Enfield, north London, declared: 'I voted for Maggie Thatcher and John Major but I have been betrayed. Major needs a good kick in the backside over this tax and next time it's the pensioners who will vote him out.'

Westminster Hall had the atmosphere of a miners' rally. Banners waved, placards were thrust in the air, speakers with industrial accents on the platform railed against the establishment. 'This country has too many millionaires, impose a wealth tax' (cheers); 'George Michael has pounds 35m' (more cheers); Lady Thatcher and her son Mark (huge cheers).

They had arrived 5,000 strong in coaches from across Britain, coordinated by the National Pensioners Convention and the charities Age Concern and Help the Aged. Few had any faith in the Chancellor's rebate scheme, still to be announced. Nor could they see any sense in setting up a bureaucracy to collect the tax then repay some of it.

(Photograph omitted)