LETTERS : Cherie Blair and the poll tax defaulter

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The Independent Online
Last week, our main front-page article reported that Cherie Blair, a barrister and the wife of the Labour leader Tony Blair, had acted in a series of cases for councils pursuing poll tax defaulters. In one case, she asked a judge to return a bail ed defaulter to jail. We also reported that she had given a conference paper on how to enforce the law, including the threat of prison, against defaulters. A leader explained our decision to publish the story.

In response, we received nearly 100 letters. A large majority of these said we were wrong to give the story such prominence. Below, we publish a selection.

YOU criticised Cherie Blair because as a barrister she prosecuted poll tax defaulters, implying that it is hypocritical for a Labour Party member to seek to prosecute, and indeed imprison, persistent defaulters.

If this is your argument then it applies equally well to the vast majority of Labour-controlled councils throughout Britain which decided, however reluctantly, to prosecute poll tax defaulters. As a former councillor and a deputy chair of Cardiff City Council's finance committee, I faced this difficult decision. Clearly I and the rest of the Labour group were united in our opposition to the tax but we also had the responsibility of safeguarding the services to our citizens, the jobs of our employees andthe financial solvency of our authority.

I took the view at the time that we could not risk the loss of revenue that large-scale non-payment would cause. We could not justify to the majority who did pay why they should pay an added increment to make up for the minority who did not. Therefore, reluctantly, we decided to minimise the damage to our revenues by actively prosecuting defaulters. This was an unpopular decision with some; the Militant tendency forced open my front door and presented me with a "bailiff's notice". I know many other coun cillors throughout Britain were faced with similar intimidation.

With the benefit of hindsight I believe that our decision in Cardiff in the late Eighties was right. Services and employment were protected unlike the financial chaos caused in some authorities who did not pursue poll tax defaulters. I took no pleasure in helping to ensure that poll tax collection rates were high, but I continue to believe I took a responsible decision that was the lesser of two evils.

Jon Owen Jones MP House of Commons London SW1