Nutty—brown faces and well cut tweeds stage diffident rates protest
London has seen more volatile demonstrations that that staged yesterday by the ratepayers of Northamptonshire. But, as front runner, as it were, for the usually passive and silent middle segment of Britain, it did a thoroughly commendable job. The march by 350 representing every town and village in the county had all more impact for its very cordiality and diffidence.
Unhappily, and inevitably the marchers learnt that there could be no more money for hard-pressed ratepayers this year. They had an assurance from both political parties that the wheels were turning, at what speed it was impossible to discover, on rate reform and Mr Oakes, Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, said: “What I can do is to make sure that the formula for next year is infinitely better than the one for this year” .
Although they forcefully expressed the dismay and outrage expected of them at the 70 per cent to 100 per cent rate increases, not a cross word was exchanged during the demonstrators' four-hour stay in and around Westminster. Police officers who marched with them tended to discuss the prospects for runner beans this summer, and the mobile reserve following the amiable crocodile along Millbank might well have been followers of the Pytchley.
Demonstration dress was well-cut tweeds, club ties and Rotary badges sparkling in the lapel. Nutty-brown faces from the hamlets mixed with paler shades from the towns. A well-shod woman smoked a cheroot, and Miss Julia Kirby, aged 81, whose cottage rates have risen from £24 to £38 a year, sturdily sang: “Onward, Christian Soldiers” . Lord Althorp and Lady Hesketh from the county gentry marched with the small but potent force.
A petition of protest with more than 45,000 signatures was handed in at the Department of the Environment and earlier the county's MPs and leaders of both political parties on the county council went to Downing Street to hand in a joint letter. It spoke of the “extraordinary burdens” being imposed on the county's ratepayers, and requested additional government assistance “insupport of the unique contribution being made by the county in aid of national policies for the relocation of population and employment” .
Northamptonshire has four new and expanding towns at Daventry, Corby, Welling-borough and the county town, primarily for London and Birmingham overspill.
It was an unparalleled growth rate, the letter said, and was imposing heavy burdens on existing ratepayers
Mr Oakes told the marchers that he had much sympathy for the county, which had “an explosive rate of population growth” ; they could not be considered in isolation, but only with other areas in need. It was agreed that the existing rating system was archaic and “we are looking at it with urgent attention” .
At a mass meeting in a Commons committee room, Mrs. Thatcher, shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, said: “We all agree that the rating system is archaic, but what we are not agreed on is what you go on to from it.”