Lessons on Tax Protests from a British Cousin

After the dust settled from the April 15 tea parties and before the inevitable ratcheting up for the July 4 protests, I thought I would ask a expert on tax protests how he viewed those hardy souls that ventured forth in the early spring to let their voices be heard all across the U.S.

Matthew Elliot is head of the Taxpayers' Alliance (TPA) in the UK. It's an organization that  has held politicians and bureaucrats to account over their over-zealous tax and spending habits. Elliot provided the following insights:

AID: Do you think your taxpayer rallies have any effect on the powers that be?

Mathew Elliot: Tax rallies are hugely important because they demonstrate grassroots support for the low tax cause. It's very easy for any campaign to set up an office in the capital, say that it represents millions of voters, and put a talking-head on TV, but actually getting people out on the ground  -- getting people to give up their time for a cause  -- is much more difficult and demonstrates real public support.

AID: Would you ever consider a mass movement on the same day in the UK, like the tea party movement in the U.S.?

Mathew Elliot: At the Taxpayers' Alliance, we typically hold action days to gather names on low tax petitions and we organize protests outside government buildings and local town halls. We have never held a mass rally, but we have held a rally in Trafalgar Square in London against rising council taxes, which attracted about 500 people, and we organized 4,000 bikers to descend on Westminster Council when they brought in a motor bike tax recently. The Countryside Alliance rally against the hunting ban of over a million people and the anti-Iraq War rally of several million people has really raised the bar. We'd have to be able to match those number to ensure a mass rally was a success.

AID: Do you have any advice for tea party planners in the U.S. based on the experience of the the Taxpayers' Alliance?

Mathew Elliot: The most important piece of advice I could give from our action days is to make events fun -- and the tea parties have followed this admirably. If people are going to give up their time to attend an event, they don't want to be surrounded by sour-faced protesters. They want to feel positive about their activism, so using humor to convey a serious message is essential.