Opinion: In favour of allowing prisoners the vote

The current debate about allowing prisoners the right to vote seems very one sided. Most media coverage gives the impression that a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights is forcing the UK government to do something deeply unreasonable, and alternates between bashing the court’s ruling (or occasionally the whole idea of Human Rights itself) and bashing the government for giving in to it. Even Ken Clarke, who advocates giving many prisoners the vote, does so only
on the basis that it’s more palatable than paying them lots of compensation.

But even though the thought of letting prisoners vote makes David Cameron feel sick, it’s worth thinking about whether the ruling is all that unreasonable in the first place.

The European Court found that the blanket ban on prisoners voting breached its rules about free and fair elections. Is this a bad decision? I don’t think so. It certainly offers some protection against any government which might be tempted to imprison large numbers of people who would vote against it. Similarly, there are presumably people in prison who were convicted of things they don’t even recognise as a crime. Their fault for not following the rules, perhaps, but one person’s criminal is another person’s political prisoner, and currently those in prison for breaking our laws are denied their chance to influence what those laws should be.

It would be much clearer that justice was being done if the MPs who make our laws were elected by everyone, rather than just by those who abide by the existing laws. (And let’s remember that even if prisoners were allowed to vote, almost every crime on our statute books would remain a crime, and those prisoners would remain in prison.)

Of course, in this country the numbers of people in prison are too small to affect most elections- the numbers average out at a few hundred per constituency. It’s also far from clear that a high
proportion of prisoners would actually exercise their right to vote, although it might be a good thing if many of the young men currently serving short prison sentences could be encouraged to take an interest in voting.

So the practical consequences of this debate are very limited indeed, making this mostly an issue of principle. And I think it is clear that Liberal Democrats should support the “liberal” and “democratic” option, which is to allow all prisoners the right to vote.

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36 Comments

  • “I don’t think so. It certainly offers some protection against any government which might be tempted to imprison large numbers of people who would vote against it. ”

    Hardly, seeing as such a government could simply disenfranchise prisoners again.

  • Spot on. And even so, the idea that the ECHR can be branded ‘undemocratic’ for insisting that people have a vote is a little absurd.

    The two starting points of any democratic constitution must be that capital punishment is absolutely prohibited, and that no group in society has the right to remove any individual’s vote (this second requirement interestingly implies the first).

  • @richard, yes, but it does at least make it harder.

    Of course the most interesting example would be if I had refused an ID Card, and refused to pay the fine for not having one, would I have had my vote taken away if I had ended up in prison?

    (I’m not suggesting I would have been, but as an extension of the previous Government’s behaviour, the protection of the vote is clearly paramount in this example.)

  • Yes – but the problem with the European Court is that it has seen a real overspill and has accrued power in a centralised way that one would have assumed Lib Dems would not like. Originally this was a court for the most fundamental violations of justice. Now it is treated almost as a natural court of last resort and almost every aspect of law and politics has to be run by the court.

    Human rights were MEANT to be subject to political debate: whoever has the power to define what a fundamental right is to mean in practice has the power to impose his political views on others. Those who say that this court is unelected and unrestrained have a point. Those who say it turns a tin-ear to democracy are not wrong.

    Indeed, when it comes to prisoner votes, this argument might make more sense if there was evidence that there was a wilful strategy of imprisoning people and these people were going to court claiming to be political prisoners – they are not. It is a good illustration of the reachy nature of human rights cases that so many find infuriating.

  • Sorry, but I totally disagree with this article. Prisoners, by definition, are deprived of their liberty, therefore I see no reason why they should not be deprived of their vote as well. It is part and parcel of the penalty that they must endure for breaking the democratically created laws of the land. It is absurd to suggest that one form of deprivation is a violation of their ‘human rights’ (an entirely artificial and arbitrary concept) whereas the other form of deprivation is not.

    Personally, I am thoroughly fed up by the manner in which a handful of unelected and unaccountable judges at the European Court of Human Rights is repeatedly overturning the decisions made by a far greater number of elected and accountable members of the House of Commons. It is fundamentally anti-democratic that the opinions of the former should be allowed to veto the opinions of the latter (and the opinions of the majority of the British public).

    I hope that the Commons votes against giving the vote to prisoners and that it unequivocally states that no ‘compensation’ will be paid to any prisoners, ever. Our MPs should tell the ECHR that any demands it makes for the UK government (taxpayers) to pay compensation will be totally ignored.

  • Good post. The key reason to allow prisoners to vote is that otherwise creating laws that hit your political opponents’ supporters can become a temptation. E.g. in the USA, where punitive drug laws pushed by the right leave millions of obviously Democrat leaning votes in jail for long periods of time.

  • “The two starting points of any democratic constitution must be that capital punishment is absolutely prohibited, and that no group in society has the right to remove any individual’s vote (this second requirement interestingly implies the first).”

    Says who? Just because you happen to disagree with capital punishment and limiting the franchise for prisoners it doesn’t mean all other countries should be subjected to your will.

    There’s nothing in America’s Bill of Rights that says anything about votes for prisoners, when the ECHR was set up nobody was thinking about votes for prisoners, it is not a fundamental human right (such as freedom of speech) as is shown by significant public opposition. It is a political matter that should be decided by a vote in Parliament. For decades now the UK has not given votes to prisoners and there has not been an international outcry (as there would be if, for example, we began locking up people for their religious beliefs).

  • The current situation is absurd. Someone sentenced today who serves three months will be deprived of a vote in the AV referendum and, possibly, local elections. Had they been sentenced last week, they would be out in time to vote. Therefore, it deprives some people of the vote on an arbitrary basis dependent on when they are sentenced.

    Other European countries give at least some prisoners the vote and we should do the same.

  • @Richard, interesting point. I wasn’t necessarily suggesting that as a basis of international relations. I was merely expressing my view which I would seek to promote both within the UK and globally. The moment someone starts being denied either of those, I begin to have concerns about that state/individual. In answer to the specific question ‘says who’ – says me. And please feel free to provide reasons for disagreement.

    Surely as ‘liberal’ we should feel that the powers of the state/business/other-individuals must hit some buffers when up against our own liberty – whether by democratic popularity or not? For me ‘life’ and the ability to have a say in the laws that govern you should be inalienable by another source of power than your own.

  • “Sorry, but I totally disagree with this article. Prisoners, by definition, are deprived of their liberty, therefore I see no reason why they should not be deprived of their vote as well.”

    Should they also be deprived of their right not to be tortured or killed as well? If not, why not? There is a clear justification for depriving prisoners of their right to liberty, namely to protect the rights of others. If you want to go further than that then the onus is on you to articulate some principle on which to distinguish between the rights that prisoners retain and those that they lose. Presuming, of course, that you are not in favour of torturing people for not paying their TV license.

    “it is not a fundamental human right (such as freedom of speech) as is shown by significant public opposition.”
    Whether something is a fundamental human right or not is decided by reason not by opinion poll.

  • MacK (Labour) 8th Feb '11 - 1:55pm

    @Malcolm Wood

    “The European Court found that the blanket ban on prisoners voting breached its rules about free and fair elections. . . . It would be much clearer that justice was being done if the MPs who make our laws were elected by everyone, rather than just by those who abide by the existing laws.”

    But MPs are never elected by everyone and we still enjoy free and fair elections. A large proportion of the electorate for whatever reason do not vote. Are you suggesting that everyone be forced to vote including prisoners? Just so that prisoners can vote? Typical Liberal pollyanna madness, the implications of which would not go unnoticed by the public who would undoubtedly punish you for it at the ballot box. By committing crimes criminals show that they have removed themselves from the democratic process which creates the law and from the application of the law itself. Why should they then be allowed to participate in the law making process when they are clearly outside it?

    Follow the European Court’s ludicrous judgement on prisoners voting rights to its logical conclusion and one must conclude that taking away a prisoner’s rights or liberties under any circumstances is a contravention of his or her human rights and therefore no one should ever be jailed under any circumstances no matter what appalling crime they may have committed. When you commit crimes you should forfeit your rights and liberties otherwise it is not a punishment. As they say in the East End where I used to come from: ‘If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime!” Only our parliament and our supreme court should be allowed to adjudicate on such issues, not some foreign court. The Tory dominated coalition should stand up to this challenge to our sovereignty. The cons must be laughing their heads off!

  • We need to decide as a nation what we want to achieve with prison. I would guess that a lot of people are in the ‘Lock them up and throw away the key’ camp. Personally I want to see a much more ‘Rehabilitation’ centred approach, we do neither well and the public at large do not have faith in the penal system and are therefore automatically against giving any prisoner the vote.

    We send far too many people to prison for offences that can and should be dealt with by local communities in the local communities, especially young people. We need to ensure those sent to prison serve a longer proportion of their sentence. A fair criticism is that sentencing for some crimes particularly violent crime is to short and that’s before parole shortens the sentence further. And we must invest in rehabilitation then when re-offending levels drop the general public may take a more liberal and sensible view of the penal system as a whole.

    Surely giving prisoners the vote can only have a positive effect on getting them to take some interest in the society they have offended against. Who knows introducing politics may assist their rehabilitation and their ability to desist from re-offending once released.

    I believe we need to think differently, more ‘Liberally’. The status quo will not suffice!

  • @MacK ‘Are you suggesting that everyone be forced to vote including prisoners? Just so that prisoners can vote?’ I don’t think anyone was suggesting that. It is about the possibility of voting. So that point is a false criticism.

    ‘its logical conclusion and one must conclude that taking away a prisoner’s rights or liberties under any circumstances is a contravention of his or her human rights’ – this is also not accurate. You might take it as inferred (I do not), but it is certainly not ‘logical’ as a conclusion.

    When you commit a crime in a democratic society you do not find yourself ‘outside’ that democracy as you suggest so much as being punished ‘inside’ it and, in the words for which much blood was spilt in the 1640s:

    ‘Obedience to laws can only justly be enforced on the certainty that those who are called on to obey them have had, either personally or by their representatives, a power to enact, amend or repeal them.’

    That is a sentiment which the Labour movement was founded on and essentially what it means is that no Tory, Labour, Liberal, BNP, Facsist etc… government can ever take your vote away eg by introducing ID Cards or making homosexuality illegal, or making cannabis use illegal – except that at the moment they can.

  • Peter Ellis 8th Feb '11 - 3:08pm

    Sorry, but I totally disagree with this article. Prisoners, by definition, are deprived of their liberty, therefore I see no reason why they should not be deprived of their vote as well.

    Consider three prisoners: Alan, Bernadette and Chris. All three were found guilty of identical crimes, let’s say petty theft / shoplifting, and sentenced to three months in jail. Alan served his sentence starting on 1/1/2010, Bernadette served hers starting on 1/6/2010 and Chris served his starting on 1/3/2010. Three identical prisoners, three identical crimes, three identical sentences: yet Chris lost his general election vote and the other two didn’t. Meanwhile Derek, who went to prison for three years starting 1/1/2007 for an unprovoked knife assault, kept his vote.

    There is no defensible rationale for witholding the vote from those serving short sentences that simply happen to overlap an election date: it is an unjust dual punishment – which is actually illegal if I understand it correctly. For those serving longer sentences (e.g. where they’ll be inside for the complete duration of a given Parliament) it is more arguable.

  • Malcolm Wood 8th Feb '11 - 3:22pm

    Peter, nice example. It’s certainly true that the current law has major flaws, even if you don’t object to its basic principle (as outlined in this article from the Economist). Perhaps allowing those on short sentences to vote would be more palatable than allowing all prisoners, but it wouldn’t satisfy the condition about letting everyone influence what the laws should be, which is also what Henry described as the “starting point of any democratic constitution” in the second comment above.

  • This is a complete non-argument – the simple fact is that you gave up your right to vote the moment you made a decision to commit a crime – and as far as I am aware its always been this way… and also as far as I am aware has never been a major political point for discussion, and is only relevant now because the Eurocrats have decided… as for short sentances – a crime is a crime, and if you really were that bothered by your right to vote, maybe you should choose when in the election cycle to commit your crime more carefully.

    we’ll be discussing prisoners rights to a pocket sprung matress and Sky TV next….

  • Andrew Suffield 8th Feb '11 - 9:32pm

    Perhaps allowing those on short sentences to vote would be more palatable than allowing all prisoners

    And that would be where the “under 4 year sentences” thing comes from. It’s roughly the interval between elections (of course, it should be 5 now).

    it is not a fundamental human right (such as freedom of speech) as is shown by significant public opposition. […] For decades now the UK has not given votes to prisoners and there has not been an international outcry (as there would be if, for example, we began locking up people for their religious beliefs).

    The lack of comprehension of the history of human rights betrayed by this statement is staggering.

    For absolutely every one of them, it is true that for decades before its introduction, it was routinely violated with no international outcry. For every one of them, it is true that there was significant public opposition to its introduction. They had a war in the US over whether the right to freedom from slavery should be introduced – that’s clearly significant public opposition, so are you claiming that this is not a fundamental human right?

  • Lee_Thacker 8th Feb '11 - 9:33pm

    I remember the Liberal Democrats getting a lot of criticism in the 2005 election for the policy of allowing prisoners to vote. We went quiet on it in 2010, but as far as I know it is still policy.

    It is a shame Nick Clegg did not proudly announce it as another victory that came about as a result of the Liberal Democrats being in government!

  • Paul Kennedy 9th Feb '11 - 12:18am

    Terry et al, the reason the Lib Dems support international organisations and treaties like the UN, the EU and the ECHR (and most of the Tories don’t) is that we recognise that:
    (a) we don’t live in a perfect democracy – hence our reform agenda;
    (b) we don’t have free and fair elections – cf the excessive influence of money (Ashcroft, Goldsmith), lies about opponents (Woolas, Murdoch and most of the right-wing press), inadequate staff at polling stations so that thousands of voters were excluded when the polling stations closed at 10pm, and the lax controls over identity fraud which so shocked Commonwealth observers at the last election; and
    (c) above all we need protection from our own government.

    One only needs to think of the last Blair-Brown Government, which lacked any democratic mandate (a “landslide” majority with just 35% of the vote), and was thoroughly incompetent (the banking crisis and military deployment in Afghanistan), corrupt (MPs’ expenses and cash-for-peerages), and illiberal (28-day detention without charge). It’s not a big step to imagine such a Government inventing a law to deprive a particular group (bankers or non-doms for example) of their vote, just as Thatcher did with poll tax protesters.

    I can understand many people feel it is right to deprive criminals of their vote, as a form of punishment or righteous indignation. But for most prisoners being deprived of their vote is hardly a punishment, just as prison itself is often not a punishment but simply an enforcement or security mechanism, or in some cases a roof over their head. There is a lot of arbitrariness already about whether people are in prison or not, and we need to be very careful before we allow the police, the Government or even Parliament to decide who can and cannot vote. Isn’t that right, Mr Mugabe?

    As currently constituted, the sovereignty of Parliament is a dangerous conceit. It’s about time arrogant MPs (and appointed Lords) recognised that our Parliament isn’t sovereign, we are. Our judicial system may not be perfect, but thanks to the ECHR we can trust our judges far more than we can trust our rotten Parliament.

  • “I’m confused by what you’re arguing. Are you saying that voting is not a fundamental human right?”

    Personally I don’t think it is. Britain was a free country before it became a democracy. There is no mention of a right to vote in the American Bill of Rights. That said I accept my view is probably a minority one.

    Even if the right to vote is a human right we have denied prisoners this human right for decades (with the support of public opinion) which suggests that there is no consensus on the matter. While human rights and their limitation do not necessarily depend on public opinion there needs to be some form of consensus in certain quarters to agree the nature and extent of human rights in the first place. After all, how was it originally decided that freedom of belief should be a human right? Whether we like it or not it seems even the majority of our political leaders don’t think that denying prisoners the vote is a denial of human rights, or at least an unacceptable denial. People have gone to war to fight for freedom of speech but I don’t recall anybody manning the barricades for votes for prisoners. It’s a relatively modern right which appears to have been invented by a minority and has little historical pedigree. When the ECHR was drawn up does anybody honestly think that the majority of drafters were thinking of votes for prisoners?

  • @Richard, again, interesting points.

    But I am not sure I agree that ‘Britain was a free country before it became a democracy.’ It may have been free for some, but many dis-enfranchised were not free (cf Mill, Blake, Dickens et al).

    There may be ‘no mention of a right to vote in the American Bill of Rights’ but this is not a perfect document. After all, segregation and slavery continued under it, and this was despite the cry of ‘no taxation without representation’ being something of a battle cry during that revolution (cf Paine).

    I think in order for your freedom to be in any way restricted by another power (state, colonial power, business, person) you must – in a sense of legitimacy (cf John Lilburn) rather than equality of power (cf Ronald Dworkin) – have had the chance to ‘enact, amend or repeal’ those powers through democratic means (cf William Lovett).

  • MacK (Labour) 9th Feb '11 - 2:48pm

    • Henry
    Posted 8th February 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
    “@MacK ‘Are you suggesting that everyone be forced to vote including prisoners? Just so that prisoners can vote?’ I don’t think anyone was suggesting that. It is about the possibility of voting. So that point is a false criticism.”

    No, not a false criticism. Here, I was simply trying to present the reductio ad absurdum case against the notion that free and fair elections are invalidated just because criminals do not have the vote. Was the whole general election in 2010 invalidated just because of what happened at Oldham and Saddleworth, for example?

    “‘its logical conclusion and one must conclude that taking away a prisoner’s rights or liberties under any circumstances is a contravention of his or her human rights’ – this is also not accurate. You might take it as inferred (I do not), but it is certainly not ‘logical’ as a conclusion.”

    Let me try to explain the logic. Although the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) enshrines Liberty as an absolute right, it allows for it to be suspended in fulfilment of a prison sentence. However, giving prisoners the right to vote would be the thin end of the wedge. They could then use this right as a basis for demanding the restoration of many other rights all of which are presently diminished or completely removed by a prison sentence: i.e., the right to a private and family life; the right to receive and impart information and ideas freely; (do you want terrorist prisoners doing that?) the right to free association; the right to form prisoners’ trade unions; the right to establish a family, (i.e. have sexual intercourse in gaol) the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions; the right not to engage in forced labour as a punishment because it is slavery. If, on the basis of being allowed to vote in prison, prisoners were then able to reclaim all the rights I have mentioned, and others, the use of prison as a punishment would be completely discredited. What would be the point of sending criminals there if they enjoyed the same rights as they did in society? No, giving prisoners the vote will, I say again, be the thin end of the wedge.

    “When you commit a crime in a democratic society you do not find yourself ‘outside’ that democracy as you suggest so much as being punished ‘inside’ it and, in the words for which much blood was spilt in the 1640s:
    ‘Obedience to laws can only justly be enforced on the certainty that those who are called on to obey them have had, either personally or by their representatives, a power to enact, amend or repeal them.’”

    You sem to be suggesting here that because rapists, murderers and paedophiles etc who are currently prisoners do not have the right to remove their crimes from the statute book they should have the right to vote. Bizarre. Everyone makes a contract in a democratic society to uphold the law. Break that contract and you are no longer a party to society’s contract and can be said, for certain purposes) to be outside it. The victims of crime have rights too and have had them removed or abused by criminals —- victims of burglary have the lost the right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions, for example. Therefore, criminals must proportionately expect to receive as punishment a diminution or removal of their low level personal rights, i.e. the right to vote; but obviously should retain higher order rights such as the right not to be tortured or abused or killed in prison. One further thought, the victims of murderers were denied their right to vote for eternity: why should their killers have the right to vote from gaol?

  • @MacK

    You may be right with your first point because Malcolm says ‘were elected by everyone’ rather than ‘were able to be elected by everyone’ or some variation on the understanding of ‘elected’ – namely, that by being able to vote but choosing to abstain you are still ‘electing’ in some sense. So as a reductio argument, a minor adjustment to the wording (which I think anything but the harshest of readings would have supported as an interpretation) handles your objection which is then no longer relevant. Clearly the suggestion is not that everyone should be forced to vote, but rather be able to choose to a) vote for X, b) vote for Y, c) etc… or d) abstain or not vote.

    On you second point, you refer to the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and therefore by definition accept that it is inductive or inference rather than deductive logic. So it is not a necessary conclusion (hence my point about ‘logic’).

    Moving on to your more substantive argument on the second point, you refer to the panoply of rights, and the question here is whether or not you think some should be inalienable or not (the ECHR’s view is not at stake here as they may well be wrong). My view concerns the right to vote as inalienable precisely because if we make it ‘alienable’ by democratic vote [on the laws which are determined by our democratic parliament] we risk opening ourselves up to eg losing your vote for protesting against a Government, or refusing to take an ID Card etc… I am not happy giving that power to a majority or a Government or anyone. I think this is the thin end of the wedge we should be concerned about. [Though of course such a wedge could be perceived as going in both directions!]

    To your final point, I would first say that those are not my words but the words of a founder chartist and the forerunner of the Labour movement.

    So finally, the purpose behind those words is that given that some laws can be so restrictive as to stop many others from voting without good reason, and given that even those who perhaps deserve to lose many other rights may have been wronged by the justice system which the democracy they are within maintains, they must be able to continue to be part of that society and affect its process.

    What it boils down to is the humility of a philosophy in being willing – or not – to take away that power from someone else [regardless of what we think they have done]. As a liberal, I do not feel happy deciding whether or not you should or should not have the vote, even if the majority agree with me, and even if a majority jury has convicted you of a crime, determined by a parliament, determined by a voter.

  • MacK (Labour) 9th Feb '11 - 6:09pm

    @ Henry

    “On you second point, you refer to the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and therefore by definition accept that it is inductive or inference rather than deductive logic. So it is not a necessary conclusion (hence my point about ‘logic’).”

    I accept that I was using words colloquially and not as precisely as I might, say, in a philosophy seminar, but surely you are not suggesting that a priori reasoning doesn’t employ logic? Or are you suggesting that I should have used the word ‘deduction’ rather than “conclusion” or that it was not a foregone conclusion?

    More importantly:

    ” … we risk opening ourselves up to eg losing your vote for protesting against a Government, or refusing to take an ID Card etc… ”

    Here, I concede that there may be a case for allowing prisoners to apply for political prisoner status where they can prove that they are being imprisoned for a stongly felt principle. However, I would suggest that very few prisoners would fall into this category. It would also produce enormous practical difficulties in terms of evidence.How, for example would a judge or jury decide whether the act of breaking a window during a demonstration was a political act or a criminal act? And there would still be the problem of resolving the issues arising from the fact that, despite morally compelling reasons, the offender would still have broken his or her contract with democratic society and its laws and therefore, having rejected society’s systems and institutions, did not deserve to be able to vote in prison.

  • MacK (Labour) 9th Feb '11 - 6:15pm

    @ Henry

    Ah, I think you are saying that I am confusing a priori reasoning with a posteriori reasoning!

  • @MacK – Correct, and well spotted on the philosophical angle 🙂

    On your broader point… I am uneasy about the notion of having to ‘apply’ for political prisoner status or requesting it from anyone. The only movement I would be prepared to make is on murder and electoral fraud [‘the punishment fits the crime’] but even this is vulnerable to laws made surrounding Jury selection, process, appeals etc… so for safety’s sake I think I’ll stick to life and a vote being the protections in a constitution. I suspect this is the nub of the disagreement though, and we may have to agree to disagree…

  • MacK (Labour) 9th Feb '11 - 7:44pm

    One further point: if all rights are inalienable, sanctions involving the removal of rights are not permissible. That is plainly absurd and would mean that criminals could never be punished. Surely, therefore rights have to be determined alienable or inalienable from the outset by our parliament and this would prevent the thin end of the wedge I described. I, for one, would like to see the right to vote as an alienable right, and you would like to see it as an inalienable right. There’s our difference

  • Spot on!

  • Malcolm Wood 10th Feb '11 - 9:12am

    Thanks for all the comments. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that at least some people agree with me on this issue, so it’s a shame that I still haven’t heard any politician say anything in support of it. And it sounds like parliament will vote against following the ECHR ruling today, which is also a shame, especially when a good compromise would simply be to make it explicit in law that the punishment for certain serious crimes (murder, rape and electoral fraud, perhaps?) includes the loss of the right to vote, but that for other crimes it does not.

  • Paul McKeown 11th Feb '11 - 6:42pm

    Malcolm,

    There is indeed a principled case to be made for allowing prisoners the vote and there are strong utilitarian reasons for doing so, too, as well as the pragmatic reason of avoiding a breach with the European Court of Human Rights, which could ultimately cost even more in lost moral authority than in mere financial terms.

    In fact I was pleased to hear of John Prescott pointing out Jack Straw’s opportunism in chasing the tabloid vote and inconsistency in having enacted the European Convention in British statute whilst in office, yet opposing its practical application thereafter.

    The recent debate in the HoC showed that there are voices in Parliament prepared to stand for principle in the face of a stoked up populist outrage. Speeches from such diverse characters as Peter Bottomley, Kate Green, Tony Baldry, Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Brake and Lorely Burt. [It is unsurprising to find Bottomley and Green from opposite sides of the HoC amongst this list, I often find myself listening and in agreement with them.]

    And even Simon Reevell, who did sadly vote for the motion, made a speech which was not absent of nuance and Anna Soubry, who abstained, attempted to find a means to extend the franchise to some prisoners in a way that would not be a legal nonsense. I even found the speech by Richard Shepherd worthwhile, as he pointed out the danger of “repatriating” the Convention, whilst no “good” British law can be entrenched against “bad” governments.

    Although the vote was strongly against extending the franchise to prisoners, I was warmed by the fact that a number of politicians were prepared to stand for an unpopular principle. I was also encouraged by the greater majority, those who abstained. I assume that many of those simply feared to let their heads show above the parapet.

    Can I also say that I find the plaintiff Hirst thoroughly unpleasant; I do suspect his motives and would not be surprised to find that sticking up two fingers to the system was a more powerful motive than seeking redress for his lost franchise. That is nevertheless no reason for not accepting the ECtHR’s ruling, nor for accepting the principle that people that you do not like and whose views you find repellent should, nevertheless, be allowed to vote.

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