The decision by the Government to give the vote to some prisoners is facing fierce opposition from Labour and Conservative MPs and could lead to David Cameron’s first Commons defeat.
This is a potentially difficult problem for the Coalition government as the Liberal Democrats committed to giving prisoners the vote before the last general election.
The former home secretary, Jack Straw and the former shadow home secretary, David Davis have joined forces to force a vote on the issue that was brought about after a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) more than five years ago.
New Labour refused to deal with the issue for fear of upsetting the tabloids and victims groups and instead undertook consultation after consultation in an attempt to shelve the issue until after the general election which they subsequently lost.
This put the UK in breach of the court judgement and therefore in breach of European Law at a time when the Labour government were themselves locking up more people than ever. The hypocrisy of the situation was staggering.
It would only take about 50 MPs to rebel against the Coalition and join those against the measure in order to defeat the Government which claims that it must allow prisoners to vote or face huge compensation payments to prisoners of as much as £110 million.
Cameron has claimed that the thought of giving the vote to prisoners makes him feel “physically sick”. Many people may say that the thought of Mr Cameron makes them physically sick with his weak and unfortunate attempt to become a replica of Tony Blair.
The difference is that whereas Blair was a dictator, Cameron caves in at the slightest sign of trouble from the tabloid press or the right wing of the Tory party, particularly where issues of law and order are concerned.
Nevertheless, Cameron feels that the only thing worse than allowing prisoners to vote is having to pay them compensation.
Straw says that he wishes to help Cameron stand up to the ECtHR and re-establish the sovereignty of the UK parliament. Davis, who resigned his previous position on a ‘human rights’ issue said, “I yield to no one in my commitment to real human rights, but it is not an expression of human rights to give rapists and violent criminals the right to vote. This is clearly a matter for Parliament and not the European Court of Human Rights.”
TheOpinionSite.org would suggest that Davis seems to be ignoring the most important point of all – that human rights are not selective. They exist for everyone and there can be no exceptions, whatever crime someone may have committed.
In any case, the proposed move by the Government has a much bigger potential disaster built in to it, at least in its present form.
The ruling from the ECtHR orders that the vote can only be withheld from prisoners if their offence is related to voting or the democratic process. Otherwise, all prisoners must be able to take part in elections, not just the few as suggested by the government.
Consequently, even if the government’s proposals went through unopposed, they would still be in breach of the court judgement and of European Law.
Seasoned political observers may be drawn to the conclusion that both Straw and Davis are just out to cause trouble. After all, one lost his job and the other took a gamble which he lost. Both are known for their right wing tendencies and both hate the concept of coalition politics.
There is a much more important element to all this though.
At present, prisoners are completely ignored by politicians except when it is necessary to drum up some cheap votes by very publicly increasing the length of sentences or expanding post-custody restrictions.
Let us not forget that the Blair administration introduced more than 3,000 new criminal offences and expanded the scope of many others.
The view of prisons held by tabloid conscious politicians – and therefore the public – is a world away from what actually happens in the closed world of prisons which are terrible places and often have regimes which would be completely unlawful in the real world.
If all prisoners had the right to vote, as in other EU countries, MPs would be reminded that prisoners are actually human beings, not a sub-species or political commodity to be traded for votes when convenient or necessary.
It is very likely that Straw and Davis will eventually lose on this issue as the government will make certain that they do not remain in breach of European Law. To ignore the court would have dramatic and disastrous results, particularly regarding our relationship with other EU states upon which so much of our trade depends.
Hopefully, both Jack Straw and David Davis will fade into well deserved obscurity where they undoubtedly belong and allow the UK to grow up and join the real world as a civilised nation.
Winston Churchill said that the character of a country could be measured by the way in which it treats its prisoners. If that is true then TheOpinionSite.org would suggest that the British are not only a barbaric nation but also a people happy to be stuck in the past because they do not have what it takes to survive in the world of the future – or the present for that matter.