The Daily Mail and David Cameron are trying to tell us that the Government’s decision to give MPs a free vote on whether or not long-term prisoners should have the vote is about asserting the supremacy of the British Parliament over the European Court of Human Rights.
It sounds good, doesn’t it, and is music to the ears of Eurosceptic MPs. Good old Blighty taking on those uppity continentals who want to destroy our way of doing things.
However, on closer examination it becomes clear that the European Court of Human Rights is not by any means the matter as a whole. Giving prisoners the vote could potentially upset the electoral arithmetic in some Tory seats. For instance, Dartmoor Prison in the Tory held Torridge and West Devon constituency has an inmate population of about 1000. Since the current Tory majority is just under 3000, the potential for the prison vote to make a difference is very high.
I believe it is no coincidence that Cameron is seeking to deny prisoners the vote as his plan to reduce the number of House of Commons constituencies is going through the House of Lords, albeit with strong opposition from Labour peers. The move to stop prisoners voting is quite clearly part of the same process – to gerrymander constituencies so that the Tories gain maximum advantage by foul means or fair.
So while we have Cameron behaving extremely cynically in order to maintain Tory MPs in Parliament and dressing up in his best anti-EU rhetoric, his junior coalition partners now have a real problem. Since the Liberal-Democrats before the 2010 general election actively wanted to enfranchise prisoners, I wonder where this leaves them in relation to their coalition responsibilities.
Meanwhile the question of European Court of Human Rights rulings still remains. Quite clearly the UK should not go against the European Court. Former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, who was incidentally appointed to the post by Margaret Thatcher, has insisted Britain must recognise its rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and is very clear that politics should be conducted under the rule of law.
This is, indeed, true and I wonder what former Labour Home Secretary was doing in signing a motion with Tory MP David Davies calling on the British Parliament to ignore the European judges.
In conclusion it is worth bearing in mind that the only EU countries with an outright ban on prisoners voting are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania. Were Britain to go down the David Cameron route, we would be among the EU countries that have the least respect for human rights.