The Tories’ atempt to deny prisoners voting rights is about self interest not public interest

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.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Tories’ atempt to deny prisoners voting rights is about self interest not public interest

  1. Daniel Oxley

    If Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania are not to be respected for their human rights why are we told that our political union with them is a good thing?

  2. Hold on there Mary – are you really going to criticise Luxembourg, Estonia et al and try and say that they don’t respect human rights??

    I’m not sure I agree with your comment on Cameron gerrymandering constituencies in relation to prisoner votes. It has not been decided yet if prisoners would vote from their previous address (as overseas voters do) or from their current address (e.g. their prison). To be honest, I think you will be lucky to get 10% of prisoners voting so doubt it will make much difference anyway.

    It should also be pointed out that a clear majority of MPs from both Tory and Labour benches would like to reject the ECHR ruling – it’s not just Cameron. Are we not witnessing an over active judiciary ignoring the will of a democratic Parliament?

    Also, the judgment from the ECHR was somewhat opaque in what its legal basis for the ruling was. In one section, it refers to the legitimacy of the current rules on prisoner votes being undermined by the lack of a Parliamentary debate. On this basis, the House of Commons could hold a debate and vote to keep the status quo and this would arguably resolve the situation.

    Finally, the Court passed no opinion in relation to which prisoners should get the vote. I think giving it to prisoners with sentences of less than 1 year to be fair.