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19 November 2012

Why not give prisoners the vote?

votes for prisoners

Among the reasons why I enjoy being a Telegraph blogger is the reassurance – for a writer accustomed to being denounced as a warmongering, anti-Irish turncoat, anti-EU, pro-Zionist, Islamophobic Tory – of being assailed by incensed commentators who see me as a Leftie/liberal feminist trading on her ethnic origins.

Let me stir this particular pot. I think the Prime Minister is wrong in opposing the Strasbourg ruling on votes for prisoners. I think most – maybe even all – prisoners should have the vote.

Now this is not because I feel the British Government should do what it’s told by the European Court of Human Rights. I’m all in favour of standing up to blasted power-grabbing Strasbourg judges on all manner of issues, and if they continue to undermine our sovereignty, we should think seriously about quitting. So I’m deeply out of sympathy with pretty well everything Lord Lester says on the subject elsewhere in the Telegraph. In his view, “flouting the judgment of the Strasbourg court” will put us “in the same position as in Greece under junta. Greece had to leave the Council of Europe.” Think what would happen in Russia, he cries piteously, “if they were to adopt a tactic of saying to the Duma that they did not like a judgment.” The Chinese, apparently, are deeply concerned.

His lordship is often beyond satire.

He made no comment on the merits of the argument, but that’s what concerns me. The decision should be made in the interests of our society. Our prisons are an expensive disgrace, crammed as they are with illiterates and druggies who shouldn’t be there and who mostly come out worse than they went in. Every decent government toys with prison reform, but there are few politicians with the empathy of an Iain Duncan Smith and MPs see no votes in it. It’s instructive to see how the experience of prison turned Right-wingers like Jonathan Aitken and Conrad Black into passionate proponents of prison reform, but the prisons are full enough already without imprisoning truckloads of our legislators so they’ll see the light.

If MPs had to canvass prisoners and visit their imprisoned constituents they would be better equipped to address the reality that is lost behind blustering law-and-order rhetoric. If prisoners had contact with their MPs, they might cease to think they’re all heartless crooks and be encouraged that some influential people are taking an interest. And if in consequence, our reformers were allowed to reform, there were fewer inmates and rehabilitation worked, we would save a lot of money.

I just mentioned this to a very good friend with whom I almost always see eye-to-eye on politics. “Give prisoners the vote?” he said incredulously. “I wouldn’t give it to any of them.” Even Yvette Cooper agrees with him.

Where does that leave me? In a corner with Lord Lester, I guess. Now that’s a cruel and unusual punishment.

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