Tough on crime?November 10, 2008 at 12:36 am | Posted in Prison Reform | 1 Comment
Just to recap:
For anyone keeping score, there are nine European countries which ban all prisoners from voting in elections. These are: Armenia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg, Romania, Russia and the United Kingdom. For those of us who believe this to be a pretty embarrassing deficit in our democracy, being in the company of seven countries whose democratic processes are younger than I am really drives the point home.
For many years prison reform charities campaigned, with little success, for this law to be overturned, until the court in Strasbourg finally ruled that it was against a prisoner’s human rights to deny them the vote. Trouble is, that ruling was over four years ago, and since then the franchise hasn’t been extended to a single inmate. In fact, the only concrete step the government has taken to meet their legal obligation was the launch of a ‘consultation process’ in 2006, but this was apparently so insufficient that Jack Straw’s still insisting they need a “more detailed public consultation on how voting rights might be granted to serving prisoners”. No date for this ’second consultation’ has been set, of course. Anyone would think they were dragging their feet.
The chronic foot-dragging remains, of course, but one thing I’d neglected to mention is that if Jack “we need to reclaim Punishment!” Straw achieves his desire of doing nothing for the entire life of this government, he will have given his tacit blessing to holding a General Election in which over 84,000 people have been illegally disenfranchised. Kinda puts the Blairite mantra of being ‘Tough! on crime’ in a new light, doesn’t it?
Of course I understand how horribly this issue plays politically; the right-wing press can’t bear to grant our prisoners bread & water, let alone the right to vote, and whilst a ban could still be applied to murderers and terrorists, all you’d need to bury this issue among the public would be a front page picture of Ian Huntley.
And yet I’m just past caring about that. Labour’s had over eleven years to resolve this, but, as on so many other issues, they muzzle themselves through fear of recrimination. For me, if they’d rather breach the European Convention on Human Rights & disenfranchise thousands of people than receive a tongue-lashing from the Tory papers, then it’s going to be hard to answer the door the next time they ask for my vote.