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DR NIALL McCRAE: Why Prisoners deserve the right to vote

IN the centenary of women gaining the vote, and schools and the media have made much of this major development in British social history. However, the concept of suffrage is often misunderstood by younger people as meaning the suffering of women. Forty per-cent of men were deprived of the vote prior to the statute of 1918. Of the millions of Tommies conscripted into the terrors of the trenches, many never got to see a voting slip.

Bowing to Suffragist and Suffragette pressure, the government enfranchised eight million women, but also five million men. Universal suffrage was not yet achieved: only women aged over 30 qualified, until a further act of 1928 reduced the age to 21 (the same as men).

We would be complacent to believe that suffrage is complete today. In fact, the number of disenfranchised has risen, because prisoners who committed a crime with a sentence of over four years are deprived of representation. These are mostly male, with some women too. When a convict is sentenced, he is told that he will spend X years behind bars at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but he is not informed that he will lose his right to vote too. The European Court of Human Rights demanded that the British government resolve this anomaly, but David Cameron resisted, remarking that giving prisoners the vote would ‘make me sick’.

Attitudes to criminal justice vary widely in society, but most people would accept the need for prisons, and their triple purpose of punishment, public safety and rehabilitation. None of these justify loss of the vote. I don’t support any perceived cushiness that has crept into the jail regime. But if we don’t deprive prisoners of luxuries such as television and computer, why do we deny the vote?

Normally you would expect the Labour Party to defend the disadvantaged. But the Left likes to portray itself as liberal when it is really of totalitarian bent. ‘Lock them up and throw away the key’ is seen as reactionary right-wing thinking, but history tells us that the most prolific incarcerators are communist countries, where people are imprisoned or sent to hard labour camps merely fort expressing a contrary opinion. Indeed, the young Left would not take up this cause: they would be more concerned with banning the Daily Mail from prison libraries. London mayor Sadiq Khan shows the true colours: –

‘The public will rightly be concerned at reports prisoners will could get a vote. If this is true, thousands of those serving sentences for serious and violent crimes – such as wounding, assault and domestic violence would be given a say in who runs the country. ‘

Murderers and sexual abusers are not a popular constituency, and I understand that few politicians would want to attract sensationalised ‘votes for rapists’ headlines. But at a time when civil liberties are being eroded in a leftist culture keen to curtail free speech and democracy, I suggest that this is reconsidered by the Supreme Court after we leave the EU. We got rid of capital punishment, because it made the law as barbaric as the criminal. Let’s have universal suffrage now.

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