I am morbidly fascinated by the ongoing debate about the right of serving prisoners to vote in elections.
If the truth be told, it seems to me a classic case of the mouse that roared. On average, barely 35% of all electors entitled to vote exercise their democratic right to do so in local elections, and barely 70% do so in a General Election, so voting for a significant proportion of the population is well down on their list of things to do.
When I used to practise in Prison Law, which took me regularly to HM prisons throughout the land, my clients raised a number of burning issues with me, but I can say without fear of contradiction that not once was their denial of a vote ever mentioned.
Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, is leading from the back on this issue, and by all accounts, he is giving it the importance it deserves by swatting it away and hoping it won’t come back.
On reflection, that may not be entirely fair, as he has entered the European arena by declaring that the UK courts can ignore any rulings on this matter by the European Court of Human Rights, and he has enlisted the help of Lord Hoffmann no less, an esteemed law lord. Lord Lester, who has a contrary opinion to offer on almost every topic, counsels caution, so what does all this add up to?
In short, it takes us back to Square One. If prisoners are to be denied the right to vote, we must repeal the Human Rights Act and go our own way. A draconian step, and this government has yet to take anything other than mincing little steps in the great scheme of things.
I have a better idea – why not ask the prisoners themselves? It would be excellent practice for life outside, and a real test of democracy in action. The question could be simply posed: do you want the right to vote? There would be three boxes to tick: Yes, No, or I don’t give a rat’s crap!
Of course barely 30% of all serving prisoners would choose to take part, so if it were a positive vote, the government could ignore it as being unrepresentative, so it’s a win win situation whichever way you cut the fruit cake (with optional file inserted).