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Universal suffrage means giving prisoners the vote


In the coming centenary of women gaining the vote, opinions vary about how this should be celebrated. Obviously the suffragists and suffragettes should be honoured, and a statue of Millicent Fawcett is to be placed in Parliament Square. Yet the ultimate achievement of the emancipation of women is ignored by schools, television documentaries and the liberal-Left establishment. Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s most significant leader since Churchill, continues to be denied her rightful place in women’s history. It’s as if she was not really a woman at all – and some on the Left openly say as much. Remember Harriet Harman’s ministerial document celebrating women’s contribution to British politics, which airbrushed out our first female prime minister.

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 before the statute of 1918. They had been conscripted into the terrors of the trenches, from which many did not survive to see a voting card. Bowing to pressure from the universal suffrage campaign, the government enfranchised eight million women, but also five million men. The campaigners’ aim 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, but there are 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 has demanded that the British government resolve this anomaly, but David Cameron resisted, remarking that giving prisoners the vote would ‘make me sick’. But why should this be so distasteful?

Attitudes to criminal justice vary widely in society, but most people would probably accept that prison serves three purposes: punishment, public safety and rehabilitation. None of these justifies 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 them 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 for dissent. 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 abusers are not a popular constituency, and I understand that few politicians would want to attract sensational ‘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 taken up again by the Supreme Court (perhaps after we leave the EU so they don’t take the credit). 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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