Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tories Give Crims the Vote

Not a headline I'd ever thought I'd be writing, but it proves my general thesis that life is bloody weird.

Hats off to Cameron, et al., for having the stones to make the decision that the Labour government shied away from in fear of their media masters turning on them. He who lives by media management, lives in fear of it...

This was legally inevitable. Even a half witted lawyer would have known this for five years. It was coming down to paying prisoners a fortune in compensation every election, being slung out of the EU, or just swallowing a minor political spasm and give us the vote. Labour were too spineless to make the decision.

I didn't think the Tories would be any better, to be honest. And yet this government has been a bundle of surprises on the criminal justice front from the beginning. For a man who suffered the wrath of Michael Howard, this is all quite disconcerting!

An unexpected development was being collared by a screw, with way too much time on his hands, who had the opportunity to dig me out for John Hirst's celebratory video... I gather it was not a nuanced, politically adept, response to the government's announcement! Whilst I can, to some extent, appreciate the outburst of a fellow Lifer who has been jerked around by the previous Government for five years, as the head of the Association of Prisoners, I can hardly condone public drug use.

This will all blow over, it always does. For now, anyway, because this is only the first part of the battle. The government intends to limit the franchise to the smallest number of prisoners, probably those serving under 4 years.

The one obvious problem with this is that there are several thousand Lifers who are past their tariff. That is, the punishment element of their sentence has ended – so why should they be denied a vote? But of course, this group comprises a fair number of rapists, murderers and paedophiles...the group most vilified by the Daily Mail etc.

It therefore follows that these people should have the vote, no matter how politically inconvenient that would be. And the question in my mind is who is going to be that Lifer who takes this back to Court if the government decides to deny them?

This is a skimpy response to events, I know, but I have made my arguments around the vote several times over on the Guardian's Comment is Free...and I won't bore you by repeating them here.

Ed Note: There are some links to Ben’s thoughts on this issue below. Whether you agree or disagree on the issue, I think you will accept that Ben makes a compelling and very reasoned argument:


  1. I saw Mr Hirst's interview on the BBC. To be honest, if you wanted to have a PR man for the cause of prisoners vote, there could not have been a worse candidate, as he basically fitted the stereotype of a murderer. He also will have failed to get his point across to anyone who didn't already have an understanding of the relevant Human Rights law.

    On the other hand, he was quite correct. Human rights are not lost upon entry to prison, they can merely be restricted (subject to the necessary qualifying factors). In that sense, it is completely irrelevant to question him about the nature of his crime.

  2. I really don't think anyone should be taking their 'hats off' to Cameron and his ilk. It is thanks to people like John Hirst who began the campaign and the AOP who spotted a weakness in the government i.e that the threat of being persistently sued under human rights legislation would eventually lead them to concede, its these people who we should be taking our hats off to, John Hirst and the AOP, not David Cameron and the Tories. The fact that Cameron has conceded a few crumbs from the table is not something we need to be grateful for and is not something that anyone need admire their imagined stones for either. They caved in to pressure (monetary) and only gave away a few crumbs. The fact that they have caved in a bit shows that it is possible to move these people, so we should keep the pressure up for prisoners to be treated better and with more dignity than at present and be glad for the likes of John Hirst and those in the AOP.

  3. Don't take your hat off too quickly, Ben. David Davis wants to challenge the decision, based on a debate on the subject - get this - 133 years ago.

  4. This is a hard one for ben and I personally empathise with him. Ben is totally excluded from our world,he lives behind the prison walls and depends on us and the media. Like ben I know what it means to be a prisoner, worse still, I know how it feels like to be a prisoner and a woman.

    Ben is a prisoner behind walls because he committed a crime, but I lived most of my life a prisoner in my own body. For a black child growning under apartheid, I struggled to free myself from my colour. When I finally made it, the Tories/liberals were at hand to offer their support; i.e "You might be black but you don't think like other black people - hence you are one of us." This is synonymous to what ben is reading in Dave Cameron for it is exactly what my white liberal/conservative friends said to me. I refused to buy it and went out looking for those who accept me for who I am; i.e. dark skinned successful woman. But I landed in even deeper waters where I was hounded by those who agreed with me in principle but not in practice.

    It is therefore not fair to criticise ben on this one. Instead we should push forward what ever loophole we know to get his release, be it by the Tories, New Labour or Lib Dems, for he is a beacon for other prisoners.It is only when ben has achieved his freedom that he will be able to understand what I learnt in the last 7 years, i.e. politics is a dirty game and to play it one has to get his/her hands dirty.

  5. @Gaina he has a point. To restrict a Human right (for most articles, not all btw) the restriction must be prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society for an identified interest (such as public safety or health). If a basis of the court decision was that the ban was not prescribed by law, when in fact it was 133 years ago, then the court was wrong to make the decision on that basis.

    Not that it makes that much difference as the blanket ban is far more than is necessary and doesn't particularly protect a relevant public good.

  6. Hi Ben,


    If I may, I have two questions add to your perspective on the issue.

    1) If prisoners had the vote at the last General Election, do you think it could have significantly affected the makeup of the Government, and if so how?

    2) do you have any thoughts on the potential for prisoners to " flood" constituencies that contain large prisons? a good thing or a bad thing? in which constituencies will / should prisoners be registered?


  7. Labour/conservative.. two heads of the same dragon.. WHY DO WE NEED A GOVERNMENT AT ALL?!?!

  8. @tallguy,

    I agree wholeheartedly and I doubt Mr Hirst (who I know reads these comments) would disagree either.

    John Hirst is a difficult person to like and that undoubtedly harms the cause, but he is in the right and he is also the only person willing to put up the fight. Good on him.

    We can wish that we had a nice reformed "good" murderer to parade in front of the cameras instead, but we don't, and even if we did, being a likeable person is not a prerequisite for getting you human rights.

    @ criminal Chalkist:

    That's hardly relevant to this debate is it? And I think we need government to do a lot of things as it happens. Anarchy has been tried and it doesn't work.

  9. Wigarse: It is not about personality but about a worthy cause. I recall my personal officer in Hull Prison asking other staff what they thought about me and they all said I was a cunt. However, when he asked them to say why they thought it none were willing to elaborate.

    I knew from the outset that it was not a popular cause and that I was not going to win any popularity contest, so I simply did not bother to enter into this no win situation.

    On my blog it states that I have the ability to provoke, and my YouTube video certainly had quite a few hopping mad.

    I did not introduce the Us and Them mentality, it already existed. So, I see nothing wrong with celebrating when one of Us gets one over on Them.

  10. @jailhouselawyer. A wonderful legal victory! But isn't part of the battle to break down the Us and Them barrier? If it is, you wasted such an opportunity.

  11. @jailhouse lawyer, no one ever made history by trying to please and minding p's and q's.

    Its a tough job fighting for a good cause in this upside down world, so well done, you have my admiration.

    ps i haven't seen this infamous video that people are talking about, but going through the mire in life as you have done, you are quite entitled to let rip at certain times, people should be more understanding than quick to criticize and negatively judge.

    Its all too convenient for those who oppose the cause to rubbish you especially as they have no real argument against what you criticize and propose.

    We can only be who we are, we cannot be anyone else in life, so well done for standing up and fighting John, for yourself and for others, hats off and all that xx

  12. I think prisoners should be allowed to vote. If their grandma dies while they are inside, are they exempt from inheritance tax?? i dont think so. Therefore by the law of no taxation without representation they should get the vote.


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