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Jerry Hayes

Votes for prisoners is insane, another tier of corruption on a rotten system.

November 2nd, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

With a clank, the ancient prison door opened. Two burly warders deferentially saluted as Mr. Bridger slowly entouraged his wayonto the landing to the sound of fists on tables and cheering. With a regal waive he surveyed the massed ranks of prisoners. He paused, raising his hands for their full attention. There was an expectant silence as the great man began to speak. The atmosphere could have been cut with the knives that all had hidden within their prison issue trackies. 

“Gentlemen, or should I say messieurs and mien Herren (laughter). We are blessed to have the most corrupt postal voting in Europe (cheers)and today our friends across the water have given us a wondrous gift: the right to vote. This is a great opportunity for us all to make money (more table banging) and perhaps change the course of history. I have arranged for representatives of all the political parties to visit me to arrange terms. Certain former Members of Parliament, who have had to suffer certain indignities of late, will be on hand to advise, for a fee.”

“ This will not be without its little inconveniences. Once a year our printing presses will have to be diverted from making passports, benefit applications and travel documents. But the production of postal ballot forms will reap dividends for us all. In the meantime life will go on as normal.”

Mr. Bridger turns to one of his captors. “I take it that the next delivery of mobile phones and narcotics is on time. I would hate to disoblige the boys”. There is a curt nod and a whisper. Mr. Bridges smiles. To cheers he announces in hushed tones, ”I understand that the consignment of Romanian girls will be here for your entertainment tonight in Wing A”. One or two inmates wriggle uncomfortably. ”But for those of more refined tastes the usual Thai boys will be available on Wing B”.

 Of course, this is a grotesque fantasy, but the decision to allow prisoners to vote to ensure that their Human Right are not infringed, borders on the insane. And there is absolutely nothing the government can do about it except delay.

Apart from giving more opportunities forcorruption in a system that stinks of rotteness already, this is an administrative nightmare that could sway councils and perhaps even governments. Eighty thousand new votes may not seem a lot, but their skillful deployment in council and marginal seats with wafer thin majorities, is the stuff of political nightmares.

How will it be operated? It can’t be on the present electoral roll system as there is a residency qualification. But if  the rules are changed for more flexibility, the consequences could be catestrophic for a free democracy. The Isle of Sheppey has three prisons. A few thousand extra votes could make one hell of a difference.  And in Woolwich where Bellmarsh is situated. And Brixton. And Wandsworth. The list is endless right across the length and breadth of Britain.

I suppose the Westminster view will be that most convicts are not the slightest bit interested in voting. And they are probably right. However, bitter experience over the years, has taught us that there are widespread abuses in some ethnic communities and retirement homes. So the prisons are easy territory for the vote sharks. I suspect that even now unscrupulous party organisers are surveying constituency boundaries with beady eyes glinting with corruption.

The answer is incredibly simple. The Coalition is going to have to sit down with the Electoral Commission and all party leaders to totally reform the way our postal ballot system works. I represented three Labour councillors in Birmingham some years ago in the Yardley Petition, the first Election Commission to sit in on hundred years. Richard Maury QC, the Election Commissioner, described our system as so corrupt that we were worthy of being  a, “banana republic”. Well, unless the system is radically reformed a lot of thoroughly dishonest monkeys will be having a feast.

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Comments [ 21 ]

  1. Lorna Spenceley Lorna Spenceley says:

    Good knockabout fun, as always, Jerry, but of course the picture you’re painting is, as you admit, a ‘grotesque fantasy’. There’s no assumption that every prisoner would be entitled to be enfranchised; and it’s generally agreed that prisoners who are given the vote should not be registered at the address of the prison. The Electoral Commission has already given its views on how to make the system work (http://tinyurl.com/3yr4rx7).

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      Thanks, I agree! The difficulty is you can’t differentiate human rights abuses. The court has ruled that all prisoners should have the vote I think. Always good to hear from you.

  2. Andrew Andrew says:

    Well-written as always, Jerry, but I’m not sure how coherent it was. It’s not especially easy to work out who Mr. Bridger is supposed to be, and it’s not any more clear by the end of the piece.

    On the subject of votes for prisoners, I really have no problem with it. Prison reform is a woefully neglected subject, primarily because there’s absolutely no reason for politicians to pay any attention to it. With the Sun and the Daily Mail spewing their usual reams of authoritarian vomit on a daily basis, it’d be good to have a counter-balance – in the form of the actual fucking electorate.

    Take, for example, indeterminate sentences ‘for public protection’. Cobbled together on the back of an envelope, they’re not a terrible idea in theory but in practice it’s been a completely different story. Prisoners subject to these sentences regularly reach the end of their tariff but are then refused parole for the sole reason that they haven’t completed the required rehabilitation courses. Can they actually take these courses? Of course not – because there’s no funding for them! So we end up with a ridiculous situation where prisoners are being imprisoned for no reason at all, and then we’re supposed to be surprised that there’s overcrowding!

    But of course, out of sight equals out of mind, so it’s little wonder that nothing has been done about it. The Ministry of Justice is apparently reviewing it, but we can trust that if the review isn’t acceptable to the right-wing press, it’ll be quietly buried and ignored. And so the problem will continue on growing. Perhaps with some MPs’ careers riding on prisoners’ votes, some decent attention might be paid to the issue.

    Which leads me onto your next point – the prisoners’ constituencies. Everyone’s standard response seems to have been that if we can disperse them over the country, it won’t matter too much and we can carry on as we were. This is a mistake. Make the handful of affected MPs directly answerable to their prison-residing constituents and it might make things a little more interesting at division time.

  3. Paul McKeown Paul McKeown says:

    I can’t see the problem in principle. And I don’t believe that it necessarily has to be a clusterfuck in practice either, as it apparently works in many other genuine democracies.

    As for dilution of the vote in constituencies in which prisons are established, there are several solutions:
    a) allow prisoners the vote in the constituencies in which they were resident before entering the prison population
    b) or allow prisoners the vote in the constituencies in which they are to be released
    c) or create one new parliamentary constituency for the full prison population of the United Kingdom

    Any of those could work.

  4. Paul McKeown Paul McKeown says:

    And Andrew above makes to my mind a rather strong point, define constituencies to include the prisons, making some MPs personally interested in improving the lot of those prisoners. It won’t be the end of civilisation as we know it.

  5. Adam Collyer Adam Collyer says:

    All of you, I think Jerry has a point actually. Which is that these votes will presumably be postal ballots, and the postal ballot system is ridiculously open to abuse. Particularly if the “voters” are criminals anyway.

  6. Paul Bentley Paul Bentley says:

    There are procedures operating that enable prisoners on remand to vote, and they may very well not have settled residencies or normally qualify to register on the electoral roll. Extending this procedure to other prisoners needn’t require a massive overhaul of the system.

    How to ensure freedom of conscience when voting at Her Majesty’s pleasure and why you would want prisoners voting in the first place are other questions entirely.

  7. KWCook KWCook says:

    Voting is not a human right, it is a privelege afforded to those who abide by the law of the land (or maybe are not caught breaking it!)
    Prisoners lost that privelege when they were convicted and locked up.

  8. Colleen, in Old Harlow Colleen, in Old Harlow says:

    I entirely agree with you. Those who murder, batter old people or commit other unspeakable crimes move themselves outside the realm of human rights. To give them the vote is to to make mockery of our criminal justice system.

    Perhaps we should make a mockery of this crazy decision by treating our prisons as one constituency with one MP to represent all prisoners. How about Ḥamzah al-Maṣrī as the first candidate?

  9. Sir Benjamin Sir Benjamin says:

    I think this is one of those issues where a blanket ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay’ does scant justice to the subtleties.

    Firstly, the question of prisoners awaiting trial – are they categorised in the same way as those who have been sentenced?

    Extending this question, what about those who are later pardoned – they can’t be retrospectively awarded a vote.

    Then there’s the issue of prison sentences being non coterminous with the periods between elections. A prisoner serving two weeks for a minor offence who just happens to be imprisoned during a May Thursday when general, local and mayoral elections are being held misses out on voting three times, whereas another prisoner who gets three years for a more serious crime committed on polling day after he’s voted might not miss out on any votes at all.

    Furthermore, the loss of a vote might be trivial to a prisoner who notionally lives in a safe seat (or is assigned one as part of the prison population) and who has fuck-all interest in politics, but a significant infringement to an activist in a marginal seat.

    These are extreme examples, but put together, it’s easy to construct diverse hypothetical scenarios whereby ‘of course he should be allowed a vote’ and ‘of course he shouldn’t be allowed a vote’ would seem a natural response.

    Which is all a very roundabout way of saying ‘I dunno’, I guess…

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      I think there is a good case for those on remand, ie not convicted, should have the vote. But I’m pretty sure ECHR ruled that there would be no categories. I really can’t see why if if your crime is serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence losing the vote is regarded as more of an imposition!

  10. Chas Chas says:

    There is one very simple solution to this issue: opt out of the European Court of Human Rights. We should not be subject to a court that is itself not subject to the law and by extension the legislature of this country. We have simply lost our sovereignty and should take it back.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      Actually no. This was not a human rights decision. The offence was under the 1983 Representation of the People Act passed under Thatcher!

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