Saturday, 12 February 2011

Voting Rights for Prisoners

There are 57 Liberal Democrat MPs in parliament, but there were only 22 votes against maintaining the blanket ban preventing prisoners from voting, and at least one of them (Denis MacShane) was from another party. So where were at least 36 Liberal Democrat MPs when a Liberal voice was needed? We are the party of internationalism, of international law, and above all of human and civil rights, and yet when there is a clear need to stand up for our values and be counted over half our parliamentary party is not there.

The movement to defy the European Court of Human Rights and maintain the ban shows British politics at its worst: an odious mixture of narrow nationalism, populism and anti-Europeanism whipped up by the tabloids, with the Daily Mail as usual in the lead. By defying international law (a law which Britain was instrumental in making) and attempting to maintain the ban we ally ourselves with some of the least liberal and democratic states in Europe, including Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia and Georgia, and separate ourselves from the the mainstream which includes Greece, cradle of democracy, France, birthplace of the Enlightenment, and Italy, all of whom allow at least some prisoner to vote, and Germany, which actually and rightly encourages prisoners to vote as part of the rehabilitation process.

On issues such as this it is important for politicians to stand up against populism (as they do, for example , on capital punishment), do what is right and try to educate the public. In this area of human and civil rights Liberals should be in the lead, not hiding themselves away.


  1. I know that Lynn Featherstone said she was going to abstain because it was a purely negative bill - just "keep things the way they are". She said on her blog that if and when a positive "Let prisoners vote" bill is put forward she'll vote for that. I'm assuming that goes for most of the rest of the abstentions.

  2. Thanks, I didn't know that and I hope you're right.

  3. It's a somewhat equivocal response when there was bound to be significant media attention on this debate.

    Anyhow, only ten Liberal Democrat MPs voted on the side of angels: Alan Beith, Tom Brake, Lorely Burt, Don Foster, Duncan Hames, Simon Hughes, Julian Huppert, Tessa Munt, Alan Reid, and Stephen Williams.

  4. Thanks for that, Michael. I'm pleased to see both Alan Beith and Simon Hughes on the list of "angels." I supported them both in their bids for the party leadership and am pleased to see my judgment confirmed.

  5. I am also pleased to see Lorely Burt, upon whose re-election I and my girlfriend (who was her agent) worked very hard; and Julian Huppert, as I now work for the Lib Dems in Cambridge.