Prisoners, the right to vote and playground politics.

I haven’t written a blog post for some considerable time not because of a lack of subject material- there is so much going on that I want to comment on- but don’t know where to start. There is so much stuff out there that just makes me angry. But anger isn’t going to get things done or changed. Nor is signing on line petitions or rting worthy articles to people who follow me on twitter who, even if they don’t agree with all my views, at least think I am worth following.

Relaxing on holiday I am able to step back a bit and look more closely at what is making me angry across a whole range of issues- welfare benefit cuts, tax avoidance, Savile coverage, abuse in care homes……. and the debate on whether “prisoners should have the right to vote.”

I think I know what is common across these themes and what makes me angry- the debate is rigged and limited so that we are not allowed to explore and question the issues to the full. The simplest example to give is that of the “debate” over whether prisoners should have the right to vote so I will start here..

The question our government faces is how to deal with a European Court ruling that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners having the right to vote is in contravention of Human Rights legislation. The government has until 22November to respond or to be found in breach of this ruling. This has been around for quite a well but the debate has quickened as the deadline approaches- the Attorney General has warned against ignoring the ruling and Cameron has responded by saying that prisoners would never be given the right to vote.   (The Guardian.)

Whenever and wherever I have seen this issue being debated it is always on the terms: should prisoners be given the right to vote?  The assumption in the media has been that this question is; “should (all) prisoners be given the right to vote?”  In most people’s minds the answer is no. And Cameron is getting brownie points for standing up against the might of the EU by saying no and standing up for British sovereignty.

And so the debates on radio,tv and in the written press continues along the same lines-  “should all prisoners be given the right to vote?”  Note,  the brackets around all have been removed…. a fiction becomes reality… the EU is telling us that all prisoners should have the right to vote. Anyone who disagrees, well what do you expect from those leftie, human rights softies…?

But, but, but….this is not the debate we should be having. No one is saying that all prisoners should have the right to vote. No one.

The debate should be about whether it is right to have a blanket ban on any prisoners having a vote. That debate is not taking place.

Cameron’s position reminds me of that of an oppositional child. The one who is offered a bar of chocolate, asks for two, is told, no you can have one and then reacts by saying; “well I shan’t have any then.” And the point is?

Our government could quite clearly give the right to vote to prisoners who are locked up for, say, fine defaults. That would give us ycompliance. That is not debated. That would look “weak.”

The narrative is chosen. The debate is closed. It is one thing or the other- no one questions whether the right question is being asked. That is what makes me angry.

That brings me onto the welfare benefit debate. The suggestion is that no one on benefit should be better off than those in work. Most people would agree with that. So how about increasing wages rather than cutting benefits?  That again is not up for discussion. The assumption is that if you are on benefits you are are a scrounger despite all the evidence that the biggest increase in benefit payments are to those in work…

More on that later…



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