Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Prisoner voting

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2005 that the UK’s ban on prisoners voting was unlawful. The matter has now wended its way forward in time to a need for action.

So – should prisoners get the vote? As far as my own vote on Thursday (in what is a debate accepted by the Back Bench committee) I will vote for prisoners to get the vote. It is not one of the issues that exercises me hugely – but I understand from the tabloids that it is an issue that does exercise a lot of people.

Apart from the issue of Britain being in breach of the European Court of Human Rights and as a Minister voting for a lawful outcome – I have always believed prison is the punishment – the removal from society and being kept in a cell. Outside of that – I think it would be a good thing if prisoners had any interest in outside matter and current events – although I fear many may not even be interested in voting.

Should prisoners get the vote?

Mon 7 February 2011
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Comments

  1. IanVisits says:

    I am not comfortable with the government proposed compromise as it seems oddly to contradict not just the court ruling, but also common sense.

    I would have liked to see a system whereby a person serving the part of their sentence for a crime committed should not get the vote – regardless of how long their sentence is for – as the loss of such liberty is part of the punishment for the crime.

    However, once a prisoner has served their tariff and is now held inside not because of a crime they committed, but because of a concern about something they might do when released – then absolutely, they should have the right to vote.

    At that point they are being detained, not at the order of a judge, but upon the whims of probation, psychiatrists and a host of other pen-pushers.

    That a person can be detained upon such unaccountable whims is problematic in itself, but that they are denied the vote is quite outrageous.

    The post-tariff period should be a time to ease a person back into society, and what better way to speed that process than to encourage detained people to get interested in the larger society issues that voting and politics in general cover?

  2. Toby Jones says:

    The argument that always sticks out for me about prisoner voting is this: if you ensure prisoners can vote, then you can’t lock people up to stop them voting. And therefore allowing prisoners to vote protects democracy and a free society.

  3. Carl Phillips says:

    “I think it would be a good thing if prisoners had any interest in outside matter and current events – although I fear many may not even be interested in voting.”

    Well, Lynne, what if some unscrupulous party targets the “prisoners’ vote”, like you did with the students in the last election, and sold them a lie all for self-gain. Would this be fair?

    But more seriously perhaps, you say regarding prisoner’s votes that “It is not one of the issues that exercises me hugely”. Well, what does exercise you hugely? Lately you don’t appear to share your thoughts with your constitutents, certainly not here. You have blogged three times about the reduction of facilities for the aged in Haringey, but the Lib Dems are well enough represented on Haringey Council for them to argue this one. But in Haringey we only have one MP and so it would be appreciated if you shared your thoughts on national policies more. So, why have you been so quiet about the selling of the forests, what about the changes to the NHS, and if you still want to maintain a parochial perspective, what about the nationwide threat to libraries ?

  4. Salim Fadhley says:

    Lynne,

    With the single exception of crimes which involved voter fraud or other actions intended to disrupt democracy, I hope that prisoners should still be able to vote.

    Practiaclly speaking I think the number of prisoners who will be able to exercise this right will be reduced, since I doubt that the affairs of the house of commons are the #1 issue for her majestey’s detainee.

    I think that allowing prisoners to have a vote is a safeguard against the kind of prison-industrial complex that exists in the USA.

  5. lynne featherstone says:

    Carl – I have thought about giving up blogging – partly because I can’t find the time and also because obviously it is difficult to post as a minister and ‘share my thoughts’ as you suggest. This does absolutely restrict what I can blog about.

    However, having blogged for eight years and wanting not to simply retreat from being in touch in this way as well as the normal letters, emails and phonecalls – I decided it is worth continuing to blog about local matters, my portfolio in government and wherever else I can without breaking the ministerial code. Even this level of blogging brings a window to me of peoples’ views.

  6. Prisoners rightly lose their personal liberty during their sentence, but it does not follow that they should also lose their political rights.

    Prisoners are still represented by MPs-although it will be important that they are allowed to vote in their “home” constituency, not that one in which they are imprisoned.

    I actually agree with Ken Clarke on this one, that it will help the rehabilitation of prisoners.

  7. Salim Fadhley says:

    Lynne, pleae keep it up. Your work is appreciated – especially by people like me who live in your constituency.

    Is there a better way to silence an effective campaigning MP than to appoint her as a government minister? (heh, just kidding).

  8. Carl Phillips says:

    So, Lynne are you confirming that being a minister denies you the privilege to say what you really think or feel? If that is the case then I think you should remove all those accolades on your website which praise you for your independent thinking, and what it means is that the lure of a ministerial position is enough to buy your vote.

    I also think that your playing too prominent a role in local politics is a precarious move, or will be when it comes to local elections. If the comments on this site are anything to go by (I’ll admit, it is a small cross section of the constituency) you are not exactly popular just now and the sense of distrust, not to say disappointment, in the Lib Dems appears to reflected nationally. Now, as you know, in Highgate we have three Lib Dem councillors and I can find no fault in the two I have on occasion had to consult with. Bob Hare, for example, is someone who is held in high regard, and rightly so. But, you also were someone who I know was seen in a positive light, when you were in opposition! So, what should all those people who feel let down by the duplicity of the Lib Dems in national government do when it comes to local elections? Will we still be getting the leaflets reminding us that “the Conservatives can’t win here”?

  9. Salim Fadhley says:

    Carl, are you seriously asking a coalition government minister to confirm if her office constrains her free speech? I think she said as much in her earlier post… there’s no reason to ask her to re-state what is blindlingly obvious to all.

    I disagree with your 2nd statement entirely: I think it’s almost entirely because of Lynne’s reputation for local activism that she was one of the few LibDem MPs whose majority grew in the last election. Think back to a those dark days when so many good MPs such as Evan Harris lost their jobs.

    If anything, it’s the lack of local activism which poses a risk… but such appears to be the burden of government.

    Personally I’d rather have LibDems on the inside, directy infuencing policy than beating their fists on the committee room doors from the outside. Talk is cheap but to make long-term change you really have to change things from within.

  10. Carl Phillips says:

    Yes, salim, I am asking Lynne to confirm that her ministerial office prevents her form saying or, more specifically, acting on her own instincts. Of course we all suspect what the situation is but it would be better if politicians were up-front and honest about this instead of having to being caught-out in the way that Vince Cable was … And when it comes to the next election or if the coalition collapses who will we believe when Featherstone and other Lib Dems say “well, I think it’s well known that I didn’t approve of this or that but I was restrained by my ministerial position!” It might sound naieve, but how will we know the truth?

    You are correct in what you say about Lynne increasing her majority becuse of her activism – but this included an “active” role pledging not to support tuition fees. And perhaps you can check to see what other issues Lynne has strongly been against in the past and wonder where she now stands on such topics as Trident or increased autonomy for schools ? Of course, she says that she is silenced as a result of her ministerial role – how convenient is that? And as for having someone working for good on the inside of governement, how well has that worked ?

  11. Salim Fadhley says:

    Carl,

    I can sympathise with your desire for openness, however the fact remains that LF is a minister in a coalition government. Surely undermining the coalition is the job of the opposition, not it’s own ministers!

    I think it all comes down to whether you can personally accept the coalition: If you believe the insider influence is not worth any kind of compromise then I can see why you’d find the whole arrangement vexing.

    I take solace in the knowledge that without our LibDem MPs in governemnt we’d be seeing a far more radical conservative government.

    Sal

  12. Adam says:

    Salim

    First, you are a thoroughly polite and friendly poster. I am going to try to learn a thing or two from that.

    However second, I do think you have bought the propaganda that the Lib Dems have been putting out lock stock and barrel.

    The Tories did not win the election. On their own they simply either could not, or would have struggled, to put through the policies they now routinely see through parliament.

    Think about what they have done and are doing. It has been well documented and often commented upon here:-

    A 20% VAT rate
    Disastrous high street spending.
    Frightening reversal of the economy ridiculously attributed to the weather.
    Proposals to sell off forests.
    Ideological and salivating cuts to public spending.
    Thousands of people chucked onto the dole. If there will be dole.
    A dishonest idea called the Big Society designed to replace properly funded public services.
    Councils pushed to cut services by massive government budget cuts and then blamed for the cuts by the very people who voted for them in parliament.
    An insane privatisation of the National Health Service that almost no one either supports or believes will work but which will deliver large contracts to the friends of Cameron.
    Enormous tuition fees to be paid for the privilege of having a university education.
    Higher education funding decimated by philistines who see no real value in education beyond commercial or professional interest.
    And now scaremongering attacks on multiculturalism from a man who has never lived in the real world we inhabit.

    The list goes on and on. Lynne has decided to agree with all of it notwithstanding that much goes against her declared beliefs (not a word on the weekend speech by the PM- surely his view isnt “government policy” so she could say something?).

    These are not the things she said she stood for. There is compromise and coalition and there is capitulation and collaboration.

    No one would seriously argue that there wasn’t a need urgently to find money to fund the shortfall created by worldwide recession and a corrupt, putrid bunch of bankers. But devastating cuts at inhuman speed with no regard for the consequences is no better than the cavalier attitude to reigning in the banks displayed before now.

    The idea that there is is no alternative is simply untrue. Many people far wiser than I am have come up with reasoned proposals. But what we have is a nasty right wing agenda being followed by the Tories who are gleeful to be supported and propped up by Lib Dems in parliament. How long though before the decent face of Lib Dems, the grass roots of the party emerges and accepts that this “coalition” is not really a partnership.

    Please let’s not continue to pretend that the Lib Dems have brought some soft, cuddly glow to the current policies. The facts just don’t bear it out.

  13. Salim Fadhley says:

    On their own they simply either could not, or would have struggled, to put through the policies they now routinely see through parliament.

    Without the LibDems, the tories would have had (attempt) to form a coalition with some of the smaller parties & independants. Would a coalition granting disproportionate power to regional parties have been a better result? I might have fallen for the propaganda, however it all seems like this set-up is the least worst outcome we might have hoped for.

    I think it’s only natural to wish for LibDems to have a greater influence in setting the government agenda – I think you have to accept the reality that a minority party in a coalition is never going to take the lead role.

    My one wish for LibDem MPs – I want them to keep their eyes on the prize: Electoral reform.

    If we manage to reform the zany system we have whereby the votes of urban libdem supports count for less than the votes of rural tories then we can fix the rot at the center of our democracy.

    I think it’s pragmatic to accept some compromise in the form of policies we dont particularly like in return for the thing that matters most of all.

  14. Harriet Harms Man says:

    My main concern in these cases is where someone wrongfully convicted is denied a vote. No one ever seems to mention that aspect in this debate.

  15. Bob says:

    Hi Lynne

    I think that prisoners should be allowed to vote provided it’s not open to abuse. I can understand that people want to restrict some categories of prisoner from voting, however, I don’t feel passionate in this sense.

    It was nice to see your comment earlier, Lynne, it reminds me of the old days although I must say that you sound as though you’ve sold your voice for a meagre non-cabinet ministerial position.

    Sadly though, I agree with Adam’s comments and wonder why you haven’t stood up for your previous principles and just let the Tories do their worst, it’s very sad. Most of us fear we will be a worse country thanks to your faithfully voting with the Tories.

  16. Carl Phillips says:

    Salim,

    You say that your one wish for LibDem MPs is for them to keep their eyes on the prize: Electoral reform.

    Forgive me if I’ve got it wrong, but despite all thier supine support for the Conservative policies outlined by Adam, all that the LibDems have been promised is a vote on a compromized voting system which is a long way from the PR they wanted. And on top of this it will be a free vote so that all their new Conservative chums can campaign and vote against it. Sadly, perhaps, I think this prize is a long way from being won.

    Carl.

    (OT; Just curious, are you by any chance related to the al-Fadhlis of Lahej/Abyan ?)

  17. kemlyn says:

    Yes, prisoners should keep the vote. If they are denied their democratic right to vote for the lawmakers, why should they respect the law that imprisons them?

    The only issue is a practical one – in which constituency do they vote? That of their last “outside” address?

  18. R Collins says:

    I am unable to acquire UK citizenship through my British father because I was born out of wedlock, yet prisoners can now vote?! The rights and privileges of children are now below that of prisoners? Lynne, you’re the equalities minister, so should be finding ways to make Britain a more equal society. The manifesto clearly states that it should look for cases where inequality exists and correct them.

    I would like to see you, as equalities minister, investigate why illegitimate children are being failed by the Home Office, especially the numerous minor children having had their births denied registration between 1983-2006, forever shutting them out of any opportunity for British citizenship through their fathers. Keeping them from their human right to vote.

    We kids demand a work-to-citizenship permit scheme or an ancestry visa given to us born illegitimately so as to avoid the supposed nationality quandary the Home Office fears will take place if we are given straight citizenship (though proven UNTRUE in 2009 for children born to British mothers as they are now allowed straight citizenship).

    You asked for my opinion and I can only say this: as long as I cannot vote in Britain’s elections because I have committed the crime of being born out of wedlock, this is all a huge disgrace!

  19. A visitor says:

    I agree that prisoners should get the vote.

    I don’t agree that people who renege on their pledges to the electorate should be allowed to stay in their seats.

  20. Dave M says:

    Should prisoners get the vote? For what it is worth my answer is NO.

    Your blog seems to indicate that you have made your mind up already. Your reference to the tabloids is pejorative and does not put you in a good light. I never thought of Lord Hoffmann as only ever reading the Daily Star.

    As to your reference to the European Court of Human Rights – if they are going to decide our laws perhaps we should not dispense with 50 MPs but all of you. Let the ECHR decide all our laws – is that what you want? Where is the democratic process?

  21. Dave M,

    Should prisoners get the vote? For what it is worth my answer is NO.

    Would you care to elaborate on that? What is the rationale for denying this particular right? In which circumstances should it apply – are there any exceptions?

    I think we can all imagine cases where we probably want to deny prisoners the right to vote – for example somebody who was convicted of electoral fraud. In this case the punishment would seem to fit the crime.

    On the other hand, there are some prisoners (such as those on remand) who have not yet been convicted of anything.

    I’m struggling to think of how some other offences (e.g. drug related crimes) should automatically entail the loss of voting rights.

    Please show your reasoning!

  22. Dave M says:

    Dear Salim
    My original post was in response to a post from my MP. I am not certain that I have to “show … reasoning” to you but as you have asked I will do so.
    Putting it as simply as I can – if the community has decided through a fair judicial process that you behaviour is such that you must be removed from the community by imprisonment then one of the consequences is that you will lose the privilege of voting.
    As for people who have been remanded in custody pending a trial, my understanding is that they can still vote in elections should they want to.

    I hope that helps.

  23. Jack Simpson says:

    I’m not particularly exercised about prisoners serving short sentences having a vote, but do you really think it’s morally right, Lynne, for long-term prisoners – like murderers and rapists – to have a say in how society is governed? How exactly can we trust their judgement and their vision for society? As for it aiding rehabilitation, it’s just ludicrous to suggest that a couple of seconds on one day every five years would have a big effect on the reformation of offenders – and not all criminals can be rehabilitated.

  24. Mr Philosophy says:

    Jack, if you say “it’s just ludicrous to suggest that a couple of seconds on one day every five years would have a big effect on the reformation of offenders”, you are questioning the whole idea of voting – for anyone. If it’s a pointless exercise, just a couple of seconds every five years with no effect or value, then that would be true for any of us, not just prisoners. Is that what you think?
    On the other hand, if you think that voting in a parliamentary democracy has some value not just in terms of which party/parties are elected but also because it gives individuals a sense of having a say and being involved in deciding how society is run, then that’s a different story. If that is what you think, then what’s your rationale for denying that right to prisoners?

  25. Jack,

    I’m not particularly exercised about prisoners serving short sentences having a vote, but do you really think it’s morally right, Lynne, for long-term prisoners – like murderers and rapists – to have a say in how society is governed?

    I just don’t see the logic of this? Surely there are crimes which often have very short sentences (e.g. voter fraud) which I’m sure many people would agree ought to disqualify people from participation in elections.

    On the other hand, there are crimes (such as canabis-dealing) which may attract very long sentences, and would automatically cause the prisoner’s voting rights to be nullified.

    Personally, I’d like the punishment to fit the crime. I believe that judges should have the discretion to apply this sanction where they deem it appropriate. Personally, I think it might be appropriate in cases of insanity and in certain crimes against the democratic process.

  26. Adam says:

    Lynne

    Please see my post above.

    I had not realised when I was wondering aloud on Monday how long it would be before decent and honest grass root Lib Dems started coming forward with their views on the current government that one from the House of Lords (admittedly not grass roots) would do so on Wednesday (and be booted out as a result) and numerous others (who are grass roots) would be writing to the Times on Thursday.

    Just trying to keep you up to date as of course the Times is a Murdoch paper so I imagine that neither you nor Vince read it.

  27. Everyone should be allowed the vote it is part of society and even though prisoners have broken the law they are still part of society.

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