Sadiq Khan: Why Labour opposes votes for prisoners


by Newswire    
2:30 pm - November 22nd 2012

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Commenting on today’s publication by the Government of a draft Bill on prisoner voting, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan MP sent out this statement.

We thought it may merit a discussion.

“Labour’s policy is, and always has been, that prisoners shouldn’t be given the vote. Committing a crime so serious that a judge has deprived you of your liberty means you should also lose the ability to vote in elections. We opposed the Tory-led Government’s previous plans to give all prisoners serving less than four years a vote because many serious and violent criminals would have been allowed to take part in elections.

“But we’re also mindful of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, and the way it has protected human rights across Europe for over six decades. However, the Government wasted the chance to reform the Court during its recent Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. It failed to secure changes that would have led to the Court respecting the unique circumstances of each individual member country, and would have prevented the Court adjudicating on domestic social policy such as this.

“It is important that elected MPs have their say and that there is proper pre-legislative scrutiny of any Government proposals and so we will examine the details of the draft Bill published today. In order for MPs to come to a fully informed decision about prisoner voting, the Government should make public its legal advice so that all MPs are clear what the Court judgement actually wants us to do and what are the consequences of any actions we may take.”

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“Labour’s policy is, and always has been, that prisoners shouldn’t be given the vote. Committing a crime so serious that a judge has deprived you of your liberty means you should also lose the ability to vote in elections.

Voting is the right of any citizen; if the Labour Party weren’t a bunch of rabid rightwingers idiologically committed to punishment of prisoners (you know, dangerous people like potheads, prostitutes, protestors, people who don’t pay their TV license, etc.) rather than rehabilitation they’d realise giving prisoners a stake in society is a vital part of reintegration into society.

The prison population is disproportionately drawn from the young, from ethnic minorities, and the mentally ill – i.e. those most betrayed by Labour during the previous decade or so, and they are unlikely to vote for you anyway.

And denying prisoners the vote is unfair in any case as someone committed to a week in prison for a minor crime might – by dint of bad timing – miss out on the chance to vote in one election while someone committed for ten years but released in five might miss no election at all.

We opposed the Tory-led Government’s previous plans to give all prisoners serving less than four years a vote because many serious and violent criminals would have been allowed to take part in elections.

No, you oppose votes for prisoners because (a) you are a party of reactionary bigots who know there are votes to be gained outflanking the Tories on the far right.

The headline is enough.

Sadiq Khan: Why Labour opposes votes for prisoners

Because the Tories oppose it and they get popular support for it.

Obviously this is an entirely ridiculous debate with both sides of the House desperate to out-sovereign each other, but as it needs resolving once and for all, the pretty obvious answer is to accord the vote to those prisoners who are eligible for unescorted day release as part of their rehabilitation, and to configure the act of voting as an element of that rehabilitation.

There were 189, 000 such releases (not sure how many prisoners that equates to but clearly there will be lots of such releases per prisoners) and it might – as a variant on allowing all those eligible to vote by post if they wish – be expected that prisoners wanting to vote seek their day release on election day for that purpose.

It doesn’t matter that much if people serving short sentences lose out (because the sentences are too short to make day release feasible) if the intention is simply to satisfy the ECHR requirements.

Job done, move on to something more important.

Should say that of course I’m personally in favour of votes for all prisoners, but as that isn’t going to happen this time around….

Labour’s policy is, and always has been, that prisoners shouldn’t be given the vote. Committing a crime so serious that a judge has deprived you of your liberty means you should also lose the ability to vote in elections.

Why? Being able to answer this will help with the European Court.

To date I have not seen any reasonable justification for disenfranchisement (“waah because they just shouldn’t” doesn’t count).

what the Court judgement actually wants us to do and what are the consequences of any actions we may take.

If you read the bloody judgement you can see what the Court wants. It wants a justification for blanket, indiscriminate disenfranchisement or else a stop to blanket, indiscriminate disenfranchisement.

Call me a cynic but I think re-enfranchisement is opposed for political expediency, not some grand moral principle that all good and decent people would support.

“Why Labour opposes votes for prisoners”

Answer: cheap populism, and still trying nearly two decades on to out-Howard Howard.

The ECHR’s decision merely means that the blanket ban on prisoners voting must be ended. It is not unreasonable that one of the option put forward by the Grayling today – a cut-off point of four years, or one of six months – should be put in place instead, thus complying fully with the Court’s judgement.

Instead of which, we have Cameron doing his Violet Elizabeth Bott impression and Sadiq Khan showing one of the reasons why no genuine social liberal could ever vote for his party’s grandstanding authoritarianism.

Both cheeks of this illiberal arse acting together will invariably mean that millions of pounds of our money will have to be paid out in compensation, as the likely outcome of maintaining the law as it stands at present is that the Court will then take on all the cases like this from the UK which are currently only pending and, perforce, invoke the same judgement in relation to them as it has in Hirst No. 2.

It failed to secure changes that would have led to the Court respecting the unique circumstances of each individual member country,

Go on then, Sadiq – what “unique circumstances” mean British prisoners should be stripped of their vote?

Good to be reminded that, while probably the worst of available evils, Labour are still a bunch of unprincipled bastards in thrall to the cult of Blunkett, the Scum and Laura Norder.

“least worst of”, or perhaps Freudian amusement.

Disgraceful. And typical. Labour still as gutless and unprincipled as ever. What a pisspoor excuse for an opposition.

11. andrew adams

I’m sure they are making a stand on principle and not just indulging in opportunistic grandstanding. Just like they did with the EU budget vote and HoL reform.

12. Bryan Chalmers

I find it really hard to understand why right wingers get so excited about this (and why Labour feel the need to appease them).

Assuming that prisoners get postal votes in their home constituencies, the effect on poling results is likely to be very minor.

I can see no great reason why it is a point of principal or any pragmatic reason to refuse prisoners the right to vote.

Would the vote count towards their last resident constituency or the one in which they are imprisoned? Could Johnathan Aitken have been MP for Lewes or Jeffey Archer MP for Ford? A minor quibble to tidy up, I know.

I think Paul is right. Being re-enfranchised should be seen as part of prisoner rehabilitation. But as long as Labour are more concerned about the opinions of the tabloids we are unlikely to see it.

2 jim, i think Labour opposed it before the tories did

Being imprisoned deprives you of liberty, but it does not deprive you of Human Rights. However, is enfranchisement a human right? Human Rights cover everyone: lunatics, peers, aliens, under 18′s – all of whom are voteless. Voting is a civic right granted by the state under certain conditions, it is not a universal human right. That said, it seems to me that a simple solution to the prisoner voting conundrum is to make it subject to judge discretion. You lose your vote unless the judge orders otherwise (or vice-versa if you like).

If we’re going to maintain the status quo so that prisoners remain disenfranchised could we do something to remove Lord Archer’s peerage? If prisoners can’t vote why should a convicted criminal have an automatic place in government?

Merrymaker,

However, is enfranchisement a human right? … Voting is a civic right granted by the state under certain conditions, it is not a universal human right.

Article 3, Protocol 1 of the Convention: The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.

An infringement of this – read, disenfranchising a person – must be necessary, proportionate and in pursuit of a legitimate aim.

You lose your vote…

Why?

Merrymaker @15:

“… a simple solution to the prisoner voting conundrum is to make it subject to judge discretion.”

Cases we have seen increasingly over the last two years indicate very strongly (should it ever have been in any doubt), that the judiciary of Englandnwales have certain…erm…biases when it comes to the sentencing of people of certain political or social positions. The idea of giving those clowns discretion over whether someone can vote is chilling.

Cherub @16:

Add to that Taylor and especially Hanningfield, who is still skriking on about how he thinks he was hard done by by having to spend a few weeks in an Open for being a complete crook.

If we returned to the situation whereby we could safely assume that almost everyone convicted deserved to be, and where there was far less crime anyway due to proper policing, then no one would be suggesting this.

We could also have proper sentencing, and a proper regime for the far fewer people who would be in prison. None of whom would be in for less than the four or five years of a Parliament despite having been convicted of the gravest violent, sexual or drug-related offences.

However, if we did not implement a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, then what would happen? What would it, or anyone else, actually do?

Labour Party policy has always been against votes for prisoners. The last Government was utterly uncompromising on the subject. Quite right, too. But the party in favour of it is now in office.

Might this be yet another issue on which Ed Miliband and Jon Cruddas could establish themselves and their party as the voice of mainstream Britain?

Being imprisoned deprives you of liberty, but it does not deprive you of Human Rights. However, is enfranchisement a human right?

Every election we hear the same argument that thousands died for the right to vote and you damn well ought to vote even if you spoil your form.

I don’t remember anyone saying this duty is conditional on you not being imprisoned for committing some heinous act like posting something objectionable on Facebook.

@ Merrymaker

Voting is a civic right granted by the state under certain conditions, it is not a universal human right.

Quite correct.

Indeed there is a logical argument which says that, since so much of the current role of government is to decide how much taxation to levy and then to decide how that money is spent, voting rights should be restricted to net contributors to taxation and should exclude voters whose income is marginally derived from the state.

If net contributors to the exchequer become a minority (as it is alleged that in some places they already are) is it reasonable that the dependent majority should be able to decide how much they should pay?

22. Richard Carey

@ Shatterface,

“I don’t remember anyone saying this duty is conditional on you not being imprisoned for committing some heinous act …”

It would have been considered as going without saying.

” … like posting something objectionable on Facebook.”

Certainly the above is a non-crime, and should not be treated as such.

To 17, 18, and 20. We restrict who can vote now and it is not just prisoners. There is a case, for example, for 16s to get the vote but, in the end,the franchise is not an absolute it depends upon what society currently says it is. 17 refers to the Convention – but who are the ‘people’ described therein?

To 17, 18, and 20. We restrict who can vote now and it is not just prisoners. There is a case, for example, for 16s to get the vote but, in the end,the franchise is not an absolute it depends upon what society currently says it is.

And if that society says voting rights don’t extend to women or black people?

Indeed there is a logical argument which says that, since so much of the current role of government is to decide how much taxation to levy and then to decide how that money is spent, voting rights should be restricted to net contributors to taxation and should exclude voters whose income is marginally derived from the state.

If that were the to happen the net-contributors would immediately vote for tax policies that would disenfranchise themselves.

@21. pagar: “Indeed there is a logical argument which says that, since so much of the current role of government is to decide how much taxation to levy and then to decide how that money is spent, voting rights should be restricted to net contributors to taxation and should exclude voters whose income is marginally derived from the state.”

I don’t understand the expression “voters whose income is marginally derived from the state”.

But applying the logic of the first part of the argument, which I construe as contention rather than belief on your part, the consequences become more illiberal. Those who are economically inefficient in totalitarian regimes are removed from society, and removal of the vote is a signal of that removal. I do not need to babble further.

“If net contributors to the exchequer become a minority (as it is alleged that in some places they already are) …”

Analysis of net contribution requires some remarkable analysis. When I was a student, computational fluid dynamics was an impossibility; it required all of the computers that existed to work in tandem to deliver a simple analysis, but it is now unexceptional. To analyse net contribution over a life time of the people living in the UK is like the old CFD problem; today, to work it out, requires all of the economist-like brains and computers that can be applied to it.

Assume that we wish to study a working population of 40 million people over ten years. Assume that most work for a couple of employers — simplify the model by eliminating the self-employed etc. That is the simple bit. Then try to model the contribution of those cells (people * years * jobs) and throw in the ways that a business and tax man work. Which inflation rate do you use in your model? How do you cost child care within the family? What happens when the VAT rate changes?

“Net contributors” cannot be calculated in numbers or by contribution. Behavioural scientists and economists observe behaviour in small groups which is informative. Most of them understand limitations and so should we.

“And if that society says voting rights don’t extend to women or black people?”

Being a female or black is not the same as choosing on your own free will to commit a crime.

@ Charlieman

Those who are economically inefficient in totalitarian regimes are removed from society, and removal of the vote is a signal of that removal.

Sure. But logic demands that although the above is true it does not mean that limitation of the franchise would necessarily make the state totalitarian.

My point is that if (or when) those who are not net contributors to the state- prisoners, benefit claimants, public sector workers etc are the majority, and their interest is in voting to tax the contributors as highly as possible (in order to improve their own living standards)there is an argument that they should rightfully be disenfranchised.

Otherwise the taxpayer risks becoming little better than a slave- compelled to work and pay tax on pain of the application of some draconian law voted for by the non-contributing majority.

Merrymaker,

To 17, 18, and 20. We restrict who can vote now and it is not just prisoners. There is a case, for example, for 16s to get the vote but, in the end,the franchise is not an absolute it depends upon what society currently says it is. 17 refers to the Convention – but who are the ‘people’ described therein?

In essence you’re asking me to justify your policy. That’s the wrong way round. By law (and my ethics, but whatever) the onus is on the disenfranchiser to justify the disenfranchisement.

What is the legitimate aim? Is your policy necessary and proportionate?

In short, Why? disenfranchise prisoners?

No-one appears to be able to answer this. Hirst v UK 2 is now over seven years past.

29 – if nobody is able to justify it then why are so many people opposed to the idea?

@28. pagar: “My point is that if (or when) those who are not net contributors to the state- prisoners, benefit claimants, public sector workers etc are the majority…”

As I struggled to describe above @26, the expression “net contributor” is awkward. You have never defined it.

“My point is that if (or when) those who are not net contributors to the state- prisoners, benefit claimants, public sector workers etc…”

That is just a rant.

29 – if nobody is able to justify it then why are so many people opposed to the idea?

Quite. Funny old world, innit?

@ Shatterface

And denying prisoners the vote is unfair in any case as someone committed to a week in prison for a minor crime might – by dint of bad timing – miss out on the chance to vote in one election while someone committed for ten years but released in five might miss no election at all.

This is the best reason why there should be prisoner voting for any person serving fewer years than the time between elections.

@ Pagar

Indeed there is a logical argument which says that, since so much of the current role of government is to decide how much taxation to levy and then to decide how that money is spent, voting rights should be restricted to net contributors to taxation and should exclude voters whose income is marginally derived from the state.

Brilliant idea. Disenfranchise the military, the police and the security services in one fell swoop. I have a funny feeling that your ideal society wouldn’t last very long.

34. Chaise Guevara

@ Richard Carey

“if nobody is able to justify it then why are so many people opposed to the idea?”

Knee-jerk emotional reactions, as far as I can tell.

Most of us would agree that letting people vote is a good idea. That doesn’t mean we can all vote, but if we are going to deny people that privilege we should have a good reason to do so (children and the insane are seen as incapable of making a reasoned decision). The default position should be that people can vote.

I have yet to see a good reason presented for this right being denied to prisoners, and note that UKliberty has asked this at least three times without getting an answer. Almost every argument I’ve seen is emotive (often simply being “why should they!!!”), or circular and presented in such a way that presumes you agree with the principle in the first place (like most of Labour’s statement above, plus “But then prisoners might affect the outcome of the vote!”).

The two seemingly substantive arguments I’ve seen are flawed. One is that prisoners would overwhelmingly support parties that are soft on crime. Even if true (unlikely), so what? This conflict of interests is no different to that of a rich person voting based on capital gains tax, or a poor person voting based on welfare. Plus they’d still be heavily outnumbered by non-prisoners.

The other is that “prison is meant to be a punishment”, but I really doubt that the prospect of losing your vote makes any difference to deterence.

I think the responses on the most part have been ridiculous. Prison is about punishment and rehabilitation (not one or the other), and have been there because a judge have removed their liberty. One of those liberties is voting. Why should those who have broken the law be allowed to vote for those who make the law? Would you have prisoners voting for Police and Crime Commissioners? Think about the cost and anyway, I doubt there is a huge clamour for prisoners to actually want to get a vote anyway. People like Shatterface who claim that such basic fairness is somehow rightwing bigotry are being completely disingenuous to say the very least. The Government should ignore votes for prisoners and concentrate on votes at 16!

36. Chaise Guevara

@ 35

“Why should those who have broken the law be allowed to vote for those who make the law?”

Because that makes it harder (maybe impossible) to adjust law enforcement policy to suit your party’s voter base by making it more likely that people who don’t vote for you get locked up?

Anyway, you’re putting your burden on our shoulders. Voting is a basic right, and yes, it can be legitimately taken away, but you need to provide a positive reason why that should happen to prisoners. Otherwise this is all just rhetoric.

There are a couple of broader points to make about this:

One, the infringement of a right absent justification, which we’ve already touched on; I invite people to argue in support of that. To me, it’s plainly wrong to infringe a right absent justification.

Two, the UK disobeying the Court despite agreeing to abide by its decisions (and this isn’t the first time, see Marper v UK). Again, I invite people to argue in support of it.

Apparently prisoners should have obeyed the law but Governments and politicians don’t have to… hmmm… not sure modern, ‘liberal’ democracies are supposed to work like that, perhaps Sadiq Khan et al can enlighten us.

So now the Government is playing for time again by putting the bill through pre-legislative scrutiny. Prisoners deprived of votes stand to receive ~£1000 each, but that’s fine because of this silly visceral feeling (which the majority of people may not even have) that prisoners should not be able to vote.

Renie Anjeh,

I think the responses on the most part have been ridiculous. Prison is about punishment and rehabilitation (not one or the other), and have been there because a judge have removed their liberty. One of those liberties is voting. Why should those who have broken the law be allowed to vote for those who make the law?

Why shouldn’t they?

Would you have prisoners voting for Police and Crime Commissioners? Think about the cost and anyway, I doubt there is a huge clamour for prisoners to actually want to get a vote anyway.

There isn’t – iirc think only 5% of prisoners are interested. So what? If 95% aren’t interested, we shouldn’t enfranchise the 5%?

Think about the cost of what? A postal vote?

People like Shatterface who claim that such basic fairness is somehow rightwing bigotry are being completely disingenuous to say the very least. The Government should ignore votes for prisoners and concentrate on votes at 16!

The Government should ignore the law? What a strange point of view.

39. Robin Levett

@ #33:

Indeed there is a logical argument which says that, since so much of the current role of government is to decide how much taxation to levy and then to decide how that money is spent, voting rights should be restricted to net contributors to taxation and should exclude voters whose income is marginally derived from the state.

Brilliant idea. Disenfranchise the military, the police and the security services

…all elected representatives in receipt of allowances (from councillors upwards), all civil servants local or national, all benefit recipients, all pensioners, all employees of organisations with whom the state does business…

in one fell swoop. I have a funny feeling that your ideal society wouldn’t last very long.

I think that it would leave about three people enfranchised. And I doubt pagar would be one of them.

O.k there are murderers who kill for political reasons, (terrorists) they didn’t get what they wanted so they kill those who politically oppose them, and they want the vote in prison to politically change things the people they’ve killed opposed, If you want prisoners to be given the vote, How about bringing back the death penalty for murdering terrorists , that way the problem of these people who killed other potential voters ,wont have a vote and the political imbalance of them killing people who politically opposed them won’t be there,

john p reid, disenfranchising terrorists for those reasons seems good on the face of it. Well done, you have just helped out the UK.

Remember, we only have a problem with indiscriminate disenfranchisement. There is nothing wrong in principle with ‘targeted’ disenfranchisement provided it’s in pursuit of a legitimate aim etc.

Definitionally terrorists are people who don’t think voting will change the system, so caring either way about whether they get to vote seems perverse. But as everyone who isn’t a knee-Jerk loony has pointed out on this one, nothing in the ECHR ruling forces us to give votes to terrorists. The point is solely that a blanket ban on all prisoners JUST BECAUSE isn’t good enough.

42. Sinn fein ira as well as biing terrorists use to stand in elections

Tory MP Edward Leigh has pointed out that, at the time when the UK signed up to the ECHR sixty odd years ago, people in prison for misdemeanors – sentences of 6 months or less – used to be able to vote while in prison; something he would be happy to return to.

The distinction between misdemeanors and felonies was abolished by the Criminal Law Act 1967.

45. RWingNeanderthal

Sadiq Khan is a brown tory and a part of Blue Labour (One Nation Labour / NewNuLabour)

The people living in TOOTING know.

“Why should those who have broken the law be allowed to vote for those who make the law?”

Following this logic of course, the UK having flouted the decision of the ECHR should have no say in the Council of Europe.

21/pagar: Indeed there is a logical argument which says that, since so much of the current role of government is to decide how much taxation to levy and then to decide how that money is spent, voting rights should be restricted to net contributors to taxation and should exclude voters whose income is marginally derived from the state.

Well, okay, but you’re not going far enough here. Someone who contributes £1000 to the government’s costs should surely have 10 times more of a say than someone who only contributes £100, and so on. As pointed out, determining someone’s net contribution is also going to be difficult.

Let’s simplify it: you’d buy voting rights at a fixed (but inflation-adjusted) price – say £10 a share to start off. You’d then sell them back to the government either for cash or more likely by using them to buy one vote on an issue of your choice. On a low-importance local issue, probably a few hundred pounds might suffice to win the vote, while for election of cabinet ministers (no need for MPs, since this is direct democracy, but someone needs to implement the policies) you’d need to raise considerably more. For fairness, you only pay if your side wins – otherwise you get the vote back to use again.

Furthermore, the government’s powers to raise income are solely determined by the importance and relevance of the issues it puts forward to democratic decision – the more important and controversial the issue, the more money it raises. (Indeed, with careful balancing, it might be possible to replace most forms of direct taxation in this way, and still fund the operations of government)

(According to Wikipedia) at the end of 1954 there were 1069 men in prison for being gay.

The point being that whilst there are some acts which are so monstrous that they will surely always be imprisonable; but many practices drift in and out of criminality depending on social norms (duelling/gladiators being another extreme example). Social norms determine laws, albeit indirectly, by virtue of voting representatives into parliament who then make the laws. So – while of course there’s an element of turkeys voting for Christmas – why shouldn’t prisoners be part of that process? Surely there are things today which are imprisonable which in 100 years time our (great) grandchildren will look back on us in liberal horror and wonder why we locked people up – and how those people didn’t get the vote.

Labour’s position on this is just right-wing populism. Not being able to vote isn’t an integral part of being in prison – prison was around long before elections even existed.

@UKL:
I’ll have a go ….

a) We all used to know that, in Britain, imprisonment meant losing the vote. This WAS the justification, and not particularly unreasonable given that everyone knew.

b) However, our right as a nation to take this stance has been (partially, not wholly) removed by the ECHR ruling.

Regardless of anyone’s views, the ruling is what counts. Labour is entitled to an opposing view, and had five years in government to do something about it. It didn’t, thus hugely increasing the risk of compensation payments, and leaving “someone else” with the problem. Childish.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Jason Brickley

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    Liberal Conspiracy – Sadiq Khan: Why Labour opposes votes for prisoners http://t.co/MRe9vV7W

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  4. Hamid Saeed

    Sadiq Khan: Why Labour opposes votes for prisoners – http://t.co/3C4sHc58





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