The Welsh Government has come forward with the astonishing proposal that prisoners should be allowed to vote in council elections.
It is true that there was a European Court of Human Rights ruling that banning prisoners from voting broke Article 3 of Protocol No 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But the Conservative Government has made clear it will not change the law despite this ruling.
The Welsh Government’s consultation acknowledges there might be the odd complication:
“Extending the franchise to prisoners is a subject that raises a number of issues, such as where a prisoner should be deemed resident for the purposes of voting.”
Indeed in a local authority ward where a prison is located then the thousands of inmates could become a significant proportion of the electorate. It doesn’t seem to make much sense “deeming” the prisoners to be resident anywhere else.
The Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies, is against the idea. He says those jailed for crimes have “opted out of what we class as society” and adds:
“I personally think that it is sensible that for the duration of their incarceration they shouldn’t be allowed to vote.”
Public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to lifting the ban – according to a YouGov poll in 2015.
No doubt the Labour Party imagine they are embracing a “progressive” cause. But regarding being soft on crime as worthy or enlightened shows utter contempt for the victims.
Certainly sensible humane penal reform should be embraced and could reduce re-offending. Votes for prisoners is not such a reform.
As Jonathan Aitken has said:
“Of all the issues prisoners care about, this is about as low as it comes. If you want to do something for prisoners’ rights, as we do, there are higher priorities. I think society has the right to say that when you commit a crime serious enough to be sent to prison, you lose your freedom, and with that you lose some of your privileges, of which voting is one… ..As we move from the philosophical to the practical, we get into democratic muddles. Suddenly, quite artificially, people who don’t belong to the local community, and may be hundreds of miles from any community they came from, will have the power to change an election result. This afternoon I was at High Down prison in Surrey, which potentially has 1,400 votes; say a third of prisoners decided they would vote in a local election, they could swing it on issues that are nothing to do with the concerns of local residents.”
For good measure Aitken suspects most prisoners agree with him. They may well do. But let’s not put it to the vote.