David Cameron, the Franchise and Human Rights

…the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the current ban on all serving prisoners from voting, as defined in the 1983 Act, contravenes Article 3 of Protocol No 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides that signatory states should “hold free elections… under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people”. 2005

“David Cameron has made clear that prisoners will not get the vote as long as he is Prime Minister. Nothing is going to change. He has made clear that the idea of them getting the vote makes him physically sick.*” 2015

David Cameron was British Prime Minister, 2010-2016, and his biases concerning the franchise matter rather a lot. He believed, rightly, that he could veto the judgement of the European Convention on Human Rights by stalling. The European Convention’s judgement that the loss of the franchise was an additional, gratuitous, punishment for the incarcerated, was an anathema to Cameron. He believed the franchise is conditional, which is rightly withdrawn when criminals are convicted. David Cameron’s response to this judgement stripped away his urbane veneer. He emerged as a reactionary.

Several million disenfranchised men fought in the first world war. They were either too young or too poor to vote**. The offensiveness of disenfranchised citizens dying for their country wasn’t lost on MPs. MPs serving in 1918 knew that in the Ancient World slaves who fought for ‘their’ country were rewarded with freedom***. The Representation of the People Act 1918 introduced universal franchise for men over 21 years old. Property and gender, two of the three barriers to the franchise, were deleted as eligibility criteria. Women were enfranchised but reactionary habits lived on. Enfranchised women had to be nine years older than men to exercise their right to vote****.

Cormac Behan’s article for The Howard League offers a brilliant analysis of the principal issues underpinning the vexed question of incarcerated citizens voting (see addendum). There are perfectly respectable arguments on both sides but Cameron used an emotional trigger to help ‘win the argument’. The case of John Hirst*****, who was serving life, encapsulated his visceral opposition. Bar-room commentators might well have said ‘The world’s gone mad’ or something like that when the European Court of Human Rights over-turned British courts and enfranchised Hirst. They weren’t in a position to stall parliament, unlike Cameron. Off-the-cuff, ill-informed biases by people who aren’t Prime Minister are perfectly reasonable. What isn’t reasonable is a Prime Minister making uninformed judgements and acting on them.

Cameron’s biases do matter as they reveal an emotional response to a sophisticated legal issue. They also guided his Cabinet appointments such as Theresa May as Home Secretary, 2010-6. She had control over immigration, the police, prisons and all security matters and displayed very similar biases to Cameron. In general, her record was abysmal. May was Cameron’s choice because she understood his political red lines, because she too is a reactionary.

May made an infamous speech about a failed deportation event which was aimed at the prejudices of The Conservative Party Conference, 2011. In that speech she theatrically claimed an illegal immigrant couldn’t be deported because, “…and I am not making this up- he had a pet cat.” But she was making it up*******. She was misleading (lying to?) the conference in order to undermine the Human Rights Act and bolster Cameron’s reactionary biases. This was her first foray promoting right-wing extremist opposition to immigrants and Human Rights legislation. There have been many examples of her ‘tightening’ Home Office control of refugees and asylum seekers, some of which pushed the edges of legality. She deliberately created a climate of hostility and fear, which has extended to legally established EU workers, workers who’ve exercised their right to Freedom of Movement. Her 2011 speech was a naked attack on the notion that state power should be subject to legal scrutiny.

Cameron spoke with raw emotion and May deliberately misled so as to corrode support for Human Rights. In the 2017 General Election, as Prime Minister, she said that she would ‘tear up’ the Human Rights Act. Neither Cameron nor May weigh evidence or consider anything beyond narrow political advantage. They’re both extremists attempting to promote the state above the citizen.

Pros and Cons of the disenfranchisement of criminals

For disenfranchisement

Civil death should be part of punishment
Prisoners have broken the social contract and voluntarily put themselves outside the social order
To preserve the purity of the ballot box
Prisoners will vote collectively to change laws in their favour
Majority of people against allowing prisoners vote
Government has an obligation to those who obey laws to punish those who break laws
To disallow those who have broken laws to engage in the political process shows how much respect society has for laws
Powerful moral symbol from society that the prisoner’s behaviour is unacceptable
Punishment can be used to form character
It will act as a deterrent
Expressive punishment and moral condemnation
Disenfranchisement is exclusionary

Against disenfranchisement

Civil death is out-dated
Social contract cannot be negotiated away
Undermines the democratic polity by denying the vote to a section of the population
Prisoners should not be debarred from the electoral process because of their voting preferences
Elected should not be allowed to decide the electorate
Allowing prisoners to vote will encourage respect for laws
Prisoners will be less inclined to obey laws that they have had no role in deciding upon
Symbolic statement to the prisoner that they are acceptable
Allowing prisoners to vote will be a lesson in civic education
It is rehabilitative
Retribution should have no place in modern penalty
Enfranchisement is inclusionary

Source Behan, 2014: 23 http://howardleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/HLWP_20_2015.pdf

*http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11911057/David-Cameron-I-will-ignore-Europes-top-court-on-prisoner-voting.html Cameron was Prime Minister from 2010 to 2016.


*** https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=V_HGeohJIlgC&pg=PA92&lpg=PA92&dq=were+Greek+slaves+enfranchised+if+they+fought+in+wars&source=bl&ots=CoZDYhF5iT&sig=bqu7dE-C-KIf9YTDXXjXVNVhfXA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiVhLGL_sTWAhUMbVAKHaH-AkIQ6AEINjAC#v=onepage&q=were%20Greek%20slaves%20enfranchised%20if%20they%20fought%20in%20wars&f=false p92

***** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hirst_v_United_Kingdom_(No_2)



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