The “Barred from Voting” campaign deserves some credit for illustrating their cause with perhaps the most exotic and least likely to elicit a sympathetic response, sector of the vast population of disenfranchised. They solely represent the 83,000 prison population in the British Isles.
I take no issue with John Hirst on this particular point, he has doggedly and successfully pursued his quarry – the British Government – through every court in the land, and on to Strasbourg, resulting in the Hirst v UK (No2) decision which may yet see the Government paying out millions of pounds to British prisoners in compensation for not implementing the ECtHR ruling that the government was in violation of Article 3, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to vote.
Prisoners incontrovertibly have an interest in who precisely is making the legislation that governs their stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, and I see no merit in the argument that part of their punishment should be further removing them from engagement in civic society. No legislation without representation may well be their motto. That prisoners might not be best disposed towards the government responsible for the laws which currently see them incarcerated may account for the strange reluctance of this ‘Equality for all’ Government to implement the ECtHR recommendations.
I am slightly bemused that ‘Barred from Voting’ should have taken up such a narrow remit. As Jess the Dog pointed out, most would agree that those who risk their lives to defend democracy should be the first in line to participate in it – and he gives a thorough airing to the problems faced by our armed forces in taking their place in the democratic process. More than worth reading. ‘No regimentation with representation’ does not seem to appeal to the Harmanisation of Equality Laws – do they fear a backlash at the ballot box if too many of the armed forces are able to access their vote?
In addition, there are some 5 and a half million Britons living abroad. Their reasons for doing so are varied, and range from the archetypal ‘the UK is finished’ to ‘following husband, wife, or job’. Statistically, half of that 5.5 million will be women, who even in these ‘enlightened days’ (shurly sum mishtake. Ed) are more likely to be following a partner than leading the move overseas.
If you are a British citizen living overseas you are entitled to vote in UK Parliamentary general elections and European elections for up to 15 years after moving abroad. It depends on whether you declare yourself to be ‘ordinarily resident’ – and thus likely to return – in the UK or not.
I couldn’t, in all honesty, reply to the electoral officer that my husband envisaged returning to the UK; he has lived and worked on the high seas since the age of 16, and the longest he has ever settled in one place was 15 years in France. Although a British citizen, he has more connections with, and understanding of, the French system, than anywhere else in the world. It follows, since I know a good thing when I see (or marry) one, that if he doesn’t return, neither am I likely to. Thus I was disenfranchised at a stroke of the electoral officer’s pen.
It does not follow, however, that I have lost my interest in the UK, or its political system. Nor that I no longer have an obligation to pay tax in the UK – tax is taken at source. Taxation without representation for me. No franchise without divorce – a curious side effect of Ms Harman’s interest in increasing the influence of women in the UK democracy.
Nu-labour bulldozed the issue of postal voting through parliament, claiming to be concerned about the low turnout in elections. They brought in a system which has been marked by controversy and corruption, which would, it was said at the time, ‘disgrace a banana republic’.
Between the armed forces, the partners of those overseas, and the prisoners, there are many millions of votes that would like to be cast, Nu-Labour don’t seem to want them. They are, however, responding enthusiastically to calls to encourage those with learning disabilities to vote. No prizes for guessing why.