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Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Now crooks have their own Suffragettes

Does the idea of vote-grubbing politicians in marginal constituencies canvassing the paedophile and rape sections of their local jails, smiling, shaking hands, making jokes and promises to the inmates, appeal to you? Apparently it does to the Liberal Democrats.

A campaign has been lauched to try to overturn a 134-year-old law which deprives prisoners of the vote.

And it's not just the Liberal Democrats, whose official policy is to allow convicts to cast their ballots in elections. They are being supported by the usual stock of prisoners' charities and even a few MPs from the two main parties.

Why? Who knows? I certainly can't think of a good reason. One can only assume that the motivating principle is the same as that which prompts so much of modern legislation: the belief that making any distinction between right and wrong is a bit naff, a bit outdated, a 'subjective' judgement which rightly has no wider impact. Certainly, they'll no doubt argue, it's not our place to judge these people, to say that their inability to obey the law, for which they are currently doing time, should deprive them of a say in who makes those laws. In other words, the motivation stems from the very same immoral culture that helps ensure we have such fantastic levels of crime in the first place.

At a time when voter apathy and distrust of politicians is a concern on the lips of almost the entire chattering class, this is a measure sure to help solidify all these problems. Could you shake hands through prison bars with a mugger who cracked a pensioner's skull open in the hope of taking her purse? Could you assure him that his views matter to you, that you will do what you can for people like him, that he can count on you? I don't know if I could. But some people could do that in a second, and some will no doubt already be in the House of Commons and many council chambers. What can safely be said is that more members of this class of politician will be elected if this immoral scheme succeeds. If canvassing the local nick becomes part of the job prescription of an aspiring MP or councillor, you can be sure that whoever is willing to sink the lowest and work the hardest at pleasing the most unsavoury elements of society will gain electoral advantage from it. No wonder the Lib Dems are so keen. They know that muggers, burglars and all the other undesirables they want released as a matter of course are going to vote for anyone offering them a get out of jail free card. But let none of them pretend that further lowering the class of politician elected to the parliaments and council chambers of this Kingdom will do anything but harm to the public's confidence in their representatives.

One could, at a stretch, suggest that there are so few prisoners likely to be interested in voting that permitting it for those who do care would make no difference to any single election. Well, if it really will have no effect, then why on earth should it be pushed through? If it's not going to be an aid to shifty and callous politicians, then it's not going to help at all. Either way, there is no upside to such a reform.

It should go without saying that there is not a single problem facing Britain today that would be solved if Ian Huntley and his fellow inmates were given the vote. All it would achieve would be to give a political elite already frighteningly partial towards the criminal a further, very self-interested, reason for so being. If that's what you want, vote Liberal Democrat. If they have any sense, that's what the criminals will be doing.

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