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Monday, September 20, 2010

Clegg goes into battle for prisoners’ voting rights

Clegg goes into battle for prisoners’ voting rights

Sam Coates, Roland Watson
Last updated September 20 2010 12:00AM (The Times (£))

Prison inmates are likely to win the right to vote in a decision that will inflame tensions within the coalition Government, The Times can reveal.

Nick Clegg’s officials said last night that the blanket ban on Britain’s 88,000 prisoners taking part in elections cannot continue. The Deputy Prime Minister took responsibility for the issue from Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, in July.

Britain is under pressure to act because of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights and criticism from the Council of Europe. Prisoners are now being encouraged to sue the Government and receive up to £750 each in compensation.

Mr Clegg’s team is examining how far up the sentence scale to extend the new right. His spokeswoman said: “There needs to be a change to the current situation in the light of the court cases but we don’t support the blanket rights for prisoners to vote.”

The move will be bitterly opposed by many Tories.

A senior figure close to the Ministry of Justice said: “[Prisoners] may be our customers but this is Nick Clegg’s problem.”

As Mr Clegg braces himself for recriminations from the Right, he will today plead with restive Liberal Democrats to keep faith in his leadership as he hints that he could do a deal with Labour after the next election. The Deputy Prime Minister spent the first day of the Liberal Democrat conference on the back foot as he was accused by activists of jeopardising the party’s future by governing with David Cameron. He will use his keynote speech today to try to reassure his party that it will never become an adjunct of the Tories. “This is the right government for right now,” he will say.

Lib Dem activists have been delighted by a series of liberal reforms on sentencing proposed by the Government, but senior Tories are warning that giving the vote to prisoners will be step too far for many of their members and backbenchers.

Ministers say that they have been dumped with an unenviable mess by the last Government, which failed to deal with the issue after the European court’s ruling in 2004. Senior Lib Dems know that the issue may reinforce stereotypes about the party, although Lord McNally, the Lib Dem Justice Minister, suggested recently that the public might be more receptive to the change. “[Among] the broader general public there is a willingness to consider the experience of other countries,” he told the House of Lords.

Philip Davies, MP for Shipley and a member of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said that any move towards giving prisoners the vote was unacceptable. He added: “General elections are about forming a government which is going to pass laws. If people have committed serious offences, and are in prison, they forfeit the right to make laws of the land. So why should they get the right to vote?”

1 comment:

Green Goddess said...

Brilliant news and largely due to your case. let's petition Crispin Blunt? just in case this falls behind a filing cabinet somewhere?