Site Meter

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Simon Hoggart sketch: Putting Europe in the dock

Simon Hoggart sketch: Putting Europe in the dock

It's not often an issue unites Dennis Skinner with the Tory right, but a court ruling on prisoners voting has achieved just that

Ministers were almost buried under a tidal wave of anti-European slurry. It takes quite an issue to unite Dennis Skinner with the Tory right, the Old Intransigents. But Europe has done it again.

And it had little to do with the deal made with the French that allows us to borrow each other's military kit. Instead, MPs were enraged by the European court's insistence that we end the blanket ban on the right of prisoners to vote.

Some MPs were so beside themselves that they lost control of their reason.

A Tory, David Nuttall, said that if we were going to be fined for not complying we should knock the cost off the money we pay the EU. The minister, Mark Harper, pointed out that the EU and the European court had nothing to do with each other. So, we inferred, it was like refusing to pay your milk bill because you don't like the service at Topshop.

Mr Harper said we had no way of avoiding the court's ruling. "There is a need to change the law," he said. "No! No!" yelled backbench Tories. "This isn't a choice, it is a legal obligation," he said to more barracking.

The calmer he tried to sound, the more MPs frothed up, like marsh gas escaping from an abandoned mine. "The prime minister is exasperated," he said. "Every member of this House is exasperated," he added, in a very unexasperated way.

We had signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights 60 years ago. The only alternative was to leave it. "Hear, hear!" cried many voices behind him.

Sir Alan Beith said mildly that we couldn't bang people up for disobeying the law, then disobey the law ourselves. Mr Harper blamed the last government for doing nothing.

Jack Straw said that all the time they were doing nothing much, they were being nagged by the Tories to do nothing at all.

Dennis Skinner said with relish that the tabloids were even now writing headlines saying that the Tories were soft on crime and soft on the perpetrators of crime. Lib Dem Tom "Jail" Brake said the new law couldn't possibly apply to serious offenders.

MPs with prisons on their patch envisaged real-life criminals changing the outcome of elections. Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer, would be causing a hung parliament! Frank Dobson wondered why the government wanted to give the vote to the police killer Harry Roberts but not to the 3.5 million people not on the register.

We envisaged candidates hunting for votes. "Would you like a poster for your cell door?" they will ask. Or, "can we offer you a lift to the polls?" The reply: "Yeah, but don't bother with the lift back …"

Finally Mr Harper lost it. Eleanor Laing pointed out that the ruling only overturned the blanket ban. Parliament can still decide what type of prisoners get the vote. The chances of a Rapists, Paedophiles and Murderers party using the AV system to get into parliament seem exceedingly remote.

"If I may say so," declared Mr Harper, crossly. "That is perhaps the first sensible question we've had!"

"Whoooh, ooh!" went MPs, in what may have been a late celebration of Halloween.


AnnaEsse said...

Congratulations John. It's been a long, hard slog, but you've nearly made it!

Barnacle Bill said...

Ask the Beast of Bolsover why it was not sorted out by NuLabor when they were in power?