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Thursday, February 10, 2011 

Bullshit, vindictiveness and classic little Englander syndrome.

You wouldn't normally consider Denis MacShane likely to be one of the few MPs to stand up for "classic, bleeding-heart, do-gooding British liberalism". MacShane's voting record, possibly influenced by his time as a minister, includes voting very strongly for ID cards as well as 90 days detention without charge for terrorist suspects; he also made one of those poor souls administering the new expenses regime cry, later returning with chocolates in an attempt to make up for his behaviour. It's come to something then when his intervention into the debate on votes for prisoners is almost certainly the best informed and most cogently argued of the few to make the case for the extension of the franchise to some of those currently languishing in our prisons.

As to how heavy an influence the fact he's an ardent Europhile is on his opinion is open to question, but at least it's better to be somewhat consistent rather than just an eternal opportunist, a description which doesn't quite do justice to the wretched Jack Straw. There simply isn't a more loathsome individual left in the Commons than this lickspittle, a politician so repulsive that he must even have dogs vomiting when they set eyes on him. Lest we forget, Jack Straw oversaw the introduction of the Human Rights Act, which enshrined the European Convention in UK law. Since then he's done everything he possibly can to undermine it, culminating in him agreeing with the Daily Mail that it was seen as a villians' charter, all thanks to those completely irresponsible judges daring to come decisions that the right-wing press and populists everywhere simply can't abide.

No surprise then that of all people he could have shacked up with over the ECHR's judgement that some prisoners must have the right to vote, he decided to do so with David Davis. Davis at least is consistent in that he's a traditional libertarian: opposed to any restrictions on freedom for those who do no harm to others, highly punitive on those who do break the law. Even he however erred badly during the debate, saying that the concept "if you break the law, you should not make the law" is sound. This would be applicable if voters actually made the law: they do not. We elect representatives to do that for us, and that seems to have been the point most grievously missed by MPs. Those imprisoned currently, despite what some of the tabloids would have you believe, have next to no one who represents them and their concerns, and as a result prison reform is occasionally discussed but hardly ever acted upon or put into practice. It would be more than pushing it to suggest that giving prisoners the franchise would greatly improve the chances of this happening, but it would as has been previously argued put votes into it. Prisoners should be able to challenge the conditions under which they are held, something they can currently only do if they can prove their remaining rights are being infringed.

Straw meanwhile was as dependent as ever on being disingenuous. According to him to problem is not with either the HRA or the ECHR, but rather with "judicial activism", with the judges trying to carve out a role for themselves as an ultimate supreme court of Europe. Judicial activism is a phrase more associated with the right in America, used to condemn any decision which offends their morals. Anyone who reads the Hirst vs UK ruling in full will see that not only was much leeway given, but that it was also conciliatory and a majority rather than unanimous decision. It has since been built on by the Frodl vs Austria judgement, which is slightly more prescriptive, yet it's still clear that the court is not ordering that every prisoner must have the vote, only that a full ban is disproportionate. Despite much comment otherwise, and as the attorney general Dominic Grieve made clear, we are not obliged to follow the ruling to the letter, it's just that simply ignoring it completely is not an option. The Council of Europe criticised the UK last year for not introducing a full ban on smacking after we changed the law as a result of an ECHR ruling, but has not as yet gone any further. The same would almost certainly be the case if we allowed those imprisoned for two years or less to vote.

The end result, considering the media comment, was hardly as overwhelming as might have been expected. Only a third of the house voted with ministers and their shadows all abstaining, along with many others. 22 bravely voted against, MacShane strangely not among them according to the list on ePolitix, with Peter Bottomley deserving a special mention for being the only Tory to swim against the tide. We don't need so much "classic, bleeding-heart, do-gooding British liberalism" it seems as a few with a backbone prepared to stand up against bullshit, vindictiveness and classic little Englander syndrome, made even more ridiculous by how we drafted the ECHR in the first place.

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