|I flip the bird right back!
Is the lottery a disappointment to you? You’ve played for an age, for years, perhaps, and those big bucks are always just beyond your reach. Ah, but, you see, luck is such a fickle and elusive thing. Rather than waste your money on its uncertain embrace you might very well be on to a surer bet if you have yourself sent to prison, there to demand the right to vote.
I know; it’s only a 50-50 chance; a chance that you may end up with a right that you don’t really want, a chance to send powerless placemen to our powerless Parliament. But, there again, there is always the possibility that the worm will turn; that David Cameron will reject the latest diktat from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and, in accordance with the will of Parliament, refuse to extend the franchise to jail birds. In that case millions and millions in compensation is in the offing!
Yesterday the ECHR confirmed its earlier ruling that it was a breach of the human rights of paedophiles, arsonists, rapists, murderers and other criminals to deny them the right to vote, this in the face of an overwhelming vote by MPs last year to maintain the 140-year ban.
Once again this alien court has challenged the sovereignty of Parliament, the sovereignty of this nation. It raises all sorts of issues over the nature of democracy itself, when a decision made by our elected representatives can be dismissed in such a cavalier fashion by unelected judges.
Ah, cavalier; now there’s word, recalling past battles over parliamentary sovereignty. Charles I once entered the chamber of the House of Commons, a breach of all established protocol, in an attempt to arrest some of his most trenchant critics. But all his birds, as he observed at the time, had flown. Now this rabble of Strasburg judges has, in a similar sense, shown their contempt for Parliament, entering the chamber metaphorically speaking, only to give the honourable members the bird.
In remarking on the latest development, Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, once a member of our benighted coalition’s own human rights commission, said that 'The principal issue is not whether prisoners are allowed to vote but whether the rules are set by a directly elected parliament or a group of European judges.”
David Cameron once said that the very idea of prisoners voting made him ‘physically ill.’ Yes, that’s fine; there are a lot of things that seem to upset the poor man’s constitution, the usual remedy for which is a liberal dose of words and no action. The Tory back benchers, Cavaliers ironically following the path of the Roundheads in 1642, have made it clear that they will not give up the fight.
But Cameron is no John Hampden, no John Pym and certainly no Oliver Cromwell. I don’t even think he is in the mould of
Prince Rupert. Rather, in his present state of Babylonian Coalition captivity, he reminds me of nothing more than a damsel in distress, waving forlornly from the top of the Tower. Priti Patel, a Tory backbencher, said: “The public will be demanding that the Prime Minister now stands up for British interests and refuses to give convicted prisoners the right to vote.” Well they might demand but I rather think the poor dear may very well end up drowning, not waving.
Yes, the whole thing appears risible and the temptation is to dismiss the ECHR with amused contempt. But it's worth stressing the constitutional seriousness of the whole thing, worth stressing the ignorance of these absurd judges, their ignorance of our history, our traditions and our institutions. Their challenge to parliamentary sovereignty is serious enough to warrant a new Grand Remonstrance. Charles I was not a quarter so tyrannical or stupid.
In the meantime franchise lottery tickets are selling well, with some 2500 inmates having already lodged claims. It’s a reasonably safe bet. I rather think Cameron hath no stomach to this fight. Let him depart. His passport shall be made, and crowns for convoy put into his purse …and he can take Clegg, Cable, gay marriage, House of Lords reform, windmills and all the rest of the fashionable nonsense with him. Maybe then we will get a genuine Conservative Prime Minister and not this supine heir to Blair and poodle to Clegg.