The Guardian view on prisoner voting: a tiny concession | Editorial

Allowing a handful of short-sentence inmates the right to vote is going to cause a major storm among Tories. David Lidington must hold his nerveDavid Lidington, the justice secretary, appeared to confirm in the Commons on Tuesday that the government has finally climbed down over prisoner voting. It is a tiny concession, to a small group of short-term prisoners who are already allowed out on day release. The angry denunciation it met from the Tory backbenches is an indication of the struggle that even this gesture will provoke: “Following the triumph of the Conservative manifesto at the election,” jeered the MP Philip Davies, “can I congratulate you on finding another half-baked and unpopular policy to put before the electorate.” Mr Lidington must hold his nerve. This is an important move, a harbinger of better relations with the European court of human rights.

The ban on prisoners voting is an anachronistic echo of medieval times when a criminal conviction meant “civic death”, the automatic loss of civil identity. To maintain it against all prisoners, from those serving life sentences to those serving only a few months, is disproportionate, out of line with wider European practice and a breach of the Human Rights Act, passed by the Westminster parliament in 1998.

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