UK Parliament/Flickr, CC BY-NC
Former British prime minister David Cameron famously proclaimed in 2010 that the considered giving prisoners the vote made him “bodily ailing”. Cameron argued that “frankly, when individuals commit against the law and go to jail, they need to lose their rights, together with the suitable to vote”.
Cameron’s misery was, as he himself acknowledged, primarily based on the concept those that violate the legal guidelines of the realm shouldn’t have a say in how these legal guidelines are made.
Cameron, his MPs and the overwhelming majority of the Home of Commons went on to vote the next yr to uphold Britain’s ban on prisoners being allowed to vote. And whereas there has extra not too long ago been a transfer to provide the vote to prisoners who’re out on short-term licence, there was no transfer to repeal the ban for the overwhelming majority of the incarcerated inhabitants. The place seems fastened.
However is there not a contradiction on this place if Conservative MPs additionally uphold the suitable of present prime minister, Boris Johnson, to proceed not simply to make legal guidelines as an MP, however even to move the federal government?
It’s an particularly pertinent query as Conservatives MPs ponder Johnson’s future within the wake of the partygate revelations. It’s for them to resolve whether or not he ought to maintain his job after being fined by police for breaking lockdown guidelines through the pandemic. It’s for them to vote on whether or not he ought to face a management problem. They essentially discover themselves ready that calls on them to replicate on the connection between rights and accountability. The comparability with prisoners is a helpful one for his or her deliberations.
Rights and obligations
The concept behind disenfranchising prisoners is mostly that those that declare the suitable to train political energy – on this case by voting – can have that proper solely on the situation that they’re ready to imagine sure obligations.
When you violate the fundamental calls for of citizenship, the thought goes, you can not count on to be given the privileges of citizenship. If one of many fundamental calls for of citizenship is to obey the regulation, then we are able to see how this may find yourself with the conclusion that those that break the regulation ought to lose some rights of citizenship. Generally that is backed up by the concept of the social contract: should you break the phrases of the contract then you definately can not count on the contract to be fulfilled.
Many individuals assume that this can be a poor or inadequate argument for eradicating the suitable to vote. Nobody indicators a social contract, and most of the people have little alternative as to which state they dwell in. The precise to vote is so basic to political id, they declare, that eradicating it creates a class of second-class residents. Thus whereas the concept clearly has some intuitive power, philosophers who’ve scrutinised it haven’t at all times discovered its utility to prisoners voting totally convincing.
Nonetheless, many Conservative MPs voted to uphold the ban, and they also presumably did assume that rights to political participation are conditional on upholding obligations. In terms of Johnson, nonetheless, these MPs who voted on the ban again then – and those that have entered parliament subsequently however carried out nothing to take away it – appear to be sacrificing that top level of precept.
Johnson has not acquired a jail sentence however he has damaged the legal guidelines limiting social gatherings that have been devised by his personal authorities. He has acquired a police high-quality for attending one occasion and there are a number of images of him attending others. There’s a robust suspicion that he has violated the ministerial code and misled parliament. And there are doubts, to say the least, in regards to the sincerity of the apologies he has provided for doing this stuff. Johnson’s actions seem to have show a extremely disrespectful angle for regulation.
It also needs to be famous that the suitable that he claims is just not merely to take part in voting – he claims the suitable to move the federal government, the supreme regulation and policymaking company within the UK’s political panorama.
Larger energy, better accountability
Conservative MPs should ask themselves whether or not, if rights entail obligations, the requirements to which we maintain those that declare weighty rights like these of being prime minister shouldn’t be held to a weighty and strict set of obligations.
Possibly Conservative MPs might say that these arguments apply to prisoners however don’t apply within the case of Johnson. I doubt it. One of the vital influential arguments within the prisoner voting debate is the declare that the integrity of the democratic course of must be shielded from those that would abuse it.
The concept right here can be that those that are in jail have proven themselves to be of sufficiently unhealthy character that they aren’t to be trusted with the vote. This argument is uncertain given the tiny affect any particular person prisoner has on the democratic course of. If this argument has any advantage, it absolutely applies rather more strongly when the affect the offender has on the democratic course of is as nice as that given to a chief minister.
Admittedly, we would want extra proof than an remoted incident of prison wrongdoing to point out that an individual can’t be trusted with the vote. We would want proof of a extra common disrespect for the regulation. Once more, Conservative MPs ought to think about whether or not this situation has been met by their prime minister.
Johnson has not dedicated a severe sufficient crime to be despatched to jail however the argument right here is just not that he must be denied the suitable to vote. The query is moderately whether or not these Conservative MPs who settle for that there’s an necessary sense by which “with freedom comes obligations” also needs to agree that an individual who has nice freedom – the liberty to make weighty choices on behalf of UK residents – shouldn’t even be held to nice accountability.
It’s the query whether or not the place of UK prime minister doesn’t require fundamental respect for the regulation and the values that underpin it.
Christopher Bennett doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.