November 25, 2013 5 Comments
Yesterday was the centenary of my father’s birth. No telegram for Cyril though, he passed away in 1983. However, his sixty-nine years witnessed a great many changes, including universal suffrage. Or did it?
I ask because not everyone can vote and therefore we do not have true universal suffrage. There are exceptions, for good reason, but I think we need to look at these exceptions because I believe they need amending.
Let’s start with the exceptions I would keep.
Foreign nationals (apart from citizens of the Irish Republic and Commonwealth countries resident in Britain) cannot vote, and I think this broadly correct. However, if we were to rigorously adopt the principle of no taxation without representation then there is a valid argument for giving the vote to those foreigners who work here. After all, what is the real difference between an Australian and an Austrian? The Austrian can vote in our local and European elections, can work and pay his taxes, yet has no say in how those taxes are spent. It is certainly an avenue worth looking at.
People convicted within the previous five years of illegal election practices cannot vote. Seems fair enough, an electoral equivalent of a driving ban.
And so to those categories I would change.
Young people under eighteen years old cannot vote at present. I support votes at sixteen, and since sixteen year olds can marry, work, join the army, etc, then I think they should have a say in how the country is run.
I would give the vote to members of the House of Lords. This second chamber is in desperate need of reform (acknowledged by all the main parties) and since members of the primary chamber can vote I see no reason to disallow Lords, Bishops and Royalty – and whoever ultimately replaces them.
Perhaps my most contentious change would be to enable prisoners to vote. Actually, it really ought to be described as changing the ban from automatic to becoming part of sentencing policy. Aside from the potential loophole which could come with a postal vote, since General Election results can be in force for five years it does seem harsh to prevent someone who may only have a day or week left of their sentence from voting. I wonder why someone given a short-term for a lesser crime should be treated the same as a long-term prisoner when it comes to voting, and it ought to be a part of the rehabilitation process. Allowing prisoners to vote also acts to prevent a police state, where people are locked up to curtail their democratic expression.