I just heard today that the European Court of Human Rights has said that the UK ban on prisoners voting is unlawful. Whoa there! Hang on a minute, aren’t prisoners locked up because of crimes they committed against individuals and society at large? Much as I am an advocate of human rights, isn’t this taking things a bit too far? Women had to spend years campaigning in order to get the vote and when they succeeded only women aged thirty and above could vote. It took many years after that for women to have the same rights as men and now the European Court of Human Rights seriously thinks that we should let prisoners have those same rights.
Where did it all go wrong? And don’t use that tired argument that it all went wrong when they abolished capital punishment. I think a lifetime locked up in prison is far worse than a quick and painless death at the end of a rope. Statistics have proven that crime has not increased since the abolition of the death penalty – it’s just more widely (and wildly) reported by sensationalist newspapers (like the Daily Mail) and comics (like the Sun).
No, it all went wrong when governments started listening to middle-class do-gooders with more time on their hands than brain cells. Whilst I agree that certain human rights were necessary to pursue – racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. – I really don’t think pursuing this new madness from Europe is a good thing at all.
A few years ago, when I was working as a civilian trade training instructor at an RAF training establishment in Buckinghamshire, the government were pushing through a bill that allowed homosexuals into the armed forces. One sergeant there was dead against this and he said, “If they allow homosexuals into the Air Force I’m going to leave.”
Brilliant. He would leave the RAF if they allowed homosexuals to enlist, only to find employment in one of the many civilian organisations where employing homosexuals was not seen as a problem (and hadn’t been for years) and where he would most probably be working alongside homosexuals.
Not everyone had the same opinion as the sergeant I just mentioned, and as far as I was concerned the RAF would have been well rid of him if he persisted in his blinkered, idiotic, 1950s male perspective of what life should be like. Homosexuals had been in the armed forces for years – they just hadn’t ‘come out’, because doing so would have meant an immediate discharge – and in fact if the sergeant in question had overcome his prejudices and ignorance and read some books he would have discovered that homosexuals were among the bravest and fiercest fighting men throughout the Second World War.
The same ignorant prejudices were prevalent when black soldiers, airmen and sailors first joined the armed services in Britain. Granted, it was nowhere near as bad as the US military where segregation of black soldiers was still going on well into the 1970s, but it was still a problem nonetheless.
At the same RAF training establishment, I was walking past the tea room when I heard one of my own RAF students loudly proclaiming about white superiority and how ‘niggers’, as he called black people, were stupid. I couldn’t quite believe my ears – this was Britain in the year 1999, a few months before the new millennium, and the not the Deep South of America a century earlier. It seemed that I had (incorrectly) assumed that I was living in a more enlightened age and so I decided to take action. I called him out of the tea bar and took him straight to see the Commanding Officer, where I asked him to repeat what he had just been saying.
The boss was not impressed – not because we had a black sergeant working within the organisation, but because opinions and behaviour such as his was totally unacceptable, not just in the RAF but in society as a whole. It turned out that this student was from a small village in Norfolk and that his ignorance stemmed from listening to his dad hurling racist abuse at the television whenever a black actor appeared on screen. He had no idea that what he had been saying in the tea bar was in any way offensive.
Now, I am all for this age of human rights, but where prisoners are concerned they should automatically forfeit those rights as soon as they commit the crime for which they have been incarcerated. Why should they have the same rights as someone who has abided by the laws of a civilised society when they are not prepared to do the same? Why should they have the same things as someone in the outside world, like television, newspapers and the right to vote when they so obviously don’t deserve them?
I’m not saying they should be treated like Michael Palin’s prisoner in Life of Brian, shackled to the wall and who had only just been turned the right way up the other day, but a certain bit of deprivation wouldn’t go amiss. Murderers and rapists should not be allowed to complain about their human rights when they so clearly did not accord those same human rights to their victims. Apart from their lack of freedom to roam around committing similar crimes, they have the same rights as everyone else in society except one – the right to vote.
I checked my calendar this morning and it is definitely not April Fools’ Day. Maybe, the government should carry out a referendum to see how the honest, law-abiding people feel about the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling.
But, if it goes ahead, where will it all stop? Are we to give children under five the right to vote? And how about dogs? I’d draw the line at cats, though – they’d probably vote for themselves because they’re too selfish.
When I was at school I was always told by my parents that I should stand up to bullies and I suspect many of our politicians were told the same. Maybe now is the time to heed that advice.
Britain is, and always has been, an island nation. Let’s start behaving like one.