Cameron faces first Commons defeat

David Davis and Jack Straw manage to secure a debate on giving prisoners the vote.

David Cameron is staring down the barrel of his first Commons defeat as Prime Minister after Jack Straw and David Davis managed to secure a Commons debate on whether or not to give prisoners the vote.

With – according to Paul Waugh at PoliticsHome – just two Conservative MPs supporting votes for prisoners, Cameron is not in a strong position. The parliamentary arithmetic suggests the coalition will lose any vote on the topic.

The issue stems from a decision in the European Court of Human Rights, which argued that the UK had a "legal obligation" to let some prisoners vote. To avoid a potentially huge number of legal challenges from British prisoners, Cameron decided not to contest the decision and to allow prisoners serving sentences of less than four years the vote, despite confessing that the idea made him feel "physically ill".

It's a decision that has not gone down well with the right of the party. Davis used the discord over the issue among Conservatives to his advantage. He said that the thought of rapists being given the right to vote made him "physically sick".

"I yield to no one in my commitment to real human rights, but it is not an expression of human rights to give rapists and violent criminals the right to vote," said the former shadow home secretary.

Davis tickled the ears of his Conservative colleagues even further when he framed the debate as matter of parliament versus Europe.

"This is clearly a matter for parliament and not the European Court of Human Rights," Davis said. "It's for parliament to stand up and say, 'No, this is our decision, not yours,' and then for the government to go back and seek a solution."

Straw went down this route too, arguing that if he were still justice secretary, he "would actually welcome this debate because it would strengthen my hand for dealing with Strasbourg".

"One of the main arguments of the Strasbourg court is that there has not been a substantive debate on the policy. What we are saying is let's have an early debate on the policy now," continued Straw.

Since losing the Conservative leadership election in 2005, Davis has rarely passed on the opportunity of making life difficult for Cameron. In somewhat bizarre circumstances, Davis resigned as an MP in 2008 in an attempt to trigger a wider debate on civil liberties – apparently his position as shadow home secretary did not allow this, whereas standing in an virtually uncontested by-election would have.

This time, however, Davis seems to have got it right. While discord in the Lib Dems was very much a theme of 2010, an increasingly annoyed right wing of the Conservative Party – fed up with perceived concessions to the Lib Dems – might be the dominant issue for the coalition in 2011.

Ironically, it was the coalition's creation of the backbench business committee that has created this impasse. Without it, Straw and Davis would not have been able to orchestrate a debate on the issue. The coalition might yet be bloodied by one of its own policies.

 

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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