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9 February 2011

Ken Clarke admits: we will give prisoners the vote

The admirably honest Justice Secretary breaks with the Downing Street line.

By George Eaton

The ever-candid Ken Clarke has just admitted that the government will agree to give some prisoners the vote. Since it granted Conservative MPs a free vote on the issue, Downing Street has avoided taking a firm line on the subject.”We are simply listening to what parliament has to say,” a spokesman said yesterday. What parliament is expected to say is that all prisoners should be denied the right to vote and that compensation claims should be outlawed.

For this reason, Clarke’s intervention is highly provocative. He told the Today programme: “In this country we have always followed the rule of law. The government and parliament does not defy the jurisdiction of courts whose jurisdiction it has always accepted.” And, to avoid any confusion, he suggested that David Cameron took the same view: “I think the Prime Minister accepts like everyone else that government complies with its legal obligations. We lost this judgment five years ago and I can’t remember a tremendous fuss being made. We are grasping the nettle.”

Most Tory MPs are likely to sympathise with the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, who has tweeted: “Ken Clarke’s comments on Votes for Prisoners are shameful. Parliament’s wish could happen if Ministers were brave enough. I doubt they are.”

Policy Exchange and the Tory MP Dominic Raab have persuasively argued that the government could ignore the European Court of Human Rights ruling without withdrawing from the Council of Europe. Cameron memorably remarked that the thought of giving prisoners the vote made him “physically ill”. After Clarke’s intervention this morning, he is likely to be feeling even queasier.

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