Recently the European Court of Human Rights stated that the UK has a legal obligation to allow prisoners to vote and this appeared to cause uproar. It seemed that many of those voicing opinions regarding the right to vote were suggesting that the entitlement to a political voice ought to be restricted and, indeed, withdrawn from some groups.
It’s worth noting that, although certain women gained the vote from 1918, it wasn’t until 1928 that the age at which women could vote was lowered to 21, in line with men. Less than a century has passed and those who now have the freedom to vote – though they would formerly have been disenfranchised by lack of wealth, social position or even by their gender – now feel that they are in a position to adjudicate over others.
We in the UK currently live in a democracy where freedom of thought and expression are cherished values and I find it rather alarming how ready some seem to be to surrender these hard won rights. In a society where everybody’s movements can be tracked almost seamlessly through their cell-phones, their emails, their store-cards, their activity on Facebook, CCTV images and covert monitoring practices, it’s worth remembering that this political landscape could change quite quickly; whether it be through the insidious creep of national security or some sweeping knee-jerk reaction to a perceived threat.
Throughout the world there are many prisons incarcerating ‘criminals’ who have been imprisoned merely for their beliefs or their political views. Indeed, the UK currently has a number of prisoners who are being held without charge. To allow democracy to be eroded here can only serve to put at risk the fragile liberty which we enjoy.