Wales deserves better than Labour, and they may never get it if the Welsh Government continues to gerrymander our system, argue Mark Reckless and Conor Holohan

The Welsh Labour Government, in their most recent attempt to widen their voter base, had planned to give prisoners the right to vote in local government elections. Last year they supported and passed a Bill giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote in Welsh elections, as well as foreign citizens.

These are cynical changes to the franchise, made by a government that is losing votes in Wales. Following the last Assembly elections in 2016, the Welsh Government had to enter a coalition when they came just short of a majority. With the 2019 result showing Conservative gains from Labour in Wales, it is clear that Labour are feeling the pressure. This week, a YouGov poll projection showed Labour falling into second place in Wales. The Welsh Labour answer to this is not to change their policies, but to change the electorate.

Amid criticism from our Brexit Party representative Caroline Jones, the Welsh Government announced that they were at least delaying their plans to have assorted convicted criminals voting in Welsh local government elections by 2022. They have at last said they are withdrawing their planned amendment due to the COVID-19 outbreak, adding that they would not allocate the resources necessary to implement the legal changes that would be needed.

This is not, however, the end of the story, and there are other stages in the Assembly's legislative process whereby the Government could insert such a change. The Welsh Government still believe in this policy, and they have only put their plans on hold due to the fact that forcing this through at a time of national emergency has even drawn criticism from their lapdogs in Plaid Cymru. Changes to the voting franchise in Wales requires a two thirds majority, so without their nationalist little helpers, Labour are hamstrung.

When and if this proposal comes back, it must be opposed at every possible juncture. When people commit crimes, they must accept that they are surrendering some of their liberties. In our society we agree to conduct ourselves within the law, and in return the state guarantees our rights – this is what is known as the social contract.

If we decide to conduct ourselves outside of the law, it is right that the state, sanctioned by society and the social contract, may take some of these liberties away. The prison is the embodiment of that. Why, then, should somebody who has decided to ignore this social contract, expect to retain all of their rights?

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Of course, once somebody has spent their conviction, these rights are and should be restored. But while they are in prison they are excluded from society, and they should not expect to make democratic decisions when they have themselves undermined the law and order based democratic system. In this sense, there are no victimless crimes, because when a crime is committed, the social contract we all live by is undermined.

But the Welsh Government don't hold our democratic system in high regard. They worked tirelessly to undermine Brexit, which Wales voted for, while Wales' healthcare system continued to crumble. Wales deserves better than Labour, and they may never get it if the Welsh Government continues to gerrymander our system.

We cannot reward criminal behaviour, and we cannot soften the punishment element of criminal justice. According to the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, as of June 2018, Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe, and we will not reduce that rate by taking a weak approach to criminals.

Even the Assembly's Local Government Committee, which recommended that prisoners serving custodial sentences of less than four years be given the vote in Welsh elections, noted that this is an unpopular decision. Why then press ahead? How does the Assembly view the way they govern people? Do they see themselves as the representatives or the rulers? Do they think they know best? Or is this an expression of subservience to the European Court of Human Rights?

These are the questions the Welsh electorate must be asking itself, and they must act on the answers, before the Welsh Government further gerrymander the franchise.

If the Welsh Government do decide to go forward with their temporarily shelved plans to extend voting rights to prisoners, the Brexit Party Assembly Group will oppose it and, hopefully, with others force them to abandon the plans, as we have done this week.

 

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