Right now here in Britain, we have three important social categories who are completely deprived of the right to cast a vote.
Members of our upper House, the House of Lords are not allowed to vote for anyone. This is perfectly reasonable.
Members of the House of Lords expect ordinary mortals to call them "Your Lordship". Many live in huge castles with servants and have very little contact with the rest of us. They consider voting a working class luxury.
Certified lunatics are also forbidden to vote. To be certified as a lunatic it is not good enough to be a little bit mad, as many elected politicians already are, but extremely mad, as many members of the House of Lords have always been.
And if you are a certified lunatic, then within the privacy of your padded cell the thought of voting will never have occurred to you. You are far too busy convincing everyone that you are Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, or God.
But the third category is about to cause a national furore. Because convicted prisoners – cheats, thieves, thugs, even murderers – are about to be treated like free citizens. Pretty soon they will be given the right to choose legislators for our Parliament. They will be invited to put their marks on the same ballot papers that everybody else uses.
How in the name of sanity did it happen ?
Well, in the past year, a convicted killer – he chopped up his landlady with an axe, actually – won a landmark legal action. He'd been arguing in every British court for prisoners' rights.
He finally took his case to the European Court and won. The British Government appealed. And lost. Decisively.
So, as 2006 dawns, we are preparing, right now, for the terrifying legal inevitable. English prisoners have been banned from the ballot box since the 14th century. It is all about to change.
There are 80,000 men and women currently incarcerated in our penitentiaries for appalling crimes. Very soon many of them will be able to decide the outcome of hotly contested elections.
And so the survival of some of our most polished politicians may depend upon the votes of Razor Cut Ricky and Machine Gun Mick. Happy New Year !
Copyright 2005 CBS. All rights reserved.