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the Friend INDEPENDENT QUAKER JOURNALISM SINCE 1843
CONTENTS – VOL 168 NO 19 3-5 News 3 What change? 4 Nuclear weapons ban backed 5 Conscientious objection to military service affirmed by UN committee 6 Dilemmas of peace Ann Forsyth 7 Pro patria mori Don Hartridge 8-9 Letters 10-13 Time for change 14 An American in Ireland Dorothy Day 15 Arts Faith versus reason in ancient Alexandria Rowena Loverance 16 q-eye: witness 17 Friends & Meetings
Cover image: 10 Downing Street, London. Photo: robertsharp/flickr CC: BY. See pages 10-13. Images on this page: Seaford Peace Garden, a joint project between Seaford Town Council and Seaford Quaker Meeting, was officially opened last weekend. From top, a detail of a sculpture by in the garden; Ralph Taylor (front right) of Seaford Meeting at the opening; view of garden showing the benches whose curves reflect the South Downs designed by Christian Funnell. Christian also designed and constructed the sculpture. Photos: Jenny Wistreich.
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the Friend, 7 May 2010 News
At the time of writing the election campaign is in full swing.
Gordon Brown is reflecting on television debates and microphones. David Cameron is endeavouring to cover every corner of Britain in days. Nick Clegg is an unlikely visitor to the snooker world championship in Sheffield.
Even Tony Blair has emerged from the shadows to be presented with cakes by schoolchildren. What will the legacy of New Labour be? The wonderful new hospital wings and schools, sadly, may not be remembered as clearly as the enduring image portrayed by Don Hartridge in his poem in this issue: a coffin containing a young soldier being carried off a plane.
It is also chilling to reflect that, statistically, for every combatant killed in a conflict today nine innocent civilians will also die. One hundred years ago this figure was reversed.
Now the party leaders and their supporters are desperately trying to win over the ‘undecided’ in what promises to be the closest and most interesting election in many years.
All of the leaders are stressing their differences but are united in a common challenge: to keep a permanent smile on their faces. What will it all mean for Quakers? A lot. Whatever the result of the election, Quakers in every corner of Britain, whether they are ninety,
nineteen or nine years old, will be affected by the decisions of the new government.
The word ‘change’ appears everywhere – on posters, in pamphlets and on lips – so at the Friend we decided it would be good to take the word on ourselves and hear from Friends in Britain. We invited a cross-section of Quakers to respond to a simple question: ‘What change would you most like a new government to implement and why?’
The results are fascinating and provide the main feature in this issue.
You will have your own answer to this question. We are keen to hear it.
Seventy thousand prisoners denied the opportunity to vote in election
Over 70,000 British adults will not be allowed to vote this week – because they are in prison.
It is six years since the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a blanket ban on prisoners’ voting is unlawful. Campaigners have accused ministers of avoiding the issue for the sake of appearing tough on crime. But the government says that it is still considering the question.
Under current rules, anyone serving a prison sentence at the time of an election is barred from voting. This applies even to short sentences of days or weeks.
‘Losing one’s liberty is punishment in itself,’ said Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform. She told the Friend that: ‘The government has a duty to encourage civic responsibility’ among prisoners.
But a spokesperson for the
Ministry of Justice said: ‘The issue of voting rights for prisoners is one that the government takes very seriously and that remains under careful consideration’. He said that a consultation process had recently closed and that the government is ‘analysing the responses’.
This is unlikely to satisfy campaigners for reform, who point out that ministers have already spent six years considering the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling. Frances Crook accused them of ‘avoiding this issue for far too long in a bid to look tough on crime’. She added: ‘prisoner voting shouldn’t be used as a political football’.
The issue caused controversy in Birmingham Hall Green, where Labour candidate Roger Godsiff, a sitting MP, distributed a leaflet featuring pictures of well-known criminals. It asked: ‘Do you want convicted murderers, rapists and paedophiles to be given the vote? The Lib Dems do.’
After complaints, the Labour Party insisted that the leaflet had not been sanctioned at national level and that no more copies would be distributed.
But Roger Godsiff refused to apologise, describing the Liberal Democrats’ policy as ‘black and white’. In response, the Liberal Democrats insisted that they would not give the vote to those currently in prison, but would in future allow judges to decide whether the vote should be removed when passing a sentence.
The Green Party would go further. A Green spokesperson told the Friend: ‘We believe that all prisoners should be allowed to vote’.
Symon Hill the Friend, 7 May 2010