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The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that prisoners in British (and other European) jails must be given the vote.

Er hello, are you prisoner 4631Z?

You can call me Slasher.

Well, er, hello Slasher I'm canvassing on behalf of the Conservative party and was wondering if we could count on your vote in the election.

Well that depends.

On what?

Got any snout?

I'm sorry electoral rules are very strict on gifts for votes. But I can tell you about our policies.

Go on then, I've got time on me hands.

Well, we believe in stiffer sentences of re-offenders, an end to the early release scheme (pause) er, on second thoughts let's start somewhere else. Skills and retraining perhaps.

Stiffer sentences you say.

Yes, but only for the really bad criminals, not for people like erm, what was it you are in for?

Aggravated burglarly and GBH.

I see, er well er ah let me tell you about our prison building programme. We intend to build a whole new line of really pukka prisons. Look at this jail, there's how many of you in a cell? Two. Shocking. Our new prisons will have excellent facilities. A cell of your own, TV in every room, your own toilet, sprung mattress.

En suite shower?

That might be pushing it.

It says here in your literature that you think they should be "austere but decent".

Well, we could make that decent but austere, if you prefer. Think of it. You own personal space. Room to reflect and grow.

Who's building 'em. I don't want no Jarvis prisons.

Well I'll certainly see that gets drawn to the Home Secretary's attention. So can we count on your support?

What about that Europe-wide arrest warrant.

We're absolutely against it.

That's good to hear.

Some time later.

Hello, Slasher, I'm calling on behalf of the Labour party.

Oh yeah, the tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime party.

Ah yes, well that's one way of looking at it. Another might be the party of early release, tagging, wider use of community service orders. Rehabilitation programmes.

Well that's all peachy, but didn't I just see your leader talking about changing the justice system to make it less on the side of the defendant. I gotta tell you that did not go down well in here. We can't have you taking liberties, can we?

I see your point. But erm, tell me do you like the odd joint perhaps.

You wearing a wire?

No, no I was just going to point out how we had decriminalised marijuana.

Yeah but you've made tobacco really expensive. You can't get a pack of twenty in here now coasts up to two copies of Loaded.

Well I here what you say, but if you don't vote for us the other side will keep you in prison longer. And lets not forget we've kept the detection rate miserably low. You've still every chance of pursuing your chosen career and never getting caught.

OK. You've got my vote.

That's great. Now you wouldn't like to put up a poster.

Not really.

It would liven up your wall.

True. Any birds on it.?

Ruth Kelly

Ah, not really my type. Have you got a Tessa Jowell?

Sorry, I've got Harriet Harman.

What's she wearing?

The writers’ rights

Leading authors are calling on the Office of Fair Trading to order a Competition Commission inquiry into the takeover of the bookseller, Ottakar’s by HMV, owners of Waterstone’s. The FT has seen some of their letters.

Anthony Beevor, author of Stalingrad: “The assault on Ottakar’s began after James Heneage, its chief executive sitting in his office in SW11, proposed a management buy-out to take it private. Days later, HMV’s panzers swept across the City with a 440p a share offer. One local author wrote to his mother describing the scene at the Ottakar’s in Exeter. ‘Middle-ranking authors found their work taken outside and set alight. 44,000 writers vanished overnight. 562 changed their name to Dan Brown just to get their book named the manager’s choice.’”

Harold Pinter, wrote: “HMV (pause) Those bastards (menacing pause). They can’t get away with what they’re doing. What are they doing? Things they shouldn’t get away with. We should string them up. How much string would we need? How long’s a piece of string? How strong’s a piece of string. I told them. Who? The Competition Commission. The CC? The same. I said they’re trying to decommission the competition. They won’t get permission. Could there be an inquiry? I forgot to inquire. But you sent a letter? Yes. To the CC? Yes. Did you cc it to anyone?”

Alan Bennett wrote: “I remember the Ottakar’s of my childhood, even though it didn’t actually exist until 1987. It was opposite the Co-op, between the butcher and the National Bank. It had a distinct, musty smell and was run by a bespectacled man with leather elbow patches and an assistant called Clive, who was gassed in the war and cowered behind the biographies whenever a car backfired. My mother and other ladies would gossip softly in the romance section about how Mrs Cordwainer’s brother had taken up with the dancer he met at Lyons Corner House in the Strand. It’s gone now; the Corner House that is, not the Strand. And now Ottakar’s could be gone. Everything goes; that is, if you decide that anything goes.”

Ian McEwan was succinct: “They took the body of Ottakar’s stores to the bathroom and returned with a hacksaw. It was surprisingly easy but the blood was viscous and the stench made them retch. The unwanted writers were wrapped in cellophane and buried in the garden.”

Dan Brown noted that “the facts behind this merger are more shocking than anyone realises. The secret is guarded by a sinister gang of analysts, known as Ebit Dei. But the truth can be found, buried in the sci-fi section of small bookstore in Perth”.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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