Friday, August 05, 2011

Why I shall not be signing the petition against the death penalty

Many of fellow Liberal Democrat bloggers are encouraging their readers to sign an electronic petition to parliament calling for the death penalty not to be reintroduced.  I have no wish to see the death penalty reintroduced, but I shall not be joining them for two main reasons.

First, because there is no organised group calling for the death penalty to be reinstated. All the debate of the last few days has arisen from the pro-death penalty petition being run by Paul Staines. Though a couple of not very bright Labour councillors from Leicester have taken it seriously, I suspect this petition is largely aimed at getting publicity for Paul’s Guido Fawkes blog – something he has always been very good at. I don’t see why the rest of us should help him achieve this aim.

Second, because the anti-hanging petition is essentially self-defeating. If Paul Staines’s petition gets enough signatures there will be a Commons debate on the death penalty. If the petition by those who don’t want to see the death penalty reintroduced gets enough signatures there will be... a Commons debate on the death penalty.

If Liberal Democrats do want to look at how we treat those convicted murder, let me suggest another idea.

The whole-life tariff began as an exceptional punishment for those convicted of particularly heinous murders. I suspect it was introduced because no home secretary wanted to be known in the tabloids as the man who released Myra Hindley.

Today this sentence seems to be imposed almost routinely. Yet John Stuart Mill found idea that “life should mean life” so cruel that he preferred the death penalty:
If, in our horror of inflicting death, we endeavour to devise some punishment for the living criminal which shall act on the human mind with a deterrent force at all comparable to that of death, we are driven to inflictions less severe indeed in appearance, and therefore less efficacious, but far more cruel in reality. Few, I think, would venture to propose, as a punishment for aggravated murder, less than imprisonment with hard labor for life; that is the fate to which a murderer would be consigned by the mercy which shrinks from putting him to death. But has it been sufficiently considered what sort of a mercy this is, and what kind of life it leaves to him?
That is from a speech Mill made to the Commons in 1868.

Few Liberal Democrats will agree with the moral that he drew from this. But if we want to fight a principled campaign, how about questioning the frequency with which a whole-life tariff is now imposed?


Dan Falchikov said...

Well said. I won't be signing it either.

I blogged about Staines's ridiculous campaign a few days ago - but not so eloquently as your post.

Mark Marsh said...

You make a good case however, while Staines petition may be all about publicity, there are those who do want the death penalty reinstated. There are also those who will use this issue to further their Eurosceptic/anti-Human Rights Act cause. The petition against reinstating the death penalty serves, if nothing else, to show the strength of feeling against capital punishment. I believe the 'anti' petition currently has more signatures.

As I understand it, a committee will select which petitions are debated. It is therefore unlikely that a petition against the death penalty will be debated; why would the committee choose to debate not doing something there are are no plans to do? This is especially true if, as has been blogged elsewhere, we can count on an overwhelmingly anti-capital punishment House of Commons.

Simply ignoring the death penalty petition may make perfect sense in the blogosphere but we live in the real world. Have we forgotten the AV referendum so soon? Don't take anything for granted. I don't care how many column inches of free publicity Guido Fawkes gets out of this. I will care if the impression is created that there is growing support for the reintroduction of capital punishment.

Anonymous said...

That's the trouble with semi-detached Liberals like you - "a couple of not very bright Labour councillors..." What does 'being bright' have to do with this debate? And who are you to judge exactly? I understand that one of those Councillors is the Chief Whip of the group, and the other is a solicitor, whereas you're a washed-up former district Councillor. And in case you think I'm attacking you unfairly, I actually will not be signing the petition myself. I just hate the way people like you personalise rebuttals and insult others for expressing their views. Grow up.

Daniel said...

I'm with Mark.

You're right that there's zero chance of the death penalty being re-introduced. We all know that. The reason for the "counter petition" is to publically win the debate and properly bury the issue.

Presumably Guido wants to position himself as "man of the common people" who are being ignored by politicians. I think he wants to be perceived as having the voice of the people behind him.

If the "counter petition" reached 100,000 first (which it looks set to do) then that would cause a media victory for liberal values and an embarrassment for Guido.

Signing it only takes a couple of minutes, and then we can forget about it and go back to more important things! :)

Anonymous said...

a couple of not very bright Labour councillors from Leicester have taken it seriously

Rather more significantly, several not very bright Conservative MPs have also taken it seriously, including Andrew Turner, Philip Davies, Andrew Robathan and Priti Patel (previously talked of as a future leader of the party, though I'm guessing she's killed her chances with this idiocy).

If the petition by those who don’t want to see the death penalty reintroduced gets enough signatures there will be... a Commons debate on the death penalty.

No, there would be a Commons debate on how best to ensure the retention of the ban on the death penalty. For instance, it could be suggested that it should be enshrined in the first clause of the mooted new Bill of Rights.