Julie Burchill

‘Hang ‘em high!’ – leftists for the death penalty, re Pistorius et al

'Hang 'em high!' – leftists for the death penalty, re Pistorius et al
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O, the fury of my Sisters over the risible punishment (I’ve seen longer sentences in Ulysses) handed out to Oscar Pistorius! I’m with them all the way on this one. On hearing that India had issued the death penalty to the four men convicted of raping and murdering a student in Delhi last year, my first reaction was, ‘Ooo, good ­I hope it’s televised!’ I have long been a supporter of the death ­penalty for any type of killing except the most self-defensive kind - and I see this as an important part of my identity as a feminist, especially. Two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners, and in my opinion, the more woman-murderers who are forced to meet their Maker, the better. Or indeed any killer (not counting soldiers, for any half-witted pacifist hoping to make a snarky comment) except, as I said, the most self-defending sort.

I’ve always felt this way, apart from a crazed period as a Liberal (ever the weirdo, I fancied Jeremy Thorpe) as an adolescent. Along with the great Nick Cohen as he extrapolated in his masterpiece What’s Left: How the Left Lost its Way, I consider myself in the vast majority of ways to still be, in my dotage, as left-wing as I was in my youth on issues such as tax and nationalisation. It’s a large part of the ‘left’, rather, which has actually moved right, to the point were it frequently supports homosexual-executing, woman-stoning, democracy-hating religious thugs. (See the recent refusal by the National Union of Students to condemn the Islamofascists of the Islamic State targeting the democratic, self-defending Kurds.)

But unusually for a Leftist, I’ve been in favour of capital punishment for all of my adult life. A good part of this may stem from my working-class origins - as with the wage-lowering effect of mass immigration, it’s easy to be liberal about something when you’re not damaged by it, and the vast majority of victims of violence (proportionally, even considering that they make up a larger part of society than the other classes combined) - especially murder - are working-class. I grew up with the smiling faces of the legions of lost little girls, murdered by some scumbag for kicks, branded on my brain; I grew to hate those serene, posh women from the Howard League for Penal Reform who were forever on television explaining why some rapist or murderer deserved the freedom to have sex in jail, the right to vote, and/or to get out of prison and do it all again. (Not even their seemingly smutty name or the fact that one of them was named ‘Frances Crook’ could make the foolish teenage-me warm to them.)

It amazed me how they saw themselves as compassionate because they could put themselves in the shoes of a child-killer but not the parents of the murdered child. I instinctively felt that they, like many middle-class reformers before them, saw the working-class - as opposed to the exotic criminal class - as not quite human. I also sometimes suspected that they had sexual feelings for the murderers and rapists whose ‘rights’ they pled so passionately for, and that, had they been born on another continent and in another class, they’d be writing love letters to serial killers.

My dad, dear departed sainted Stalinist that he was, was always keen on these occasions to point out that while most Communist countries (this was in the 1970s) had the death penalty, most of the Fascist ones didn’t - they simply terrorised, tortured and ‘disappeared’ people. I found out about the Second World War, and what the Nazis had done, and I began to crush on the Nuremberg prosecutors in a way I had previously pashed on Marc Bolan. The way we saw it, socialism was meant to be about supporting the underdog, and whatever way you slice it, the underdog in a violent-crime situation is the victim and not the perpetrator. So when I grew up and went to That London and started working in the shockingly middle-class media, I was always a bit of a no-mates on this issue. What on earth could make people who considered themselves as being on the side of the weak and the poor - card-carrying members of the brotherhood of man - repeatedly take on the plight of the mugger, the molester and the murderer; those who believe that in any given circumstance, might is right? ‘Crook-suckers!’ I used to snigger childishly to myself.

Then came the cult of Hate Crime. And suddenly, people who had maintained that putting people in prison was a pointless, prehistoric reaction to a complex problem began to bay for the blood of the criminal when homosexuals and people of colour were the victims. About time too, I thought - at last liberals will realise that their prevailing attitude of forgive-and-forget (forgive the criminal, forget the crime and the victim) has been utterly half-witted. But it was not to be - the attacking and killing of women seems to be taken less seriously as the attacking and killing of racial and sexual minorities is taken more seriously. It’s a strange social phenomena - like how comedians can now tell rape jokes but not racist jokes and still be considered ‘radical’. Even though racial and sexual minorities are not being slaughtered at the rate of two per week, killing a woman is still not a Hate Crime. Indeed it might even be excused as a Crime of Passion - and therefore to be ‘understood’ rather than properly punished.

But why is it more hateful to kill a black person or a gay person than a very old person or one’s ex-girlfriend? All killings are equally hateful; my sisters should have seen this long ago. All violent crimes are hate crimes. All killings should be punished properly. Come on, comrades - sing out, sisters; catch ‘em, try ‘em, convict ‘em - and hang 'em high!