Alex Massie Alex Massie

The Death Penalty: A Matter of Emotion, Not Reason

As a torch-and-pitchfork populist it’s not a great surprise that Guido Fawkes is in favour of the death penalty. Nor will it be a great shock when he gathers the 100,000 signatures needed to petition parliament* to consider reintroducing capital punishment. And I agree with my old friend Neill Harvey-Smith who, while opposing the death penalty, ain’t afraid of discussing the issue even though, perhaps especially because, the polls consistently suggest a majority of voters would like to bring back hanging.

So be it. Nelson Jones makes an astute point: the abolitionist cause was fortunate in its timing. Not just because it was a product of a liberal era but also because the test case was the dreadful execution of Derek Bentley not the appalling crimes committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Had the Moors Murders been the poster-case for or against hanging the outcome might well have been very different.

Nevertheless, this will be an odd debate if only because it’s so familiar and so few minds are likely to be changed one way or the other. As it happens I don’t think MPs should be expected to follow or pander to the prejudices of their constituents (but if constituents wish to punish them for failing to do so then so be it). But nor do I think supporters of the death penalty will be swayed by arguments about the risk of executing the innocent. In my experience they’re happy to accept that risk as the price of doing business.

They are equally happy to ignore anything that confounds their suspicion that the death penalty must surely deter criminal behaviour. There does not seem to be much evidence showing that states that use capital punishment have lower murder rates than those that don’t.

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