Capital punishment? It’s simple really

9 Aug

In my nineteen sixties mid teens, when normal lads were out on the street playing togger and beginning to get interested in girls, I was reading such uplifting works as The Trial of Steven Truscot, about a Canadian fifteen year old sentenced in 1959 to hang after a murder conviction finally judged unsafe in 2008. Or Ludovic Kennedy’s 10 Rillington Place, whose most horrifying aspect for me – sorry ladies – was not the lonely, meaningless deaths of so many pitiful women at the hands of a sexually inadequate and manipulative psychopath. It was that the testimony of said psychopath was pivotal to the hanging of an innocent man.

And now, as home secretary in a cabinet to the right of any formed by Mrs Thatcher, thanks to the coronation by 2 percent1 of the UK electorate of a lying, racist, Eton toff as prime minister, we have a pro hanging Priti Patel. Here she goes head to head with Ian Hislop on the subject:

Since my objections to the death penalty are more practical than principled, I note Ian Hislop’s raising, at start of that brief clip, the issue of terrorist convictions. Some at least of seventeen men and women – Birmingham 6, Maguire 7, Guildford 4 – would have hanged had they been convicted just over a decade earlier.2 All were acquitted after years of incarceration and hard campaigning, not least by a man located time and again on the right side of history, where his More Responsible colleagues seldom set foot. A man who, decades later, would float through a maverick configuration of circs into  leadership of his party.

Patel’s atavistic stance plays to the very same gallery of blood bayers which, forty-five years ago, created a climate – with Britain’s Irish community at risk just as its Muslim community now is – of pressure on police and judiciary that made such miscarriages likely if not inevitable.

Nobody’s fool, the new home secretary insists that only on the basis of what she calls ‘ultimate proof’ would anyone hang under her plan for striking terror into the hearts of criminals. But it’s precisely because she’s no fool that I feel such contempt for her. She surely knows that ultimate proof is a jurisprudential (and epistemological) impossibility. Or maybe – now there’s a thought – she doesn’t.

In which case I feel even more contempt – for her, yes, but more for the reckless narcissist who raised her to such high office.

Which takes me back to my opposition being on practical rather than principled grounds. If the death penalty could be shown to be a deterrent – and to date that just hasn’t happened3and if there were some way to guarantee no innocent would receive it – there isn’t – then it might be supported as a net saver of lives.

No?

No. Not if you’re on the Left. Because as those tales from the Irish Experience demonstrate, you don’t, and this is a matter of principle, surrender a scintilla of extra power to rule over the many by and for the few – be that extra power in the arena of state surveillance, censorship, inroads on habeas corpus or any of the other theatres of class war in which we’ve spent two decades sleepwalking into totalitarianism.

It really is that simple. But of course, you do have to peer through the veil of liberal democracy, and take in the true nature of the British State, to see this.

***

  1. Early versions of this post put the figure at 0.14% but this was my bad. He was voted PM by 0.13 percent of all Britons, not the same thing. The New York Times tells us the tory membership comprises 3% of the UK electorate, and we know BoJo took 66% of that.
  2. The three groups were convicted in 1975 and 1976. Britain’s last hangings were in 1964. The death penalty was abolished for murder in 1965 (1973 in the Six Counties) but not for treason. That remained a capital offence until 1998.
  3. This cuts two ways. Some say murder rates fell after 1965. Usually the aim is to imply, the idea being too daft to come right out and say it, that hanging incentivises murder. Too often, apples and oranges are being compared. The only meaningful comparison is not overall murder rates before and after 1965. It is rates of that much smaller set of murders which, in the death penalty’s final decades, still qualified as capital. Even then there are all manner of confounding variables to counsel caution over what we make of such small data sets.

5 Replies to “Capital punishment? It’s simple really

  1. Well said Phillip, Milosevic found guilty and jailed and after his death in a US jail, found not guilty by a US Court stating that the charges brought against him by NATO were false. The Lockerbie bomber – a Libyan, died also in jail even though much of the given evidence was tainted and misrepresented and his innocence can be proven. The Litvinenko three ring circus led by a worm of a coroner shows just how corrupt our judiciary is. Safe to say that a “safe” conviction is far from likely. There are so many reasons why the death sentence must not be entertained.
    I strongly disagree with murder by the state or it’s representatives for all the reasons you have mentioned above and even though I’m an agnostic, do feel there is a moral imperative to consider.

    • I have to admit, Susan, that I too was taken in by the propaganda on Milosovic. Though I’ve always been on the left, even a marxist of sorts, my journey of discovery as to the true nature of our imperialist world, and the gangster elites that run it, really began a mere five years ago.

      In light of this, it irks me when people trot out – I encounter it less now that I’ve all but stopped reading the Guardian and its commentariat – the old chestnut about Milosovic the war criminal. But I have to temper my ire with the fact there was a time, and not so long ago, I would have done the same!

      The Lockerbie ‘bomber’ was another case, yes, though here there was some disquiet voiced even in MSM. As for the cases of Litvinenko, Politkovskaya, Skripals and – see the second of my Three short reads on empire hot spots – the downed Malaysian airliner, it’s dismaying how many educated people seem to forget both the cui bono question, and the fact that “we have evidence” is not evidence. Least of all when those making the claim have been shown time and again to be liars.

  2. I think as you have said Phil on the simple practical level capital punishment is ineffective let alone the principled position of State sanctioned murder. But the current Home Secretary chose not to acknowledge that the burden of proof that she mentions proved to be flawed in so many cases.
    She is of the current school of thought where facts or logic are not the basis for putting forward a view, but an opinion – which is what hers is – is sufficient to promote and continue to put it forward.

    We know this is by far the most reactionary right wing cabinet in modern times; the irony that it is allegedly the most diverse – though of course not the most important dimension class. So the question for me is how is she going to shift the debate from the flawed logic to pull at emotional strings of the British public to bring about the shift towards capital punishment. In my opinion using the potent force of fear
    PritI Patel has strong affiliations to two very right wing reactionary apartheid like Governments Israel (Settler Colonialist) and India (Hindu Fascistic BJP) both of whom are hell bent on violent oppression of any opposition particularly relating to Muslims and Islam. Of course, though, neither see Saudi Arabia – another reactionary right wing government as a threat.

    We know the toxic climate that Johnson and numerous other politiciands aided and abetted by MSM have created around Islamoracism and how that plays into the hands of the so called “outsiders” :Brexit Party UKIP and Tommy Robinson with his financing from the USA. So what I am about to say is simply speculation but not wild speculation. Is the state likely to create or use an opportunity to create fear about so called Islamic terrorism to shift the mood towards favouring the perverted position of supporting capital punishment. By the way I would be delighted to be proved wrong and that I am being conspiratorially paranoid, However I cannot help and put it out there as a possibility but being a rationalist would very persuaded that’s its not going to happen.

    Being a mathematician I would be interested in the probability – but I cannot at the moment see it as zero.

    • Hi Jawed. A quick response on four of your points.

      “She is of the current school of though where facts or logic are not the basis for putting forward a view but an opinion – which is what hers is – is sufficient to promote and continue to put it forward.”

      Indeed. And of course, she is playing to the gallery.

      “We know this is by far the most reactionary right wing cabinet in modern times; the irony being that it is allegedly the most diverse – though not, of course, on the most important dimension: class.”

      I’m glad you raise this. There are those who, through naivity or cynicism, cite Patel (and Javid) as proof that a man who referred to “picanninnies” and “letter boxes” is no racist. They oversimplify the issue.

      “PritI Patel has strong affiliations to two very right wing reactionary apartheid like Governments Israel (Settler Colonialist) and India (Hindu Fascistic BJP) both of whom are hell bent on violent oppression of any opposition particularly relating to Muslims and Islam.”

      Of late there’s been a lot of coverage – this for instance – of Netanyahu’s cosying up with Modi. While the picture is complex – as when New Delhi defied Washington in buying, and Moscow irked Tel Aviv in selling, Russia’s world-beating S-400 missile defence systems (one measure of how good they are being that, amongst others, Riyadh is tempted) – the world is more perilous as a result of the India-Israel rapport. As I write this, Indian troops are in the Negev Desert to acquire, from elite IDF units, skills of counter insurgency learned in Gaza. As you know better than most, India has the world’s third largest Muslim population. And where does Ms Patel locate herself? Precisely where you say!

      “Is the state likely to create or use an opportunity to create fear about so called Islamic terrorism to shift the mood towards favouring the perverted position of supporting capital punishment?”

      I don’t think it paranoid to speculate along such lines. I doubt there’s much appetite for a fight on the death penalty right now. Britain’s current turmoil has its counterpart in a ruling class divided over Europe, so I guess there are bigger fish to fry. I’m thinking that, in the overall weaponry of class rule, for instance the surveillance and inroads into civil liberties I mentioned, the death penalty isn’t that big a deal. And pushing it through would eat up political capital (no pun intended) even for governments far more secure than BoJo’s. That said, the variables now seem so many that a certain amount of chaos theory has to be factored in. So who knows? Not me.

      • I agree with your comment regarding the importance of capital punishment to the ruling class is not a high priority though it my be to Patel and it could prove to be a distraction from their main agenda. Of course it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen in Britain with the chaos and turmoil that is likely to happen. All is we can do is to resist as much as we can.

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