Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Debating The Death Penalty In The UK

The United Kingdom abolished capital punishment in Great Britain in 1969 and Ireland in 1973, with the last execution, by hanging, taking place in 1964. The United States is the only western country that still uses the death penalty, and last year together with China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen, carried out the most executions.  Is this the company that the U.K. wants to keep?  Quite doubtful, but Parliament may be required to debate reinstating the death penalty if enough voters sign an e-petition on a Downing Street website.  Anthony Barrett, the founder of openDemocracy, is encouraging voters to sign a counter petition to retain the ban. 

Hanging -- Look Who's Winning So Far

By Anthony Barrett, cross-posted from openDemocracy

A short while ago I wrote a post for the Guardian's Comment is Free, republished here, about the new parliament petitions website. If over 100,000 voters sign a petition in six months it will go before a House of Commons committee and if found practical and significant MPs will then be obliged to debate it.

I argued that the idea stank of an unholy alliance of populists and paternalists - but we shouldn't let this ruin a good party or be afraid of debates that matter and we should greet anything that might encourage deliberation and engagement by getting engaged and winning the better argument.

In particular, we should not be afraid of a debate over the death penalty. This had grabbed the headlines as Paul Staines, aka blogger Guido Fawks, immediate launched a petition to restore hanging. The general feeling was it would sweep to a triumphant 100,000. I assumed this was so but said it is vital and possible to win public support for continuing its abolition. Doing so will defeat both the Sun and other forces of populism and disappoint the BBC-style paternalists who want us to believe that we need them to protect us from the horny hands and deformed minds of the public.

I didn't know that Martin Shapland had immediately launched a counter-petition to retain the ban on hanging. What is the outcome so far? The hangers have 15,470 signatures. But the petition to retain the ban on hanging has 22,794 (11pm 15 August).

A good start. Should you share opposition to the death penalty sign the petition to retain its ban - then encourage others to do so. My guess is that Guido will get tabloid support to push his numbers over 100K before both petitions close in February next year. But I also have a feeling that people are reluctant to put their name and address on the record as wanting to restore hanging. If so those of us against the death penalty can extend and maintain a public lead, which would be a tremendously important achievement. So if you too oppose the reintroduction of the death penalty, sign here. And isn't this one for 38 Degrees?

Anthony Barrett is is the founder of openDemocracy and now the Co-Editor of its UK section, Our KingdomopenDemocracy is a great British website that publishes high quality news analysis, debates and blogs about international politics and culture. 


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