Opinion: Don’t make Guido’s day

What an enjoyable holiday Guido Fawkes must be having. While he is sunning himself in France he is also managing to create a ludicrous fuss in the UK with his campaign to use the new e-petition website to ask for a vote in the Commons on Capital Punishment.

For some reason this seems to have got Lib Dems in particular into a tizzy – blogging, tweeting and generally upsetting themselves about this, to no purpose at all.

Here‘s the thing: there is no chance whatsoever of a vote in the Commons supporting the return of the death penalty. None. It won’t happen. Don’t waste your time worrying about it.

How do I know? Two reasons really. First of all since capital punishment was temporarily abolished in 1965 there have been many opportunities for MPs to vote to restore it. And they haven’t. Even after the 1983 election when Mrs Thatcher had a majority of 144, when the Sun was in its tabloid heyday, when they had enough votes to pass Section 28, it didn’t happen.

In 1994 when John Major was PM it was rejected by 403 to 159. A narrower vote on the death penalty for those who kill a police officer was rejected by 383 to 186 with 122 Tory MPs voting against.

Secondly as Lib Dem Voice readers may have noticed, the Tories don’t have a majority in the House of Commons. Even with the Unionists and the odd maverick Labour Party member they would not possibly have enough votes.

So no need to worry about capital punishment in the UK. But there are a number of countries which still judicially kill people, which certainly is worth campaigning about.

Why not help Amnesty International with their campaign against the death penalty?

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Errm… plus of course they’d have to leave the EU for it to be legal, which I guess is really what Guido is aiming for…..

  • Gareth Epps 5th Aug '11 - 10:34am

    Of course Guido and his mates also believe that nobody should pay any tax – like that’s going to happen either…

  • I agree that at the moment it won’t pass but conservatives in the country are fighting hard to push their beliefs onto the country. It’s not impossible that later on down the line we won’t find ourselves in a country that is much more socially conservative. We liberals need to defend enlightened morality and this is an issue that we can do that on when if there is a public debate.

  • I agree that there’s no chance of it happening, and to be frank I am rather put off by those who are angry that it might even be debated. Plus, I was initially sceptical about the anti-death penalty petition; I thought it would do very badly compared to the pro-capital punishment one… but, I have been very pleasantly surprised, and I think if it reaches 100,000 first and therefore (ironically) triggers a debate on the death penalty (i.e. has the same effect as Guido’s petition), at least that debate will be held in light of the fact that opponents of the death penalty got to 100,000 first. Far from MPs having to present themselves as standing against the will of the people, they will be able to back the sentiment of the successful (anti-death penalty) petition. And, that debate and vote having taken place, all the others can be thrown in the bin.

  • LondonLiberal 5th Aug '11 - 11:15am

    Far better to support the legalise cannbis petition on the epetition website and have a debate that advances liberal values, rather than defends against conservative ones.

  • We could align ourselves with Liberal values by ensuring the torture inquiry is as open and transparent as possible. Nick can do that today – almost with a stroke of his pen.

  • This may well be a stupid question, but…..

    Should I have heard of ‘Guido Fawkes’ before yesterday?

  • I agree that it’s annoying that the media seems to be ignoring that small fact that the anti-capital punishment has many more people on it. Maybe they’re trying to “manage” the story and create some drama before finally revealing that the death penalty isn’t so popular after all? Or perhaps they just don’t care that they’re misleading the public….

  • Martin Shapland 5th Aug '11 - 3:28pm

    Dear Simon

    You are somewhat missing the point – it is silly season, political journalists are bored and you can tell by the coverage that Paul Staines, a well entrenched figure in the media establishment, had this planned in advance with the tabloids. The petition is not getting him coverage – his media contacts are.

    Yes, its a minor issue, hardly worth taking time when the world economy is in turmoil, we’re at war and people are struggling to get jobs and support themselves – I know this – but if the public narrative was allowed to be – public support the Death Penalty and the Liberal Elite in parliament block it, – we wouldn’t be doing Liberalism justice, I make no apologies for asserting the small l, Liberal, position. I want to give our MP’s and MP’s of all parties popular support when they vote to retain the ban.

    Those against the death penalty are in the liberal mainstream as the petition site shows – and battles have to be fought on all fronts – I’ll leave our ministers to governing, and getting across what we’re doing in government – I’d ask you to help me discredit the ultra right wing and sign the petition http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1090

  • I agree of course there’s no chance parliament will vote to bring the death penalty back, but Stuart and Martin have hit the nail on the head – it’s about the context in which any debate is held. If Guido’s petition were left unanswered he might well succeed in fostering a narrative of how MPs are out of touch with the public’s view on the issue. If Martin’s petition gain more signatures – or even a similar number – then the context will be completely different. And it’ll be hard for the media to ignore that no matter how much they want to focus on the more controversial side.

    That said, I wouldn’t want us to spend huge amounts of time or resources on this since it is indeed a silly season story. But setting up / signing a petition is hardly a massive effort is it? (Not to minimise the credit Martin deserves for actually doing it of course! 🙂 )

  • Martin Shapland 5th Aug '11 - 4:06pm

    @Catherine – Charming!

  • Ahh the juicy irony of people such as Guido. He and his followers claim libertarians who don’t trust the state to do anything. Except kill its citizens, of course.

    These people hate the state saving lives via the NHS but love the state taking lives via the courts. It is most definitely the silly season..

  • That should say “claim TO BE libertarians..”

  • How ironic, man styling himself on executed historical figure campaigns for execution.

  • Simon McGrath 5th Aug '11 - 7:10pm

    I disagree. I think the argument that Martin’ s petition is doing better than Guido’s (excellent) takes us down a dangerous route. Next time there is a petition which is doing well but which we don’t like we will be told that the number of signatures has legitimacy.

  • David Parkes 5th Aug '11 - 10:43pm

    Personally I think Martin Shapland’s counter campaign is hugely embarrassing for ‘Guido’ – he’s losing fans and followers amongst the political anorak brigade with his support for the death penalty and a grass-roots Lib Dem campaign opposing him is not only completely outpacing ‘Guido’s’ petition with presently almost double the number of signatures its showing our members and supporters are at the forefront of opposing stupid ideas.

  • Martin’s Petition now has 13,768 signatures. I just checked the figures.

  • @Martin
    Heh, sorry – and in all seriousness, getting the word out about your petition to the extent of attracting more than 14,000 signatures in such a short time is an excellent achievement and one that I’m sure took more effort than setting it up in the first place! 🙂

    Good point and to an extent I agree, but I think there are two counter-arguments that I find more persuasive.

    First, we have to work within the system we have not the one we’d like. I’m not a fan of the petitions initiative in the first place. I think it’s mostly a pointless gimmick that the majority of people don’t give a toss about and will be used mostly by small yet vociferous lobbying groups to further their causes. However, I’m equally no fan of our voting system, and I think it’s ridiculous that we have to devote so much leaflet space to telling voters “it’s a two horse race”. But there it is – it’s the system we’ve got and we have to do our best within the existing framework.

    Likewise, whatever I (or anyone else) may think of the epetitions, they’re here to stay now and if we don’t do our best to counter the most stupid and/or offensive of the petitions put forward it’ll just be yet another megaphone for those who shout loudest to try and wrestle the agenda onto their territory. I wouldn’t advocate spending masses of time on it, but surely we have a good enough e-comms setup to publicise petitions to our members/supporters without much effort? After all, signing the damn things takes less than a minute and a few mouse clicks, it’s hardly a big ask for people who’re prepared to go out delivering in the rain.

    Second, I think Martin’s petition is a special case. Partly because this is such a fundamental moral issue, but mostly because the epetitions site has just been launched, so the media will be more interested now while it’s shiny and new than a few years down the line. If the first petition even to gain enough signatures to be considered for debate is one asking for a return to capital punishment, that will shape the media narrative in a way that the 4th / 5th / 20th petition to do so probably won’t. You know what the media are like – the first example of anything is reported as a huge earth-shaking event, then subsequent examples of the same thing are relegated to item number 23 on the bulletin…

  • Simon, you’re almost certainly right to say it won’t happen. A repeal of the ban on the death penalty is at best, unlikely – if not almost impossible to achieve in practice, as it would require several legal barriers to be overcome not to mention withdrawal from the EU (coming as it does under Protocol 13 of the Human Rights Act).

    But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) that doesn’t mean we should let this pass. Guido knows it won’t happen, too: he has his own reasons for wanting to open this debate, but that’s not really important. The fact that Paul Staines has a political agenda is neither surprising nor particularly offensive.

    What is offensive is the suggestion that the death penalty might be acceptable; that the majority of British people might find it acceptable. I don’t believe that’s the case, and I believe we should fight to show that it isn’t.

    Many thanks for mentioning Amnesty’s campaign. If, while we’re at it, we can raise awareness of the many problems surrounding the death penalty and its use in other countries, then we will at least have made some good from the whole thing.

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  • The death penalty is expensive, ineffective, arbitrary and considered by all morally sound nations as being a throwback to a less enlightened last. Let’s have the debate, there are great speakers on all sides of the house who will show the hang ’em, flog ’em brigade up for what they are.

    In my view it’s a bit like when Griffin from the BNP was on question time. His arguments were ripped apart and the same treatment is needed for this lot. If we don’t have the debate then only the right wing get their view into the mass market.

  • Kevin Colwill 9th Aug '11 - 5:41pm

    Of course we’re all right; the death penalty is a bad idea, morally wrong and won’t be brought back. Only… isn’t it consistently popular among voters?

    I’m not saying ditch principles for popularity or, indeed, power, (now did I mention Nick Clegg? – it’s just you being paranoid) but it’s never a great idea to appear to be dismissive of a good chunk of public opinion. This is a debate that must always be engaged and never taken as won.

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