Ruminations on Executions and Referenda

Caerphilly Castle - many executions have taken place here over the centuries.

This has been an interesting few days.

Guido Fawkes, God bless ‘im, has started a petition on the UK government website.

Now the idea of petitions is not new, but our revered leader has decided that he will listen to any petitions, and if more than 100,000 names are added to the petition, it will be discussed in parliament. Sort of. Which is good. It means we can keep our representatives in Westminster on their toes.

Doesn’t it?

Ah. But the first petition is to bring back the death penalty for cop killers and child murderers. The idea of reinstituting the death penalty has already started some unpleasant rants on the internet.

I don’t know. What is the advantage of the death penalty?

First, of course is the fact that if there is a murderer, he or she won’t be able to commit that particular crime again. Or any other, come to that. This is pretty uncontentious. So long as you have caught the right guy, of course. Much though I like the old judicial system we have in this country, not many people could accuse it of getting every case right.

There are far too many cases which have screwed up.

The Yeates case, in which the media announced the name and details of a suspect when he had absolutely nothing to do with the case was such a clear matter of the abuse of process in a criminal trial that the guilty papers have already been prosecuted and will be paying a very large sum to the man concerned.

There was the case of the Clapham murder of a young woman, in which a man was deliberately targeted by the police using an attractive woman police officer in an attempt at entrapment. That had to be thrown out.

These aren’t unique cases. Where there is murder, the police have a duty and determination to catch the crooks. Sometimes from a simple desire to see justice. More often, perhaps, if one were a cynic, because successful prosecution means faster promotion. That is one aspect of police work which should never be overlooked.

I recall many years ago now listening to the radio with a senior politician stating that there were not and would not be targets for the police. Unfortunately, the guy with whom I was listening to the radio (a neighbour), frowned, said, ‘That’s a lie – I have a target to hit every month’, so I found that declaration to be less than believable. Then there was the case of a fellow listening to a politician laughing when he was asked whether hand-held speed cameras meant police would hide behind hedges or walls to catch driver. ‘Of course not’ the politician chuckled. And in that instant my friend saw a policemen dart from behind a hedge to check his speed.

So no, I do not trust the British police any more. They have their own agenda – as police forces, and also as individuals.

The heyday of the police is long gone. In the past, when armed robberies took place in London, local officers would borrow pistols from passers-by in order to apprehend the criminals. By definition, a British subject was to be trusted.

A hundred years later, a trio of officers grabbed a Brazilian in a tube train, and two held him while the third emptied a Glock into his head. It was, perhaps, a panicked response to the horrors of the terrorists’ attack, but it was by definition an execution, and would have been unthinkable a hundred years ago.

But if we ignore the risks of poor policing, incompetent juries and other failings leading to the wrong person being convicted, is there another argument about removing dangerous individuals?

Actually, yes. First and foremost, as I mentioned elsewhere, the people who commit murder are not mass-murderers. Most English murders (not necessarily Scottish or Northern Irish where the murder rates are higher) are committed by spouse against spouse. We don’t have the random, drive by shootings that other nations are so famous for.

Most murders in our country are committed by a husband losing his temper. It is a cause for huge sadness, but it doesn’t mean that the death penalty will have any impact whatsoever. Any more than it did in past times when a starving child could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. A starving child will risk the rope if it means he can eat for the first time in days.

And of course there is the usual comment about terrorists. We should use the death penalty for them, because then we’d generate more terrorists. An inverse rule of deterrence: the more determined a mass-murderer, the less deterrence there is in the death penalty because he wants to become a martyr. Hmm.

And would it deter a seriously committed serial killer? Nope. Wouldn’t have stopped Edward Gein or The Iceman, or any other serial killers. So, exactly who will the death penalty deter. The generally law-abiding individual? Well, they were not likely to kill anyone in any case, so it’s unnecessary for them. We’ve already established that it won’t work for terrorists and other mass murderers. It won’t work for serial killers because most of them are insane and don’t think of the consequences. It won’t stop the majority of UK murders because they’re more heat of the moment, and you won’t stop family rows escalating no matter how many penalties you introduce.

To their credit, Guido Fawkes and others are proposing that the death penalty should be brought back for two specific instances: killing a police officer (presumably in the course of his work) or killing a child. Would the ultimate penalty work any better for these two? I do not believe that deterrence would affect either case.

In the case of a cop-killer, it may well have the opposite effect. A criminal running from the law may well choose to shoot to kill to remove a potential witness. It happens elsewhere. As for child-killers, sadly, I think such people are usually inadequate, ill-educated, and very often worn down by lack of sleep. That is often the case with baby-killers. Toddler killers are often tortured by new lovers, such as in the case of Baby P in the UK. Would the death penalty have saved the kids? No. It’s almost inconceivable.

So, we come back to the simple justification: revenge. Retribution.

I have no problem with that as a concept. After all, if it was my kid who was killed, I’d personally be very happy to take an axe to his murderer. Yes, I could throw the switch, push the hypodermic in or shoot him. And any parent who argues with that is not qualified to be a parent.

But I still have the initial big problem: would it be the right person who was sitting in the electric chair, standing before the firing squad, or waiting for the noose?

Because although I would be distraught and destroyed if someone killed my son, believe me, I would be far, far more desperate if the state killed my son for something he had never done. If that had been my son grabbed by two cops and shot to death with a Glock for something he had not done, my rage would be absolutely intolerable.

So I do not give a damn about petitions on this.

Which for me is another problem. Because I believe in the Swiss model of government.

Switzerland is easily the oldest democracy. After the battle of Morgarten, which forever freed them from the French aristocracy, the newly free Swiss decided that they would never be ruled again. So from that period, their democracy was based upon regular referenda of the people. For local issues, a small number of names on a petition will guarantee a referendum. Larger matters that affect more people require more names, and for national concerns, there is a need for a lot of names.

And it works. It’s worked well since Morgarten in – when was it, 1321? Which is why the Swiss don’t suffer from the more moronic excesses of our British system, in which political parties could be sponsored by foreign governments to deliberately damage our culture and society, and then alternative parties could react by truly monumentally stupid alterations to our system.

I love the Swiss system, in which little change can be implemented by corrupt politicians for their own benefit, or even for a ‘Social Experiment’. It is cretins like these which have successfully devastated our nation in the last fifty years, causing swings from far left-wing policies to far-right, with little thought of the impact on the average Briton.

But I don’t think it will work in England. Because sadly, we now do not have a culture we can celebrate. We do not have basic ideals which are coherent.

Our nation was united in shared beliefs and understanding of history. We had a system in which everything was permitted, except a small number of offences that were specifically banned. Now we have a mishmash of laws, some Anglo-Saxon, many European, which means we are not allowed to do things unless they are specifically permitted. There is no teaching of British culture in schools for the average citizen. There is no uniting behind the Union Flag. The flag itself is seen as divisive by many. Celebrating English culture with English folk music, Morris dancing or even St George’s day is now a cause for ridicule.

But, perhaps the idea of the petition system will work in the future. Trouble is, when petitions tend to be ignored by our politicians, because they discuss the question posed in parliament by deriding those who posed the question or signed the petition, it will not help our democracy or increase respect for our political system.

So, tread carefully, politicians. Tread very carefully.

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