With our human rights already under threat, it’s difficult to trust a leader who believes Lee Anderson is the answer to any question, writes Bremain Chair Sue Wilson MBE for Yorkshire Bylines.
Newly elevated deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, Lee Anderson, is no stranger to controversy. Whether he’s picking a fight with Steve (Mr Stop Brexit) Bray, suggesting food bank users have a “budgeting problem”, or using a friend to pose as a swing-voter on camera, Anderson is a dab hand at stirring up trouble. And he seems to rather enjoy it.
Anderson was promoted in Rishi Sunak’s recent reshuffle, leaving many surprised, if not astounded, by the prime minister’s decision. With Sunak’s credibility already being questioned, Anderson’s advancement only raised more doubt about the prime minister’s judgement. Perhaps, considering Anderson’s latest comments regarding the death penalty, Sunak himself is now having second thoughts about the wisdom of his decision. If he isn’t, he certainly should be.
“100% success rate”
In an interview with The Spectator, Anderson expressed his support for the reintroduction of the death penalty by saying that “nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed”, describing it as a “100% success rate”. His comments forced the prime minister to note that neither he, nor the government, shared Anderson’s view and a return of the death penalty was not government policy.
Anderson went on to say that “certain groups” (presumably left-wing wokerati types) would complain that “you can never prove it”. He suggested that video evidence was strong enough proof to warrant an execution. It was an argument that fell apart on the appearance of a doctored video of Anderson himself confessing to a crime on social media, proving how easily video ‘evidence’ can be manipulated.
It’s the ‘will of the people’
Fellow Conservative MP and death penalty supporter, Scott Benton, was quick to defend Anderson’s stance, by suggesting that it was a policy “supported by a majority of the public”, as well as many of his Blackpool South constituents. Not only were the “liberal elites”, the media and Twitter “detached from the public” but any outcry was an example of the “usual leftie hysteria”.
Usual leftie hysteria following @LeeAndersonMP_ comments on the death penalty. It’s supported by a majority of the public, and my constituents, in certain cases. Another example of the media, liberal elites and Twitter being detached from the public.
— Scott Benton MP 🇬🇧🏴 🍊 (@ScottBentonMP) February 9, 2023
Whilst I can’t speak for Benton’s constituents, it is certainly not true that the majority of the British public are in favour of the death penalty. In a recent YouGov poll, only 14% of Britons showed strong support for the death penalty, with a further 26% tending to support, making a total of 40%. Amongst Conservative voters, that total rose to 58% support in total. By comparison, amongst Labour voters, support fell to just 23%.
There was also a vast difference in levels of support dependent on age, with only 22% of 18–24-year-olds supporting capital punishment. For the over 65s age group, support rose to 54%. If Benton is to be believed, then presumably his constituents are elderly Tory voters yearning for an England that no longer exists, and that should be consigned to history. Along with his views on capital punishment.
No defence for the indefensible
Arguments commonly used in favour of the death penalty – usually in the case of murder – are that it serves as a deterrent, it provides closure for the families of victims and that it dispenses justice, of the biblical eye-for-an-eye variety. However, these arguments do not hold up.
According to Amnesty International (and others), there is no evidence to support the argument that the death penalty deters crime any more than long prison sentences. In addition, states that have a death penalty – often those with authoritarian regimes – do not have lower crime or murder rates than those that do not.
Even within the most vigorous of legal systems, miscarriages of justice do happen, and innocent people have, and still are being, executed. The other compelling argument against capital punishment is that it is simply morally wrong. Taking a human life is completely unethical and sets a bad example to society.
The global view
According to the Death Penalty Information Centre, 70% of nations have now abolished capital punishment. However, 60% of the world’s population live in countries where the death penalty is retained, including the highly populated China, India and the United States – the only G7 country to still have the death penalty. In 2021, 579 executions were recorded – a increase of 20% over the previous year. The highest numbers of executions took place in China, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria (in that order).
Our own Human Rights Act (HRA) came into force in October 2000, incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic British law. Article 2 of the HRA protects the right to life and states:
“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which the penalty is provided by law.”
But the Human Rights Act, which protects many other basic human rights as well as the right to life, is currently under threat from justice minister and deputy PM Dominic Raab. His ‘bill of rights’ has been described by Liberty as a “wrecking ball” which would “smash your rights and freedoms”. Maybe Sunak should have a word, if he can work up the nerve.
We have come to expect a certain dangerous rhetoric from our government of late – in particular from the Home Office. So, it’s hardly a stretch to believe there might be more death penalty supporters lurking in government behind Anderson and Benton.
With a government that seems drawn to authoritarianism, and with many rights and legal protections under threat, we need to be vigilant.
Our right to life may not be under threat, but it’s increasingly difficult to trust a prime minister, or government, that believes Lee Anderson is the answer to any question.