Sajid Javid’s reckless decision confirms this is a government that has lost its moral bearingsby Tom Clark / July 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
In the context of Brexit, one can almost feel sorry for Theresa May’s shattered hopes of “strong and stable government.” After a referendum that very narrowly plumped for an ambiguous “Leave” proposition, I doubt anyone could have provided that. Both parties, like the country, are hopelessly divided about how to strike an unappealing balance between showing contempt for the country’s mandate, and making the country worse off than it is now.
Suddenly, however, and well away from the inevitable complexities of the negotiation, we are witnessing a government that has not only lost its cohesion, but one that has—in the process—lost its moral bearings as well. Ethical questions don’t get much more fundamental than whether it can be right for a state, away from the battlefield or imminent danger, to calmly kill a human being. We’ve long thought we knew where Britain stood on this question. Today we learn that an ambitious home secretary has decided to muddy the waters.
The debate about ending capital punishment in this country was, admittedly, a long and often fraught path. The first serious effort at abolition was made in the late 1940s, before it was actually scrapped in the 1960s, and right-wing politicians, including Margaret Thatcher, were still talking about reintroduction until the later 1980s. After that, however, public opinion—originally very pro-hanging—began to shift a little, and Westminster settled into a consensus that executions were gradually becoming, like slave ships and children in factories, something that belonged to another age. By the turn of century, as first the Human Rights Act went through and then the UK signed up to the bolt-on “protocol” to the European Convention that permanently and “in all circumstances” abolished the death penalty, there was barely a murmur of disagreement.
This evolution of both law and mind-set was reflected in public policy, including in relation to the deportation of criminals and intelligence sharing. For many years, the message from London to death penalty states was clear. If you want our help with a trial you need to forgo the option of a capital sentence. Everyone understood this, and so—in this highly specific but important way—Britain did its bit to push the world in a civilised direction.
Until now. In the chaotic heat of the undeclared Conservative leadership election, Sajid Javid picked up his pen to Donald Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions,…