Perry's execution record outstrips Bush's

Rick Perry has overseen more executions than George "the Texecutioner" Bush.

The Republican presidential candidate hopeful, Rick Perry, has outstripped his gubernatorial predecessor, George W. Bush, in the number of executions he has overseen.

George Bush, the so-called "Texecutioner", who has been described as a "modern-day Pontius Pilate", oversaw the execution of 152 convicts over five years.

Perry, the current Governor of Texas, has overseen 234 executions, although he has held the office for 11 years, meaning he is overseeing a lower rate of execution.

If a Governor of Texas is to commute a death sentence, he or she must first be referred the commutation by a Board of Pardons and Paroles, and if the Board denies commutation, the Governor cannot act on this. However, the Governor appoints the Board of Pardons and Paroles him or herself. Perry has only commuted one sentence as Governor.

In 2002, Perry vetoed a bill that would have prevented the death penalty from being handing to mentally retarded inmates.

1,224 inmates have been executed in Texas since 1819 - more than any other state - and it is also the state with the second highest rate of execution, overtaken only by Oklahoma.

In "Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington", Perry says "If you don't support the death penalty...don't come to Texas."

He also courted controversy when he refused to prevent the execution of Humberto Leal Garcia, a Mexican national who was not informed that he was entitled to access legal advice from the Mexican consulate, a move that some feared could provoke a diplomatic incident. The White House, and Obama himself, appealed to Perry to reprieve Garcia, noting that failure to do so could "have serious repercussions for United States foreign relations, law-enforcement and other co-operation with Mexico, and the ability of American citizens travelling abroad to have the benefits of consular assistance in the event of detention."

Perry has also been criticised for his decision to ignore forensic evidence relating to the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man convicted of killing his children by arson in 1994, and executed ten years later. An investigation into the case was launched in 2009, with one representative of the Texas Forensic Science Commission concluding that "a finding of arson could not be sustained".

The Chicago Tribune concluded that:

Over the past five years, the Willingham case has been reviewed by nine of the nation's top fire scientists - first for the Tribune, then for the Innocence Project, and now for the commission. All concluded that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson. The only other evidence of significance against Willingham was twice-recanted testimony by another inmate who testified that Willingham had confessed to him. Jailhouse snitches are viewed with scepticism in the justice system, so much so that some jurisdictions have restrictions against their use.

Perry dismissed the chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, along with two other board members, two days before it was due to review the case. The new chair cancelled the meeting.

Perry's rival Michele Bachmann says she is "100 per cent pro-life" and "believe[s] in the dignity of life from conception until natural death", although she has not made explicit comments on the death penalty.

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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.