Advocates of the death penalty are more likely to like Jeremy Clarkson than most. Photo: Getty.
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20 million Britons want to bring back the death penalty

People who believe in the death penalty are more likely than most to read Richard Littlejohn, watch Jeremy Clarkson and like Clint Eastwood.

20 million voters want to bring back the death penalty.

That is the finding of YouGov research published this week, which shows 45 per cent of the electorate (46.1m people in 2013) favour its reintroduction. Only 39 per cent of us are glad it's gone – 50 years after the practice was outlawed.

Who are these pro-penalty people? YouGov has suggested they are more likely than the average voter to read a particular type of columnist, watch a particular type of character and eat particular dishes.

The pro-penalty brigade may admire Clint Eastwood – archetypal gun-toting lone ranger – but they presumably missed his philosophical turn in Dirty Harry II: Magnum Force.

With a gun in his face and an antagonist justifing state executions – "Anyone who threatens the security of the people will be executed… evil for evil Harry… retribution." – he fires back:

"That's just fine, but how does murder fit in? When police start becoming their own executioners, where’s it going to end, huh Briggs? Pretty soon you start executing people for jay-walking, and executing people for traffic violations, then you end up executing your neighbor because his dog pissed on your lawn.”

We seem to be as unconvinced as Eastwood's antagonist. This despite all the technological progress made since the British state last executed someone, in August 1964.

Harold Wilson had just come to power heralding the promise of scientific advance.

“The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices”, he declared. He was referring to the economy, but we may have hoped his words also referred to a nation shedding its attachment to killing.

Progress has been slow, but YouGov's data did hold some encouraging news for those against the practice.

Support should dwindle over the next 50 years. Younger voters – those aged 18-24 – are nearly twice as likely to oppose capital punishment than support it.

However, if UKIP becomes a major electoral force, and the Liberal Democrats' ranks continue to dwindle, the pro-penalty brigade may remain strong – supporters of the right-wing party are overwhelmingly supportive of the measure. 


This is a preview of, an affiliated site launching later this year. You can find related analyses here.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war