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.

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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”


Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.