The Guido Fawkes blog run by Paul Staines and Harry Cole has been pushing a campaign recently to try and get 100,000 signatures on a government e-petition for bringing back capital punishment for the murderers of children and on-duty police officers.
Sunday, 7 August 2011
I am personally not in favour of this but others have written extensively about the arguments against and I am not going to focus on that today but instead on the approach that Guido Fawkes has taken.
Both Staines and Cole are very experienced media performers and campaigners, especially when it comes to new media. And there is no denying that they have stimulated a debate about the issue. But thanks to Lib Dem campaigner Martin Shapland there is a big fly in their ointment.
As I write the "Restore Capital Punishment" petition has 8,949 signatures. But another petition on the same site that Shapland introduced recently entitled "Petition to retain the ban on Capital Punishment" has 15,881 signatures. Also it is worth noting that the Shapland petition was introduced a while after the Guido backed one and hence has not had as much time to garner signatures.
It is true that there are other pro-death penalty petitions on the site which may be "splitting the vote" to an extent but there are also multiple anti-death penalty petitions too so effectively both votes are being split. But it would appear that the anti-death penalty supporters online are in the ascendancy.
We shouldn't be too surprised by this. Although there has been a long vaunted majority in favour of the death penalty amongst the public (although I have always felt this is somewhat overstated and once the debate is engaged with the liberal argument is there to be won) that majority is highest amongst older people and lower amongst younger people who are more likely to be active online. Also, as we have seen from previous surveys of things like Twitter there are lots of people with liberal views active on there, perhaps not in proportion to their make-up of the population.
Which brings me back to my main point. I think Guido may have got this one wrong by trying to use new media to push an illiberal measure like the death penalty. Although the initial petition has been a good springboard for provoking a debate, it is looking increasingly likely that online at least the anti-death penalty petition has more momentum behind it. If this continues to be the case then it could be dead in the water before any parliamentary debate even takes place because the government (who probably do not want this distraction) can point to the fact that the petition site is showing we should keep the status quo. And any complaint about this only focusing on the online population could be skewered because the only reason the subject is even being discussed is because of the original e-petition. Which is online. The existence of the more popular opposing petition is a huge spoiler.
The biggest spoiler of all would be if the Shapland petition could reach 100,000 signatures before any other one and especially the Guido one.
I've just signed it and if you are opposed to the reintroduction of the death penalty, you should too.