Two days after the suicide bomb attack at the Manchester Arena that left 22 dead, Russian Senator Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the Federation Council Commision on Information Policy and former chair of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted:
“The idea of the death penalty for terrorists is being put forward in Turkey and Britain. With the increasing number of terrorist attacks it will take hold with the masses and gain real strength.”
That there is growing support for the reintroduction of the death penalty in Turkey is not news, given that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested such a move as he consolidates power in the aftermath of last July’s failed coup.
But it is surprising that Pushkov spoke of such clamor in the United Kingdom, where capital punishment was abolished in 1965 (though remained in Northern Ireland until 1973), and no vote on the matter has been held in Parliament since 1994.
Pushkov’s comments may well have been inspired by an article published that same morning in the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper. According to the article, Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) “is proposing reintroducing the death penalty.”
“At UKIP, which was the original initiator of Brexit, Izvestia was told that the initiative is becoming extremely logical after the tragedy that has occurred. The question may even be put to an official referendum in the event of the party getting into Parliament.”
The problem here is that the only source named by Izvestia is Janice Atkinson, a member of the European Parliament. Atkinson is not a member of UKIP. She was expelled from the party on March 23, 2015, following the revelation that her chief of staff, Christine Hewitt, had inflated the MEP’s parliamentary expenses.
Atkinson now sits in the European Parliament as an independent, and, in June, 2015, left the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, of which UKIP is a member, to join the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom alliance, which is dominated by France’s National Front party.
While UKIP’s leader, Paul Nuttal, did express support for the return of the death penalty for those convicted of pedophilia in November, 2016, while running for leadership, and Gisela Allen, a UKIP candidate in this year’s Glasgow City Council elections, said that she wanted to reintroduce hanging, or even the guillotine, there is no mention of capital punishment in the UKIP manifesto for this year’s general election. It should also be noted that, at the time of writing, UKIP has no MPs in the House of Commons and polling conducted in May indicates the party may receive only 4-5% of the national vote.
Other than Atkinson, the only prominent public figure in the UK to have called for the return of the death penalty since the Manchester attack has been Jodie Marsh, a model and reality TV star.
A search of Google Trends indicates no significant spike in searches related to the death penalty in the UK since May 22. Indeed, interest in searches for the term has remained relatively stable over the last few years.
In fact, while support for the death penalty in the UK has always been considerably higher among the general population than in parliament, the general trend has been one of general decline over the last 50 years, with support dropping below 50%, according to polls conducted in 2015.
While Aleksei Pushkov may be right about Turkey (though there the matter is just as much to do with the coup attempt as it is the string of horrific terror attacks the country has suffered in recent years), his claim regarding the UK appears to be completely baseless.