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Turing circus

Last week the coalition government were finally able to fulfil their greatest promise that they had made to an anxious nation when they came to power: to protect men everywhere from the sexual advances of the late Alan Turing.

Convicted in 1952 of the crime of consensual homosexual sex—which itself only came to light because Turing reported to police the fact that the man he had sex with had later broken into his house—and sentenced to chemical castration, Turing had his security clearance revoked because he was deemed a blackmail risk and appears to have killed himself a couple of years later.[1] In 2009, Gordon Brown issued a formal apology for Turing's treatment:
While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time, and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair, and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was convicted, under homophobic laws, were treated terribly. Over the years, millions more lived in fear of conviction.
Brown went no further than an apology, though, and the coalition has followed suit and set its face against any notion of a pardon:
A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted. [Hansard]
The logic at work in this announcement is particularly threadbare. A pardon takes no account of whether someone's offence was considered illegal at the time—after all, if it turns out they hadn't done something illegal in the first place, surely that's not a pardon, that's a successful appeal. The “proper conviction” of First World War deserters didn't prevent the British government from pardoning them, although it did so extremely posthumously. In fact, that provides a clue to the real motivation here—less ideological than financial. Any pardon for Turing would obviously have to encompass anyone else convicted under the same law, and the last thing a cash-strapped government needs is suddenly to find itself liable for compensation.

The coalition's choice of spokesman to announce its decision was telling. Minister of State for Justice and Leader of the Lib Dems in the Lords, the personable Lord McNally has become something of a fall guy for the coalition. Increasingly, if an unpalatable change or wildly indefensible policy is up for discussion, chances are Lord McNally will be sent in to bat for the government, getting more irascible and stumbling incoherently over his departmental brief the more he personally disagrees with it. With the Lib Dems already having had to move so far from what they once thought were their principles, having Lord McNally put his name to the Turing announcement might herald a sinister new development. Department officials now appear to have a template prepared for the Lib Dem Minister, beginning with the words “As a lifelong Liberal, I have always believed in...”, and to be jostling to find ever more sadistic ways to end that sentence. Watch out in coming months for “hanging”, “apartheid”, “eugenics”...

Or, indeed, “closed tribunals where evidence is withheld from the defendant”. Last year's justice and security green paper proposes extending precisely that system from a very few cases involving national security to all civil proceedings, meaning that damaging material—say, evidence that British security services had colluded in torture—would never have to be revealed. This hurls a sheep's carcass through the windscreen of anything even resembling a liberal principle, and none but the most diehard unthinking government cheerleaders could possibly be happy with it. As Minister for Justice, though, this policy will fall squarely to Lord McNally to defend, and the spectacle of him loyally expounding its virtues to incredulous colleagues can only demean everyone involved.

[1] Unfortunately, MI6 also considered it a strong possibility during the war that Turing was the person responsible for “molesting schoolboys” at a public library near Bletchley, which might prove a stumbling block for the campaign to restore his reputation.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2012 12:30 pm (UTC)
He's long dead.

I fear he does not care...
Feb. 15th, 2012 09:31 am (UTC)
Christ. Disabled people, minors with single parents, NHS users and now homosexuals.......know your place. Yes, I know nothing about politics but the message emerging seems to be "We tolerate you but grudgingly..."? What I would like to know is who is this "WE"? I bet Nick Griffin is laughing his cock off.

Has America ever pardoned anyone for race-related offences? I know, but can't cite provision, that it used to be an offence to have an interracial relationship in some places. As I consider the moral abhorence to have parallels with Turing's case, it would make for interesting pressure for those concerned.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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