Comment: Time is right to pardon Alan Turing

Andrew Pakes November 15, 2012
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Writing for, Labour Party member Andrew Pakes says the government must issue gay scientist and computing pioneer Alan Turing with an official pardon.

Earlier this month, Labour frontbencher Sadiq Khan MP became the latest senior politician to back calls for a pardon for Alan Turing. The campaign has momentum, and hopefully the government will listen and re-examine its decision to turn down a pardon.

It has been an incredible year for Britain and equality. The Olympic and Paralympic Games were a showcase for aspiration, achievement and inclusion. France is moving towards marriage equality, and the re-election of President Obama was a victory for progress in all its forms. The government has announced extra funding to help secure the future of Bletchley Park. In this centenary year of his birth surely it is time to grant Alan Turing a pardon as well.

Today (Thursday 15 November), LGBT History Month will hold its launch reception at Bletchley Park marking the start of a new campaign to focus on science, engineering and mathematics. Growing up in Milton Keynes, Bletchley Park was hidden. Its history and role shrouded in secrecy until relatively recently. My mum remembers sharing her home with workers at Bletchley Park during the war, but nothing was said. Growing up gay in Milton Keynes we certainly didn’t know anything about Alan Turing. The fear induced by the Tories on Section 28 clouded out any progress when I was teenager.

The renaissance of Bletchley Park and Turing are intertwined. Our love of history and desire for heroes makes Turing’s life both uplifting and tragic. Over the last fifteen years, the incredible dedication of historians, mathematicians and campaigners have placed Bletchley Park onto the international stage. The tragic play out of Turing’s life, convicted for ‘gross indecency’ in 1952, chemically castrated by injection, and dead two years later overshadowed his contribution to victory against fascism in the Second World War.

In making a public apology to Turing in 2009, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown set the tone for the subsequent campaign for a pardon. Mr Brown said: “It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of the Second World War could have been very different…The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely.”

Alan Turing was just one of many thousands of gay men who was wronged by prejudice and homophobic laws that have rightly been wiped off the statute book. But that change didn’t happen by accident. It took the bravery and perseverance of LGBT campaigners over many years to undermine the foundations of bigotry by the simple act of being out. The existence of LGBT History Month demonstrates that we still have more to do. The great work of Stonewall and others in changing attitudes and supporting young people is amazing. But the bullying, abuse and attacks go on.

The current government says it cannot turn back the clock and pardon Alan Turing. They are wrong. Pardoning Alan Turing will not change the world, but it will send a powerful message about the people we value and the kind of society we live in. It is time they looked at the issue again.

Andrew Pakes is the Labour & Co-operative parliamentary spokesperson for Milton Keynes South.

The views expressed in the article are privately held and not those of


Related topics: Alan Turing, Bletchley Park, Bletchley Park Museum, Codebreaker, England, Gordon Brown, pardon, World War Two

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