The political apology hit the big-time in the 1990s. Bill Clinton was a leading advocate, and he started to apologise for a slew of wrongs. Tony Blair, never one to miss out on a PR trick or an insincere, ingratiating statement, followed this lead. One of the things Blair apologised for was, inappropriately, the Irish potato famine. I remember watching the great historian Owen Dudley Edwards sound off about this in a public lecture. He said that it was ludicrous, ahistorical, and that if anyone should apologise it should be people such as himself, descendants of those who survived.
And so when the subject was raised of the government issuing an apology for the appalling treatment of Alan Turing, I was uncomfortable and somewhat out-of-step. Talking about Turing, and the treatment of this war hero, should mean something, I reasoned, and not be a cynical PR exercise, the spoils of which would be reaped by the uncharismatic Gordon Brown. I was uncomfortable because it felt so wrong to not whole-heartedly support an apology for Turing. It felt miserly and churlish. But I wanted more, and something more significant to honour the memory of this great man.
The pardon, nevertheless, brought the subject to attention, and in hindsight I concede that I was wrong. There is now a petition that calls to pardon Turing of his conviction for “gross indecency”, and thus revoke his continuing legal status as a criminal. It states:
We ask the HM Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing for the conviction of ‘gross indecency’. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ with another man and was forced to undergo so-called ‘organo-therapy’ – chemical castration. Two years later, he killed himself with cyanide, aged just 41. Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he’d done so much to save. This remains a shame on the UK government and UK history. A pardon can go to some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.
I urge you to click on the link and sign the petition.