Sajid Javid’s failure to get assurances from the US that it would not apply the death penalty for the notorious Beatles gang Jihadists Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh shames our government.

If they are executed, they will win the ultimate prize for the Jihadist – to simultaneously gain the prize of martyrdom and to illuminate the hypocrisy of Western ideals of justice.

The documentary film, ‘Path of Blood’, recently released in UK cinemas, which brings together home movie footage made by Jihadists in Saudi Arabia, effectively distils many of the key motifs of the Jihadist movement – the brotherly bonhomie between the Jihadists, the ecstasy in moments of extreme violence, and the banal ideas (it’s us vs the Crusaders!).

And these young men, just like Kotey and Elsheikh, see no value in life at all. Value for the Jihadist is always postponed, with seventy-two virgins waiting in the afterlife. And the ultimate prize is martyrdom – to see oneself annihilated in ultimate service of the great cosmic struggle between Islam and the West, between good and evil.

And then there’s the rank hypocrisy of it.

The duo may be suspected of having direct involvement in the execution of Western citizens, and in the filming and torture and execution of James Foley. But whatever the circumstances, Britain has a long-standing opposition to the use of the death penalty in extradition cases, and in 2011 the Coalition even pledged to reduce the number of countries worldwide which practise it.

This orthodoxy comes from Britain’s proud tradition of humane penal reform, which even preceded modern notions of human rights. It’s possible to trace an unbroken line from Sir Samuel Romilly’s opposition to the medieval ‘Bloody Code’ at the turn of the nineteenth century, through Dickens’ and Thackeray’s popular opposition to public hanging, to the good work of the Howard League in the twentieth century, which contributed to the abolition of capital punishment altogether – on these shores at least.

There’s a broader point to be made here too: everywhere, we have insurgent authoritarian figures who make a virtue of the global language of ‘human rights’ (viz. Matteo Salvini on Putin last week “Men like him, who look after the interests of their own citizens – we could do with dozens of them in this country”), but the proper way to combat this is not to resort to a kind of abstracted universalism.

It is far better to fight it by drawing on the common weal of tradition, on the legacies of the past and of the particular. And in doing so, we create a picture of the present that honours those gleaming threads that bind together our common national tapestry. Blood and soil visions of national purity wilt before it; tinpot dictators too.

Ben Wallace, Security Minister, clarified the decision in the Commons this week, claiming that the assurance would “get in the way” of a trial. But in pursuing this course of action out of utility, the Tories mock that specific inheritance. And for what? As a sop to our American allies? To an administration which treats Britain with obvious contempt, led by a President who degrades the office of Wilson, Roosevelt and Kennedy?

There is much to loathe about our current Tory administration – chaotic and hollow as it is – but remember this too: that in tearing at the seams of our common fabric, it leaves us ever smaller and poorer – blind in the present, blind to the past.