This song is about Derek Bentley, a British teenager who was involved in the murder of a police officer in 1952, and sentenced to death by hanging. Costello explained in a 1989 interview with On The Street
: "It's one of the cases that's always brought up when they have the big debate about capital punishment. And as you can hear in the song, I didn't want to make any ironical point, it's fairly much a statement of what I understand the facts of the case to be, and what I feel about it, and the way the debate is used as a distraction from... from the horror of an execution. The song is kind of written like a Woody Guthrie
song. It tells a story and then says 'And the moral is...'"