Letter from the editor: Let’s sort out who runs this country once and for all

 

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The Independent Online

Two of the stories we did best this week were forced marriage and Britain’s constitution, the latter part of a series curated by our Associate Editor, Richard Askwith.

As our editorial pointed out, forced marriage is rape by another name. On Thursday morning we splashed with news of the first prosecution for this heinous crime since legislation was introduced by the recent Coalition Government – an apparently small but highly consequential part of its record. I felt, after our news editor read out some of the details of the case in afternoon conference on Wednesday, that we ought to clear the front page for the story. Not just because this was a real moment – the first such prosecution – but because it is sickening that such things should happen in Britain, a betrayal of our generally tolerant, modern and multicultural country, and because they are happening on a nearly industrial scale.

Those details were unbearable, but bear repetition. The victim was serially raped, first as a virgin; videoed in the shower; threatened with blackmail; bound and then gagged, so her cries for help couldn’t be heard. On our pages Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist who kept his faith while converting to liberalism via solitary confinement in an Egyptian prison cell, and an extraordinary memoir called Radical, pointed out something that many are too frightened to: 38 per cent of these cases appear to involve men who, like Nawaz, come from Pakistan.

Yes, there are issues of law, policy, and funding here: but the appalling depravity of widespread forced marriage in Britain is a cultural issue too. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

The other story that we gave big licks to was Britain’s constitution. As our editorial on the page opposite argues, this newspaper takes a much closer interest in the nature of democracy and the efficacy of government than our rivals. Those words and subjects may sound boring, but they could hardly be more important. There are some immediate and huge challenges facing our (unwritten) constitution, from Scottish independence to withdrawal from Europe; and also many a festering sore, from our electoral system to the increasingly absurd and bloated House of Lords. Isn’t it time we had a proper convention to sort all this out?

This country is relatively free from corruption. We have an excellent Civil Service and, compared with somewhere like France, our leaders are reasonably competent. But government of the people, by the people, for the people is an unrealised dream in Britain today, and though there might not be much political appetite for a thorough look at who runs this place, the people deserve it.

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