To all our readers, have a rip-roaring Diamond Jubilee

Nik Darlington 8.19am

"How sweet I roamed from field to field, and tasted all the summer’s pride."

William Blake’s flighty soul may have met a tricky end in the song, but that is by the by.

This weekend, this extended, happy weekend, millions of us shall roam from field to field, taste some of summer’s best (though the weather doth worsen), and walk heads held high with plenty of pride.

Wherever you are over the coming days, celebrate with gusto, and let the joyless republican naysayers be in no conceivable doubt, that this is a right royal British nation.

Egremont shall be putting his feet up till the revelries are spent, not least because readers should have better things to do this weekend than waste time on the internet.

'Without the new, there would never be any old'

Craig Barrett 6.01am

Sitting watching the Queen’s Speech last week, I was reminded of how much better Britain does pomp and ceremony than other countries. European militia look faintly ridiculous in comparison.

And on 4th May, I felt hugely privileged to attend the Trial of the Pyx, a ceremony that goes back some nine hundred years. Every year, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths is responsible for assessing newly minted coins, to ensure they conform to required standards in terms of size and quality of metal. Present is an expert panel of assayers and the Queen’s Remembrancer (the senior Master of the Queen’s Bench), certifying above all that the Master of the Mint has not been shaving gold or silver from the nation’s coinage.

The Master of the Mint, George Osborne, was indeed there this year, so restoring a relationship broken between 1997 and 2010 by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. We are, of course, more than aware of Mr Brown’s attitude towards our nation’s gold reserves.

After assessing the coinage, the Verdict of the Pyx is delivered. Safe to say, it passed the test. We then repaired to luncheon to hear an address from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Among non-disclosable political comments, Mr Osborne chose to highlight the fact that the Royal Mint provides currency to more than sixty countries around the world - a true export success to boot.

I was accompanying the inimitable Catherine Bott, herself the guest of the Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, Hector Miller. Unlike many Livery Companies, the majority of the Goldsmiths actually practise in their field, so we were in the presence of true craftsmen. At the new Goldsmiths Centre in Clerkenwell, you can see for yourself.

Funded partly by a bequest in 1514 when Agas Harding, a widow of a Goldsmith, left the Company a small amount of land in Holborn, the Company decided some years ago to put it to good use and create something to assist nascent craftsmen. Workshops are available at competitive rents, as well as extensive facilities for teaching. What impressed me most was that the focus is not simply on passing on techniques but also what we might call “life lessons”. There are classes on managing accounts and business planning - vital skills for the self-employed that might otherwise be overlooked.

The Goldsmiths have a long history of involvement in education. Goldsmiths College is the most obvious example, but the Company was also closely involved in the founding of Imperial College. This could be a kernel of the ‘big society’ - independent of the state, they have created a unique learning space for craftsmen and the public.

Catherine commented that she rather likes antique jewellery, to which I responded, “without the new, there would never be any old”.

What is marvellous about the new Goldsmiths Centre is the way in which the old has been able, hopefully, to continue to create the new. I urge you to pay it a visit.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

English wine is leading the way in more ways than one

Nik Darlington 11.53am

The Greek philosopher Diogenes once said, “what I like to drink most is wine that belongs to others”.

That was, in a sense, what we inhabitants of the British Isles were forced to do for hundreds of years.

Whatever might be said about the Romans and their vines along Hadrian’s Wall, for most of history if you wanted to drink wine on these shores then you had to import it and you had to pay a pretty price for it.

Things have changed. The English (and Welsh) domestic wine industry is in very good and ever-improving health, thanks to increasing interest, investment and climate change (yes, it has its silver lining). There are more than four hundred vineyards turning out red, white and sparkling wines, which though admittedly of varying quality, have in recent years hit dizzy heights.

And yesterday the Times (£) reported on what is expected to be a ‘vintage year’ for English wine, with the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics earmarked as opportunities to showcase the nation’s best. Indeed, the Olympics cycling road race is due to pass close to England’s largest single vineyard, Denbies, in the Surrey Hills.

But there was another wine-related story in yesterday’s Times (£) that is worth dwelling on.

The EU has plans to abolish vine plantation regulations, which stipulate where and how much wine can be cultivated throughout Europe, so as to limit production, control quality, and maintain prices. However, a number of leading wine-producers, including France, are opposed to any relaxation of the regulations.

Supporters of the reform say it will make Europe’s wine industry more competitive and better able to meet the challenge from New World producers. They accuse France, Spain and Italy and other wine nations of trying to preserve their dominance by preventing the spread of vineyards to other regions and countries.

In 2007, the EU voted to scrap vine plantation rights, which allowed new vineyards and the extension of existing ones. Although the French Government initially backed the reforms, it has since backtracked, in the face of rural fury. President Sarkozy has vowed to fight the move.

Dominique Janin, deputy general secretary of the Assembly of European Wine Growing Regions, told The Times that liberalisation would leave vineyards at the mercy of “hedge funds and multinationals”.

"They are going to plant hundreds or thousands of hectares of vines and we will move towards industrial production," said Mr Janin. "The consequences will be quite serious. Europe will become like Australia. When you have a plant that lasts 70 years you need rules and harmonious management."

First of all, it is a bit of a harsh judgement on the New World producers such as Australia. That country’s recent problems, for instance, have more to do with natural disaster (drought) than industrial production. And while the New World produces some frightful cheap plonk, many of its vineyards are have been matching the old masters of Europe for some years now.

But the main point is that the likes of the French are both right and wrong. They are wrong because one of the reasons why the New World is fast catching up with the old is because its vineyards are freer to experiment with grape varieties and production methods, and to expand into new and exciting terroirs.

They are, however, right in that irrespective of how much the New World ‘catches up’ (relatively or absolutely), the unique selling point of the Old World is its history, traditions and styles. They must be protected.

The proper solution would be for the EU to forge ahead with abolishing continental regulations, so allowing certain producers to follow their own path, but to allow individual member states to maintain domestic controls. This type of flexible thinking should not run contrary to any EU anti-competition laws, because the English wine industry is already outside the existing controls.

English winemakers are proving adept at applying the best of the old - such as the classic methods of Champagne to produce top drawer sparkling wine - and at the same time pushing the boundaries, even beginning production of 'English Malbec' from imported Argentine grapes (which the EU is absurdly prohibiting).

Much as it is doing so in the glass, English wine could be ahead of the pack in other ways too. Europe, take note.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Gay marriage is at the heart of the urgent need to separate Church and State

Jack Blackburn 6.00am

Church and State are talking at crossed purposes on gay marriage, but what goes unnoticed is that this confusion goes right to the heart of our nation’s constitution.

As far as the State is concerned, homosexual relationships should be treated coterminously with heterosexual relationships. By extension of this fact, gay marriage ought to be permitted and accepted.

However, from a theological perspective, this is contradictory and nonsensical. Marriage is a sacrament, a central pillar of the Christian faith, and defined as exclusively heterosexual.

Christians are entitled to that view. And in somewhere such as the United States, where Church and State are separate, they can agree to disagree in this fashion. But here in Britain, with an established Church, that is a luxury we cannot presently enjoy.

The Church of England is directly affected by what is spoken in Parliament and what Her Majesty the Queen - the Supreme Head of the Church - signs into law. There is no getting around that. The Queen cannot give her royal assent to a Bill legalising gay marriage without challenging a tenet of the Church. We have here a real dilemma. We must be honest about this, but of course something has got to give eventually.

It would be welcome to hear a dissenting Christian voice loud and clear - following the Prime Minister’s own statements on the subject - because the theological debate is not open and shut.

Indeed, to say that marriage is a union that can only exist between a man and a woman is lazy, unsubtle and vacuous. It does a disservice to what the institution should mean.

The explicit definition of marriage as exclusively heterosexual is derived from texts written more than two millennia ago by people living in a homophobic world that demanded the execution of homosexual men.

The modern Christian, called by Jesus to make love their first and only aim, should realise that the old ways are not beyond question. In fact, they are challenged by that stronger tenet of love.

The true essence of marriage is the formation of a loving union - if that is between people of the same gender or different genders, it ought not matter. The loving God would be more pleased by the gay couple who spend their entire lives together than the man of many marriages.

Nevertheless, this does not rest easily with the theological conclusions of many Christians across the country who, I hasten to add, are not homophobic by nature. These Christians will maintain that marriage is a sacrament, clearly defined, and the word cannot simply be borrowed by the State to fulfil its social aims.

The word and the institution are of central importance to Christian faith. This is the responsible view of Tony Baldry, Conservative MP for North Oxfordshire, and the Church Commissioners. (The faux-amusing rhetoric of Peter Bone and insulting language of Cardinal O’Brien are contributions we could do without, and which do their side of the argument no good at all.)

This is yet another issue that indicates why the Church must begin to remove itself from State affairs. Neither Church nor State any longer benefit from their connection; rather, they suffer from it, finding not greater strength but deeper division.

In this instance, the Church is being held hostage to a legislature that is doing what it thinks is best for society. It has a democratic mandate to do so. Therein lies the problem for the Church today: it represents only one section of modern British society, for which Parliament must legislate, and yet the Church unduly influences, and is influenced by, that Parliament.

The need for separation is increasingly apparent and urgent. However, it cannot happen while the Queen is head of both. The dilemma shall continue unresolved.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA

We, the British, love our monarchy

Nik Darlington 10.47am

Assuming all is going to plan, the Queen and Prince Philip will have just arrived at Westminster Abbey. The groom’s father, the Prince of Wales, and his step-mother, the Duchess of Cornwall, should already be there. The mother of the bride left the Goring Hotel for the Abbey a little under half an hour ago. Soon, the bride and princess-to-be shall make the same journey accompanied by her father.

The occasion is being co-ordinated with military precision and regal splendour. Aside from the Alternative Vote referendum next Thursday, this is the event of the year.

Had you for a moment.

There are few clear and self-evident truths in this world but one of them is on display today: we, the British, love our monarchy. What is more, travel around the world and you will see that millions of others love our monarchy too - millions more than living just in the seventeen countries that share our Queen. Americans fought a bitter war to rid themselves of the British monarchy but there are few nations today more excited about this wedding than the USA.

Though in a liberal democracy, people are entitled to take an opposing stand, so I welcome Alexander’s article this morning about the future of the monarchy.

It is true that the hereditary principle sits uneasily with democratic values. It is true that we are fortunate that our current Queen just happens to be one of the most able holders of this ancient crown, and has held not only her institution, but also her family together during a reign of fifty-nine years. It is true that her son and heir, Prince Charles, possesses a more politically forthright - thus more dangerous - character.

It is also true that Conservatives believe in success through merit. However, as I posted on Monday, a more classless and meritocratic society is not necessarily a more mobile society. Eventually meritocracies create their own aristocracies.

More importantly, Conservatives also believe in strong institutions and in the United Kingdom you do not find many stronger, nor more valued and revered, institutions than our monarchy. And what does the United Kingdom become if it is no longer a kingdom? The United States of Britain? The Commonwealth of Britain? The Federal Republic of the British Isles? The People’s Republic of Britain?

I agree that in principle the “lottery of birth” is not an attractive job qualification. But in practice, what is the alternative? Who are these better qualified and experience people?

Yesterday, Timothy Garton-Ash, no uncritical observer, wrote an article in the Guardian, a republican newspaper, saying that we could do worse as a democracy than have a ‘King Wills and Queen Kate’.

"If things continue as they are, and Prince Charles succeeds his mother to reign until his death at a ripe old age, then some time around 2040 the young couple getting married in Westminster Abbey tomorrow will be King William V and Queen Catherine. By the sheer accident of birth, William will then be the head of state of whatever is left of today’s United Kingdom. Would that be all right? My answer is: in theory, no; in practice, probably yes.

If William and Kate behave themselves, unlike some of the gamier members of Britain’s royal family, and contribute to the development of a modernised, slimmed-down constitutional monarchy, this can actually be better than the likely alternatives. As I look across Europe, I don’t think countries like Sweden, Holland, Denmark and Spain…are worse off than those that have party politicians directly or indirectly elected to be president. Or would you rather have Buckingham Palace occupied by a President Blair?

With one brief interlude…there have been kings and queens in England…for more than a thousand years. That is an amazing thing. It is the stuff of poetry. Imagine Shakespeare purged of all references to kingship. Before you abandon a thousand years of poetry, you should be very certain that you will fare better in prose.

There might well be many rational reasons why, in theory, we should abolish the monarchy and force the British people to elect a political grandee as president in their stead (not to mention force the Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Antiguans, Barbudans, Jamaicans, Solomon Islanders, Bahamians, Bajans, Grenadans, Papua New Guineans, Tuvaluans, Saint Lucians, Vincentians, Belizeans, Kittians and Nevisians to do the same).

There are far many more reasons why, both in theory and in practice, we should keep our head of state above the often murky and sometimes coarse realm of politics.

Walter Bagehot wrote in The English Constitution (1867) of our constitution’s two components: what he called the “dignified” (or symbolic) and the “efficient”. As long as our monarchy remains a dignified and symbolic embodiment of our nation, we must do all that we can to protect, to cherish and to preserve it; for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.

Then the next king or queen takes over, just like that. Really rather efficient too, don’t you think?

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The future of the monarchy

Alexander Clark 6.00am

This morning, hundreds of millions of people around the world will be watching the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. No doubt the occasion will be a magnificent spectacle of pomp and circumstance and all people, myself included, will want to wish the couple a long and happy future together. Some people have used this occasion to have a debate about the monarchy, with several opinion polls arranged in recent days and weeks (all giving a resounding thumbs up).

The success of the monarchy in maintaining itself during an era of 24/7 instant news and communications is owed in no small part to the Queen’s astute avoidance of controversy. The image of the Queen as a figure of stability has ensured that, for the most part, the continuation of the monarchy remains a non-issue for a majority of the UK.

However, I believe that this situation is likely to change when Prince Charles assumes the throne. Past evidence suggests that he has not grasped the dangers of politicising his position. In our adversarial parliamentary system any attempt by the Prince of Wales to involve himself in political issues - such as letters to government departments or interference in the Chelsea Barracks development - open the monarchy to public scrutiny.

I believe that there are many good reasons to abolish the monarchy. They are mostly constitutional arguments, of little interest of present practical relevance. In actuality, the debate between monarchists and republicans can be boiled down to a point of principle.

In simplest terms, is it right that the United Kingdom’s head of state should be determined by a lottery of birth? Are there not people better qualified and experienced?

The Queen and her grandson, Prince William, are praised for keeping their heads down. Yet for every William there is a Charles or Harry. The idea that in a western democracy a person can be born into the role of head of state seems completely at odds with the democratic values we try to promote across the world.

Certain parts of the media praise Kate Middleton for marrying into the monarchy, in the process revealing all that is perverse in the promotion of social class and deference in this country.

Conservatives believe in meritocracy as the determining factor in success. In a meritocracy, everyone should have the opportunity to aspire to whatever they seek to achieve.

One day, this should include becoming head of state.

Is this the worst republican manifesto ever written?

Nik Darlington 7.07am

Something as curious as the monarchy won’t survive unless you take account of people’s attitudes. After all, if people don’t want it, they won’t have it.

Sharper than you think, the Prince of Wales. If this country (or any country around the world where the Queen remains head of state) wanted to become a republic it could be delivered.

Instead, in 2002, only 12 per cent of people wanted our monarchy abolished. In 2007, the proportion increased to 19 per cent but only 15 per cent believed that there would be no British monarchy in 2037. In 2009, a BBC poll indicated 18 per cent support for abolition. And yesterday, a poll by the republican Guardian newspaper still showed two-thirds of people in support of the monarchy.

This is the insurmountable challenge faced by republicans in this country - there are very, very few of them. Even Gordon Brown managed to attract the support of 29 per cent of the population last May.

To be out as a republican in this country is something of an eccentric pursuit, insofar as their numbers are so meagre and to make their voices heard they have to say something a bit peculiar. Theodore Roosevelt once said that “every reform movement has its lunatic fringe”. On the basis of an article in today’s Independent, ‘A manifesto for British republicans’, the Australian barrister Geoffrey Robertson is pitching for its leadership.

It reads rather like the Guardian's recent April Fool’s editorial, except instead of being a republican ridiculing the monarchy through ironic platitudes, it is inverted - a monarchist lampooning republicans via a mock manifesto.

"The bedrock of our constitution is the Act of Settlement 1701," writes Robertson, "a blood-curdling anti-Catholic rant." (Having begun the article with the phrase "White Anglo-German Protestant monarch".) Mr Robertson is a brilliant and successful lawyer but I am curious as to how he would reconcile a Roman Catholic head of the Church of England. If disestablishment of the Anglican Church is also on his agenda, he might be biting off more than he can chew.

He goes on to write: “If Charles III were to convert to Catholicism (or have a sex-change operation) the crown would go….”. Princess Charlotte of Wales? Oh, to inhabit the mind of a republican, just for one day…

After this, whatever was left of Mr Robertson’s argument was lost amidst hackneyed dinner party anecdotes and pub quiz answers about wild swans (answer: the Queen and the Bishops of Bath and Wells) and other achaic and unused laws.

Then we are introduced to the prospect of a presidential election, which Prince Charles apparently would be likely to win unless usurped by warring sons, clearing the way for, you guessed it, “Richard Branson or Helen Mirren [and] the inevitable ‘Stephen Fry for Queen’ campaign”. Why not? Robertson asks.

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