Why you don’t have to be a Christian to believe Christian values are right

THE unwritten code for survival in politics used to contain three ‘don’ts’: don’t get caught with your pecker out or knickers down, don’t get your sticky fingers stuck in the till and don’t mention religion.

Contemporary history – and a probing, 24-hour media – has rendered the first two redundant and British MPs know that even if the Press doesn’t get them, their pals will.

For instance, who’d have imagined a grey (in suit and soul) Prime Minister like John Major indulged in a little, light nookie on the side, until his Cabinet colleague, Edwin Currie, revealed he was a closet lothario in Conservative blue Y-fronts.

And hardly a member escaped dishonour when the Daily Telegraph named and shamed MPs for their grasping shenanigans in the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal, still rumbling on, since they continue policing themselves.

Religion, though, largely remained taboo. Not merely because, for years, the Church of England was regarded as the Conservative Party at prayer and an utterance of blasphemy could see an archbishop rush round from House of Lords and knock seven bells out of whoever said it with his crozier.

No, Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s notoriously blunt spinmeister, made it clear when he said, ‘We don’t do God.’

Fast forward two premierships and, holy Moses, how David Cameron has got himself into a right old load of religious lumber by remarking Britain is a ‘Christian country.’

Writing in The Church Times, the Tory leader said he’d no wish to ‘do down’ other faiths or none at all, but criticised those who demand a strict ‘neutrality’ where belief is concerned, saying it deprived Britain of a vital source of morality.

CHURCH CHEERLEADER: David Cameron believes religion provides a According to the 'experts, the little green leaf on Prime Minister Cameron's poppy is pointing in the wrong direction

CHURCH CHEERLEADER: David Cameron believes religion provides a a vital source of morality, but doesn’t ‘do down’ non-believers

Within hours lightning bolts of hellfire were cascading down on him in an open letter from a group of writers, scientists, philosophers, political thinkers and theatrical types – a coalition of willing great minds, you might be moved to say – few of whom you’ve ever heard of.

They wrote: ‘We respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they affect his own life as a politician.

‘However, we wish to object to his repeated mischaracterising of our country as a ‘Christian country’ and the negative consequences for our politics and society that this view engenders.

‘At a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society,’ the round robin added.

The lead signatory, Jim Al-Khalili, an Iraqi-born physicist and president of the British Humanist Association, said Cameron’s intervention was part of a ‘disturbing trend’.

Disturbing trend, Jimbo? Whatever ‘trend’ you perceive seems to run exactly counter to any religious renaissance I see, as the stats demonstrate.

In the 2011 census, 25.1% of the population of England and Wales declared ‘no religion at all’ against 14.81% who said as much in 2001. And the sceptical Scots were even less inclined to cry ‘Hallelujah’, the 27.55% declaring they had no faith in 2001 soaring to 36.7% within a decade.

Indeed, apart from Islam – and the attendant problems fanatics in its midst have sought to wreak on Britain – all recognised religions, including Jedi-ism, are on the back foot. Because long ago many folk stopped buying into the proposition ‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first’ if they waited long enough to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Consumerism and credit cards did for that.

I won’t dispute Jimbo and his talking heads are correct in pointing out there is a ‘narrow constitutional sense’ in which the UK is Christian – Anglicanism is, after all, the official faith of the land, thanks to Henry VIII’s libido and the Queen being head honcho…unless Lib-Dem leader and Deputy PM Nick Clegg gets his way and sacks her.

Nor will I argue Britain hasn’t benefitted immeasurably from the genius of people of other credos or none at all. I’ll even add that I disagree intensely with some faith schools insisting on teaching only blinkered creationism.

But, as a non-Christian son of the Sceptred Isle, I had the great good fortune to grow up in a climate of mainly tolerance and understanding, partly due to the CofE being as benign as it is.

It might be figuratively on its knees – and not in a prayerful way – but it remains the faith a majority of Brits identify with, if only out of tradition and not as bible-thumping pew-warmers

CHURCH CRITIC: Humanist Jim Al-Kalili claims British is no longer a 'Christian country'

CHURCH CRITIC: Humanists’ leader,  Jim Al-Kalili, claims British is no longer a ‘Christian country’

So, compared to elsewhere, where hard-line belief in a supreme deity is by autocratic decree, thank heavens for a largely compassionate, liberal ideal of Christianity prevailing in my homeland.

Plus, although religion over the centuries has much to answer for – and in some places still does – it has been the anti-faith doctrines of the 20th Century that caused the most mayhem, conflict and slaughter.

Of course, I don’t subscribe to religion – any religion – being rammed down people’s throats. But if David Cameron wants to air his views on his faith, as an individual and not for political capital, I think he has every right to so, just as Jimbo’s disbelievers are entitled to air a contrary option.

And, at risk of being branded a bigot – and I’d swear on a stack of bibles, Korans or Torahs I’m not – it mightn’t be such a bad idea if the humanists were a tad more humane and didn’t take umbrage at someone having the temerity to ignore their PC pomposity.

The laws of Britain – and, for that matter, most Western democracies, including egalitarian, irreligious France – are founded on Judeo-Christian morality, even if not all Ten Commandments are enshrined in judicial frameworks.

Hence, we know it’s illegal to kill, thieve and tell porkies in court, even if – lucky for John Major and an untold horde of us – adultery isn’t a capital offence, as isn’t covetousness, not remembering the Sabbath Day, being caught with graven images or taking the Lord’s name in vain.

All the same, they are moral pillars of our civilisation. And if someone like Cameron needs a personal reminder of them, via his faith – especially the lighter-touch CofE – where’s the harm?



Branded loudmouths in life, but lauded in death…what hypocrites we Brits are!

ACCORDING to some of the avalanche of obituaries mostly extolling him, Tony Benn was a ‘champion of Britain’s powerless’, ‘a conviction politician’ and ‘standard-bearer of the unrepentant Left’.

Not dissimilarly, Bob Crow, hard-line leader of the UK’s Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT), was actually a Mister Softie – not to be confused with the ice cream vendor of that name – and a far, far cry from the uncompromising, bulleted-headed bully he was caricatured as by Right-leaning tabloids, notably The Sun and Daily Mail.

To expand this theme further, self-proclaimed culinary genius, Clarissa Dickson Wright, of Two Fat Ladies TV show fame – or, to give her handle its full flamboyance: Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmeralda Dickson Wright – who recently expired, aged 66, was a great British eccentric, not the nasty, opinionated loutess, who thought badger scratchings would make a ‘supah’ bar snack.

Personally, my own life would have been mildly enhanced if all three had never drawn breath. But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that they added a splodge of colour to Brtain’s otherwise bland horizon, even if the depths of repulsion were plumbed at times.

So much has been expended eulogising Benn, who died earlier this month at 88, it seems churlish to put the boot in; nonetheless I will, if only in the cause of balance.

IMMATURING WITH AGE: That was ex-Prime Minister, Harold Wilson's verdict on Tony Benn, the man who tried to steer Britain's Labour Party hard Left

IMMATURING WITH AGE: That was ex-Prime Minister, Harold Wilson’s verdict on Tony Benn, the man who tried to steer Britain’s Labour Party hard Left

Because, for all his synthetic charm and contention democracy was the lodestar of his life, Benn – a.k.a. Anthony Wedgewood Benn, briefly the second Viscount Stansgate and Pipeman of the Year, 1993 – brazenly schemed to be the wrecking ball of the British Left and, in truth, espoused Leninism as the noblest political philosophy.

Not an iota of a notion that spewed from his maverick – some would say reckless – lips actually worked. And his insistence on adopting failed, extreme socialism backfired to pave the way for Margaret Thatcher’s laissez-faire revolution, so unelectable was Benn’s ghoulish vision of what the Labour Party should be.

He was, as Adam Boulton, Sky TV’s political editor and Sunday Times columnist, aptly categorised him, ‘a poisonous irrelevance’, who put self-aggrandisement above loyalty to the cause and imagined all those around him were intellectual inferiors.

A more stinging critique, perhaps, came from Harold Wilson, the then Labour Prime Minister, who said of Benn in the 1970s, ‘He immatures with age.’

Yet, mourning his passing, socialism’s usual suspects queued up with effusive tributes…‘an iconic figure’, raved Labour leader, Ed Miliband; ‘A principled politician and activist,’ chorused IRA apologist, Gerry Adams; ‘He remains an inspiration’, insisted hard-Left singer, Billy Bragg.

Even ex-PM Gordon Brown, whom Benn judged wasn’t fit to run a corner shop, joined in the adulation, plus a few nostalgia-addled Tories.

At least Crow, who died suddenly, aged 52, when at the zenith of his intimidating powers, was a genuine class warrior, though some viewed it farcical that he continuing living in a council house when drawing a £135K-a-year salary, plus generous perks.

The bane of every train and Tube commuter’s life, Crow couldn’t be faulted for serving RMT members, regardless of his ‘strike ballot first/talks later’ strategy often going beyond the call of negotiation table propriety.

Describing himself as a ‘Socialist Communist’, he forever demanded Britain’s railways be renationalised, denouncing their sell-off as ‘vandalism’ that just put money into shareholders’ pockets.

CLASS WARRIOR: Crow wanted Britain out of the EU and the monarchy replaced by Benn as UK President

CLASS WARRIOR: Crow wanted Britain out of the EU and the monarchy replaced by Benn as UK President

What the firebrand failed to address was why the number of rail-users doubled after privatisation or why his militant activism failed to gain traction across the rest of the trade union movement.

With an ego threatening to dwarf London’s St. Pancras Station, Crow could be excused for fighting to improve the lot of his members – even if their pay rises came at the expense of other jobs in the transport sector – but not when he elbowed his bulk into mainstream politics.

Hectoring Tony Blair for squandering ‘a massive landslide from an electorate hungry for change’, he accused the thrice-elected Labour PM of accelerating ‘the growing gap between rich and poor’ and vehemently opposed the European Union.

Crow’s red skies thinking embraced the reintroduction of capital punishment, abolishing the monarchy and nominating for UK President – you’ve guessed it – one Tony Benn, whom the trade union baron exalted as a ‘true representative of working people.’

Had she not been a real-life ogre, Dickson Wright could have been created by P.G. Wodehouse, after a particularly nightmarish LSD trip. If only in girth, she was certainly a match for the author’s prize sow, the Empress of Blandings.

Not that physique is the issue here. In fact, it certainly played no small part in her TV series hitting a peak audience of 3.5 million, despite the London Evening Standard’s Victor Lewis Smith lambasting the Two Fat Ladies – the other being the slightly less plump and plummy Jennifer Paterson, who died in 1999 – ‘as thoroughly ugly personalities.’

At risk of sounding endearing by resorting to first-name terms, Clarissa had a ‘Krakatoa’ of her temper and was obnoxious for various other reasons, not least her view of non-meat eaters as ‘manky, little vegetarians’ (I’m all for T-bone and chips, by the way). Fulsomely bosomed, she didn’t like bras, either.

KITCHEN STINKER: Clarissa Dickson Right (pictures right, with her Two Fat Ladies partner, Jennifer Paterson) was bombastic and foul-tempered

KITCHEN STINKER: Clarissa Dickson Right (pictured right, with her Two Fat Ladies partner, Jennifer Paterson) was bombastic and foul-tempered

No, despite her grand-mumsy image, Clarissa was a bombast, for years fuelled by so gargantuan an intake of alcohol as to make a two-tonne stud bull senseless – in fact she drank herself to bankruptcy – who rarely had a kind word to say about anyone or anything, except ‘country blood sports’.

Meanwhile, so cholesterol-saturated were they, her recipes were a ticket to heart disease.

Understandably, there will be some who disagree with my uncharitable views on the trio of personalities I’ve cited. Contrarily, I suggest an informed majority will concur.

But, writing in the Daily Telegraph, Martha Gill last week took issue with those who slate the reputations of the departed, condemning them as ‘cowardly’.  To support her claim, she referred to the obscure, ancient moralist, Chilon of Sparta, who asserted it was wrong to speak ill of the dead, since they’re no longer around to defend themselves.

What sinks Martha’s contention is that, in death, Benn, Crow and Dickson Wright have all have been elevated to cult status, which they didn’t deserve in life.

So it begs the question: Are we Brits such a purblind, forgiving lot, we’re inspired to pay respects to persons who, in life, were basically pains in the nether regions?

This perverse sense of Anglo-Saxon fair play appears to be an obsessional acquiescence to our naïve belief that there’s good in all folk…it’s just that we sometimes fail to recognise it until they’ve slid off the plate.

Conversely, it also smacks of arrant hypocrisy.

Blaming the wrinklies…enemies of the state, bleeding the country dry

CABINET ministers are said to ‘aaargh’ in exasperation when they receive a communication, written in trademark spidery scrawl and green ink, which is the imprimatur of Prince Charles with a fresh bee in his crown.

To many, the 64-year-old heir to the throne and famed tree-hugger appears a quirky, if not pernickety man, who punches far above his intellectual weight and has a penchant for sounding off despite convention dictating Royals stays above the political fray.

It probably irks his mum, a paragon of monarchy, no end, but The Queen probably long ago gave up the ghost of trying to rein in her gobby son.

At least, Charles normally restricts his meddling to matters rural and aesthetic.

He’s a huge fan of organic farming and would happily re-introduce Victorian values into British agriculture as he has tried to do throughout the dukedom of Cornwall.

Famed for its Duchy brand of foodstuff, not for nothing is Chas dubbed ‘The Prince of Biscuits’, giving Huntley & Palmers a good run for their Ginger Nuts.

Another hobbyhorse ridden by the man who would be king – even if he’ll be the oldest ascendant to the throne – is his contempt for modern architecture, best illustrated by his description of a then proposed extension to the National Gallery, in London, as a ‘monstrous carbuncle’.

However, in an uncharacteristic break with traditional fuming, PoW (Prince of Wales), as the Royal Protection officers codename him, recently took up the worthy cause of chastising pension fund managers for their ‘short-termism’ and appalling returns they deliver on investors’ £2-trillion of savings.

PENSIONERS'S CHAMPION: Prince Charles rapped pension funds for their poor performance

PENSIONERS’ CHAMPION: Prince Charles rapped pension funds for their poor performance

In a pre-recorded speech to the National Association of Pension Funds recent, annual conference, Chas, a newcomer to grandparenthood, griped the industry was ‘unfit for purpose’ and, if left unchanged, ‘your grandchildren – and mine for that matter – will be consigned to an exceptionally miserable future.’

Barring a revolution, I think PoW was overegging the hyperbole, since I can’t foresee a time when little Prince George – baptised last Tuesday – will suffer many deprivations, or, for that matter, any future scions of Chez Windsor.

But he’s bang on in the nailing private pension providers who, to put it mildly, have had it off with clients’ cash for too long, made some monumentally iffy judgement calls, yet consistently rack up high management fees on the basis of heads we win, tails you lose.

With only 45 per cent of UK retirees enjoying private pensions and 56 per cent in company schemes – in both instances, returns are often meagre – the fate of senior citizens has become one of the hot political potatoes in the run-up to Britain’s 2015 General Election.

However, there is a growing public perception that pensioners are frankly too feather-bedded, sitting in big houses they no longer need, propped up with winter fuel payments, free TV licences and gratis bus travel.

Far from being the generation on whose sweat and nous was built a vibrant economy – one frittered away by greedy City slickers and political vandals (i.e. G. Brown) – in some quarters the drift is towards a view that the elderly are an expensive drain on the nation’s squeezed resources.

What’s more they’re living far, too long, the thoughtless blighters!

NEVER HAD IT SO BAD: 1.2M pensioners are living in misery, under the poverty line

NEVER HAD IT SO BAD: 1.2M pensioners are living in misery, under the poverty line

Hence, the government’s plan to introduce a flat-rate, single-tier state pension worth £144 a week in 2016 has only fanned flames of resentment.

So, with students forking up to £9,000-a-year for degrees, high unemployment, an untold number of workers on ‘zero-hours’ contracts and wages pretty well stagnant, the hard-pressed can easily be lulled into believing that wrinklies are alright and far from living in plight.

Underscoring this, Coalition social mobility czar, Alan Milburn, claims older people could bankrupt the welfare state, because they’ve been spared the impact of austerity.

Benefits for the elderly need reviewing in order to make life easier for the young, says the former Labour Health Minister, who wants better-off pensioners stripped of their winter fuel allowances and subsidised telly-viewing.

Meanwhile, Norman Lamb, the misnamed Care Minister, absurdly implies pensioners with savings of over £23,250 were ‘quite wealthy’ and should run down their nest-eggs before being eligible for a scheme designed to prevent people from having to sell their homes to pay for nursing in their twilight years.

Fraser Nelson, a Daily Telegraph columnist, joins the OAP bashers, tarring Britain is a gerontocracy: a country run for the benefit of the aged, because they cast four in every 10 votes and have the power to decide an election.

NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD: Some critics think pensioner benefits are too generous

NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD: Some critics think silver surfer benefits are far too generous

So the vision of a lonely OAP, fending off the cold with layers of woollies, sipping Horlicks in front of a one-bar electric fire, is a fast fading, despite 1.2M of them languishing well below the poverty line.

What the naysayers forget, though, are statistics such as: out of the UK’s £718bn budget for 2014 – which includes a provision of £12bn for overseas aid – pensions will account for £144bn (approximately 20%) to cover one in six of the population now over 65.

Meanwhile, a high proportion of these wicked wrinklies still pay tax on auxiliary income – which, coupled with state pensions, takes them above the £10K Inland Revenue threshold – while some, working full or part-time to alleviate their penury, continue to fund the Exchequer.

Others, like stay-at-home mums and carers, don’t receive full state pensions if they haven’t kept up National Insurance (NI) contributions, regardless of the role they’ve played in relieving the state of added burdens.

And let’s not overlook the most glaring stat that an overwhelming majority of pensioners were in regular, full-time employment throughout their working years, paying tax and NI on their earnings, bringing up families, saving where they could and acting as responsible citizens.

Their repayment was supposed to be an inflation-linked pension they believed was a return on their investment from monies they’d paid the state, not some charity hand-out to be kicked around as a social or political football.

So let’s hear it for the pensioners…you might be one someday, if you aren’t already.

Playing politics with ‘The Street of Shame’ is no way to gag the UK Press

IN ten days’ time the Privy Council will ask – nay, require! – The Queen to sign a Royal Charter, which, depending on who you believe, will set out new ‘guidelines’ for Press regulation or put politicians in control of what British newspapers can print.

Sure, you can cavil that the above statement is the sort of typical, dramatic spin you’d expect from a journalist. But those are the cold facts and the harsh reality is 300 years of Press freedom is about to be tossed into the wastebin of history, like an empty fag packet.

For all their smooth talk about papers retaining their entitlement to print what they want, the politicos – and that includes most MPs, regardless of party affiliation – are still seething about being outed over their grubby, expenses rip-off by the Daily Telegraph’s revelations in 2009.

So, take it as read that one, highly contentious clause in the proposed changes isn’t there without devious reason…that Parliament can only interfere with the Press if it can muster a two-thirds majority in favour (note: this requirement could be changed by a simple majority of MPs).

My best guess is it will meddle, because it’s in the vested interests of the UK’s elected representatives’ to do so.

In fact, the siren has been sounded and the first boot went in last week when Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, dismissed the Press’s own recommendations to beef up self-regulation, stating they ‘did not comply with government policy.’

PRESS UNDER DURESS: New rules will leave the politicians with powers to curb newspapers

PRESS UNDER DURESS: New rules will leave the politicians with powers to curb newspapers

Government policy? What fork-tongued dross! Royal Charters are not laws, but rights or grants at the ‘gift’ or the monarch.

Besides, implementing recommendations suggested by Lord Justice Leveson in his report of last November was supposed to be consensual – i.e. that editors and politicians agreed on a formula to curb what some dubbed as ‘Press excess’ – but no such eventuality occurred.

What did happen, though, was a rump of MPs met in furtive conclave, junked the editors’ ideas and steamrollered through their original agenda.

No member of the Press was invited to present its case – just as no journalist was around when representatives of the three, main parties met in Ed Miliband’s office, over take-away pizzas, just post-Leveson, to hammer out terms of the newspapers’ surrender. Oddly, luvvies from the media witch-hunt brigade, Hacked Off, were given an ear (and, no doubt, a slice of Domino’s finest Mozzarella and mushroom).

Understandably, editors were a tad chagrined by this secretive stitch-up…‘Pizza’d off,’ you might say.

In a statement, they said, ‘This remains a charter written by politicians, imposed by politicians and controlled by politicians.

‘It is impossible to see how a regulator operating under rules imposed by politicians, and enforced by draconian and discriminatory provisions for damages and costs in civil cases, could be said to be either voluntary or independent.’

Leveson himself is more than irked by the shenanigans over the first part of his report – Part Two is due after the multiple police investigations are over and any ensuing criminal proceedings concluded – because what MPs are doing is exactly what he didn’t recommend.

The Law Lord recently insisted to the House of Commons Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, ‘The concept of the Royal Charter was not mine. I did not think of it. What’s more, nobody suggested it.’

What he did recommend, however, was – as the editors said – ‘voluntary, independent, self-regulation’, perhaps with Ofcom, which regulates television, having its brief extended to act as an arbiter of last resort to cover newspapers.

Instead, Leveson’s Report was hijacked by a cartel of politicos and a circus of celebrity whingers, banging a morality drum, who, for convergent reasons, want British journalism’s self-styled Street of Shame leashed.

As I pointed out here last December, Prime Minister David Cameron made a monumental gaffe in appointing Leveson to look into the ‘culture and practices’ of the Press, following allegations (which they continue to be, until somebody is found guilty) of, principally, phone-hacking and bribing police.

Cameron was embarrassingly denuded, left with something other than his parliamentary order paper dangling in his hand, when his ex-spinmeister and former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, along with his country pursuits chum, Rebekah Brooks – then boss of Rupert Murdoch’s News International – were implicated in the scandal.

So, in a naïve, knee-jerk bid to distance himself from the brouhaha, the PM enlisted the judge, of whom I have no criticism, to perform an impossible task, which he did with praiseworthy objectivity.

Yet again, as I have previously noted, criminal law already proscribes tapping into the telecommunications of others, greasing the palms of pliant plods and invasions of privacy.

JUDGEMENT DISPUTE: Lord Justice Leveson says he never recommended a Royal Charter imposed on the Press

JUDGEMENT DISPUTE: Lord Justice Leveson says he never recommended a Royal Charter imposed on the Press

So what was Leveson for? And, what’s more, where will it lead, except – at this rate – to politicians wielding undue influence over the Press?

All but two national newspapers indicate their refusal to sign up to the Royal Charter, the dissenters being the hypocritical, holier-than-thou Guardian – which says it is mulling over the rebellion – and the nearly non-existent Independent.

As an aside, it’s a bit rich for The Guardian to even consider toeing the government line, just as it overflows with exposés about Secret Service surveillance operations, which MI5 head, Andrew Parker, lambasted as ‘putting Britain’s security at risk’.

One can only but wonder how long the hymn sheet of the hard Left glee club will be able to carry on leaking classified info under the proposed, new regime.

Certainly, though, the Royal Charter will douse the flame of investigative journalism, for which the British Press, warts and all, has a matchless reputation.

Yes, it’s often rumbustious, irreverent and occasionally foolhardy. And, yes, it should clean up its act, especially where media innocents – like the family of murdered schoolgirl, Millie Dowler – are concerned.

But UK newspapers are still the envy of the world, particularly in countries where Press freedom is a far-flung pipedream.

So, if anyone wants government-speak posing as journalism, can I suggest they subscribe to The Chinese People’s Daily or Pravda.

Why Spain is stuck between a rock and a hard place over British Gib

Not for nothing is this time of year dubbed ‘The Silly Season’ and my prediction for the summer of 2013 is that it’ll go down in the annals as one of the daftest yet.

With parliaments in long recess, official business on hold and politicos busy spending their ill-gotten gains in sunnier climes, we news types are left scratching around for something pertinent to report.

Then – lo and behold! – our prayers are answered by another gripping sequel to an on-going brouhaha concerning a 2.6-square mile pimple on the gluteus maximus of Europe, with a population of around 30,000.

Yes, Gibraltar is again making headlines for all the wrong reasons. And, regardless of which country’s media and jingoism you subscribe to, there’s no denying the fact that verbal exocets are exploding with increasing velocity from both sides of the great divide, though Spain’s more so than Britain’s.

To the Spanish El Peñón, as they call The Rock, is a long-festering scab that gets picked from time to time, often – surprise, surprise! – coinciding with economic gloom. It’s a sure-fire distraction to set Latin tempers aflame, because it pricks to the pride of a nation whose patchwork quilt of autonomous regions regularly threatens to come apart at the seams.

So, while Catalans, Galicians, Extramadurans and certainly Basques can’t agree on most issues, Gib is the glue that sticks the Spanish Humpty Dumpty together again.

ROCK SOLID: 99% of Gibraltarians want to remain British

ROCK SOLID: 99% of Gibraltarians want to remain British

General Franco certainly understood the emotional impact of playing the Gibraltar card, because he made much of expunging the British overseas territory from local maps and inventing ‘border incidents’ to suit his whims.

Following in the footprints of the fascist dictator’s jackboots, now centre-Right premier Mariano Rajoy is in high dungeon over the Gib government’s decision to create an artificial reef to protect fish stocks by dumping concrete blocks into its waters, ostensibly imperilling the livelihoods of Spanish fishermen.

However, at a time when corruption allegations swirl round Spain’s government, the economy is on the rocks and unemployment at one of the highest levels in the EU, 7,000 Spaniards daily cross onto The Rock to work – a fact not lost on union chiefs, livid with their leader’s posturing in far-off Madrid.

Despite the commerical benefits, in what smacks of the backdrop to a farcical Gilbert and Sullivan libretto, Gibraltar has become an international flashpoint – and not for the first time at the petulant Rajoy’s prompting.

In May, 2012, the Popular Party leader threw his toys out of the pram and banned Queen Sofia from officially attending her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, presumably because it somehow implied recognition of UK sovereignty over the craggy outcrop. And to add insult to royal injury, Spain formally objected to a visit by Prince Edward and his missus to The Rock as part of his mum’s knees-up.

Now, cranking up the pressure, Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, mutters darkly about to taking Gib to the United Nations – not that they could sort out a schoolyard scrap – or the International Court of Justice, bogged down as it is in The Hague with the mundane trivia of trying war criminals.

ON THE ROCKS: Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish PM, is using Gib as a convenient distration

GIB THUMPER: But is Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, simply using The Rock as a convenient distraction?

Meanwhile, a ploy being touted in Madrid is teaming up in common cause with Cristina Fernández Kirchner, Argentina’s pseudo-democratic dominatrix, who’s obsessed with ‘liberating’ the Falklands/Malvinas from British rule, despite all but one of the 2,841 islanders refusing her kind offer of citizenship.

However, Spain should realise that getting into the diplomatic sack with Hissy Crissy has its downsides, since she presides over a corrupt and bankrupt state that last year siezed YPF – the local arm of Spanish energy giant, Repsol – to pay off debts.

The odds, then, of a Spain-Argentina axis bearing fruit are, as my bookmaker says, about as good as a three-legged Chihuahua exploding out of Trap 6 to win the Greyhound Derby.

Neither has the weight of history on its side and both claims to territory that’s not theirs reek of crass hypocrisy.

Spain can blame the overarching ambition of Philip V for the loss of Gibraltar, because in 1701 he tried to usurp the French throne in what became known as the War of Spanish Succession.

Fearing a calamitous shift in European power, an alliance between Britain, Holland, the Germanic Holy Roman Empire and the Duchy of Savoy crushed the Bourbon’s biscuit.

Gibraltar was captured in 1704 by an Anglo-Dutch fleet and, in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, ceded to Britain (along with Minorca temporarily) ‘in perpetuity’, which – the last time I consulted my lexicon – meant forever and a sunset.

Over the centuries the miniscule splodge of Jurassic limestone has played a defining role in Britain’s defences and, to some extent, still does. Moreover, in the last 13 years, its inhabitants have twice voted in plebiscites, by 99 to one, to remain British, which, under Europe’s rules of people’s self-determination, should render the issue beyond debate.

Like his Argentinian counterpart in the case of the Falklands, that doesn’t stop Rajoy banging on about bi-lateral talks with Britain over Gib’s future, bypassing the reasonable and legal aspirations of the locals.

However, when taken to task, he conveniently dodges the thorny topics of Melilla and Ceuta, the two enclaves of Spain’s North African empire, which the uppity Moroccans somehow consider theirs.

Let’s not forget, either, the medieval town of Olivenza, which the Spanish wrested from Portugal in the 1801 War of the Oranges and have retained with dubious legality ever since, irrespective of the fact that the Portuguese no longer kick up a fuss over its ownership.

And, if we’re discussing historical imperatives, add one from Osama bin Laden, whose first diktat as Al-Qaeda’s head honcho was to demand the return of Andalucía – El Andaluz, as his forbearers called it before 1492 – to Muslim dominion.

Verily, as pots call kettles black in the kitchen of international diplomacy, the vipers of historical fact have an unfortunate habit of biting the dissenter in the backside.

The Queen is still the ace in Britain’s Royal pack

QUEEN ELIZABETH: Riding on the crest of a wave of positive publicity

QUEEN ELIZABETH: At 87, she’s riding on the crest of a wave of positive publicity

Over the years I’ve heard many impassioned pleas by republicans to axe royalty – not literarily, I assume, though I wouldn’t put it past some of the raving firebrands.

Predictably, they trot out the usual verbiage, like that voiced by a strident anti-monarchist in a BBC Newsnight debate last Monday, amid the euphoria celebrating the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, new, third man in the House of Windsor pecking order.

In summary, the woman – a Guardian columnist (surprise, surprise!) – insisted the monarchy was an anachronism; nobody was entitled to have a silver spoon thrust into their mouth from Day #1; most countries opted for a president; and it was all ‘yah-boo unfair.’

Ah, such is life. Because if fairness prevailed, I’d have won last week’s British Open Golf championship or be banking €350,000 a week, like Neymar, Barcelona’s new, Brazilian wunderkind, just for playing keepy-uppy with a spherical object.

Alas, alack or otherwise, some are born into privilege and a rare few become kings.

Meanwhile, having a good president – especially with executive powers, which British monarchs long since lost – is pretty much a lottery of deciding who the most plausible snake-oil salesman is.

And when presidents come to mind, so does the spectre of Richard Nixon and the slogan that immortalised his Tricky Dicky image: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’

Personally, I prefer a constitutional monarchy and, over the 61 years of her reign, The Queen has done an impeccable job, which is more than can be said for some of her kith and kin.

Even at 87, the gait now plodding, she exhibits wholehearted commitment to the cause of country, commonwealth and empire, albeit now reduced to a melange of sometimes contentious dependencies.

Ma’am suffered trials and tribulations, of course, none more than in her ‘annus horribilis’, 1992: Charles’ separation from Princess Di erupted into a public slanging match, Ann divorced and the tabloids had a right, royal photo fest with snaps of Andrew’s ex, Fergie, having her toes sucked by her ‘financial adviser.’

To cap it all, Windsor Castle caught fire and a priceless art collection was damaged.

Five years on, the Palace gaffed monumentally, utterly misjudging the national mood following Diana’s death. Against protocol, Prime Minister Tony Blair practically ordered the entire bunch back to London from Balmoral and drop the Buck House flag to half-mast, because the people demanded it.

TRICKY DICKY NIXON: 'Would you buy a used car from this man?'

PRESIDENT NIXON: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’ was the rhetorical question used to tar him with a Tricky Dicky image

Never before was the British monarchy’s stock so depleted and resurrecting it so costly. The Queen and Charles agreed to pay income tax, Buckingham Palace was opened to the hoi polloi to raise funds to repair Windsor and HM’s exes ( a.k.a. the Civil List) was slashed.

However, what resuscitated Royal fortunes was the advent of the Princes Charming, Wills and Harry – the heir thoughtful and sensitive, the ‘spare’, an endearing jack-the-lad.

William’s marriage to commoner Kate captivated the nation and now the birth of a son and future king has catapulted the British crown’s popularity to a new zenith (and how many kings will be able to claim their gran was a BA trolley-dolly and great-great granddad a coal miner?)

Still, the Guardianista-republican is right: the monarchy is an anachronism and probably the world’s juiciest, real-life soap opera – an everyday story of Royal folk – to boot.

That, though, is the way we like it. Because forensic analysis of Britain would inevitably conclude the country is an anachronism, too, miraculously and creakingly evolving like no place on earth.

Steeped in the trappings of centuries-old tradition and inclined to be socially conservative, Brits are mainly tolerant as a nation, though resentful of foreign interference and stoic in repulsing invaders. Hence, ruffling our plumage comes with a health warning.

Meanwhile, we’re obsessed with bemoaning the weather – hot or cold – and inventing games with rules so arcane only a handful of former colonies understand them (e.g. have you ever tried explaining cricket to a Spaniard?)

And, despite losing an empire on which once the sun never set, Britain continues to punch above its weight on the international stage, Perfidious Albion one moment, honest broker the next.

Unlike almost everywhere, we have no written constitution yet constantly defer to one; we also have an affinity for democracy, even if our politicians are often more quantity than quality.

Then there’s our relationship with Europe, best summarised by a 1930’s Times headline that pronounced, with telling understatement, ‘Fog in Channel – Continent cut off.’

But, then, we do inverted superiority rather subtly, which probably accounts for Britain’s semi-detachment from the EU and retention of the £ (no bad idea, in retrospect, given the Eurozone’s abject failings).

KATE AND WILLIAM: Now with baby George, they've given Britain's Royalty

KATE AND WILLIAM: Now with baby George, they’ve helped resuscitated the British Royal Family flagging fortunes

Meanwhile, underscoring our distinctiveness, we drive on the wrong side, have a taste for warm beer, don’t dress as foppishly as Italians, our national dishes are invariably fried and, in the publicly-funded BBC, we possess a self-appointed, liberally illiberal arbiter of the national conscience.

I could go on, but you get the drift.

So finally, let’s return to the Monarchy. And note the capital M this time, since there are countless kings and queens sprinkling the planet, but only one Monarchy the world sits up and really notices – the British one.

Others come and go almost unheralded, as Holland’s Queen Beatrix, 75, did in April, standing aside for her son, now King Willem-Alexander. And earlier this month, 79-year-old Albert II vacated the Belgium throne, replaced by his son, Phillippe.

Neither abdication caused much of a ripple and it would have been thus had Harald V of Norway, Sweden’s King Carl Gustav XVI or Queen Margrethe II of Denmark asked for their marching orders.

Meanwhile, King Juan Carlos – once feted for leading his country out of the dark age of dictatorship – must be eying Britain’s monarchy with undisguised envy, as a slew scandals rock Spanish royalty.

To those hankering for Britain to be a presidential republic, then, here’s a tip: visit Zimbabwe.