Leading article: Towards a modern monarchy

It may have been a long time in coming – and when it did, the formal announcement post-dated the actual event by a month – but the announcement of Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton comes as a welcome bright point in a generally austere world. For supporters of the monarchy, who remain a majority in this country, the coming marriage provides the best guarantee that the institution will continue into a new generation as the force for stability that it has been during Queen Elizabeth II's long reign.

But there is encouragement here, too, for modernisers. Prince William is the first in the direct line of succession to be marrying a commoner – without any of the fuss or implied disapproval that previous generations of the Royal Family would have faced. The Prince and his bride met at university and lived in a shared student house. They have lived together more or less discreetly. He now serves as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot – in other words, he does a proper job. If and when William becomes King, he and his Queen will arguably have more in common with his subjects than any monarch before him. In short, this engagement gives little succour to republicanism, but it does bring the monarchy a step closer to today's world. We wish the happy couple well.