Who is going to risk buying up what some might mistakenly call an ultimate symbol of colonialism, the Royal Yacht Britannia? What about putting a quick bid in, let the ship drop off Chris Patten and Prince Charles in Manila after the handover and save the Ministry of Defence the costs of taking the 5,769-tonne yacht back to Britain now that there has been a decision on building a successor. If some believe Government House might make a good museum of the colonial period then think what you could do with this impressive piece of gleaming steel with one careful lady owner and 1.6 million kilometres on the clock. It is packed full of artefacts from the White Ensign flown from Captain Scott's sledge on his journey to the South Pole to a satin wood writing desk belonging to Queen Victoria. There is even a gimballed table designed to keep cocktails upright in rough waters. The running costs are a little high at about $120 million a year, but that does include about 260 officers and crew. Without doubt many of the great and good of Hong Kong will have a last sneak view of her rather light and airy interior when she arrives for the handover. In reality, bids are likely to get nowhere though, no matter how high. It looks as if the Royal Yacht is destined to become a museum, probably in Portsmouth. Her Majesty might not think it conveys the right image if some taipan were to use her for mahjong parties around the back of Lamma island. Not surprisingly there is an enormous fuss developing in Britain about her successor, with the Labour Party accusing the Conservatives of trying to stir up patriotic fervour by an announcement before an election. This may be an electoral own goal though, first polls show about 60 per cent of the electorate unhappy about the taxpayer paying $720 million for the new ship. Labour is already balking at the cost of the new vessel, which is to be expected given that several consortiums have come up with designs involving private, rather than state financing. But given that the new ship will sail for 30 years and become one of the most recognised symbols of the British state and monarchy surely $24 million a year in capital is nothing compared to the goodwill and trade benefits it can create. One estimate is that Britannia contributes about $6 billion in exports a year although how that can be quantified is unclear. Significantly, Britain's Department of Trade rather than the Ministry of Defence is taking the lead in terms of the new vessel's design with trade promotion a major priority. The ship is expected to contain as much in terms of conference facilities as royal suites. And this is the point, is not an absolutely pristine, magnificent vessel an excellent way of expressing the essence of any maritime state? Everywhere Britannia goes people fight to get a look on board. What is to stop other countries following the example. What is to stop China developing a fabulous yacht of state as a touring trade exhibition or cultural centre, or Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan doing the same? Used as floating exhibition or conference centres these vessels could project the prestige of a nation away from its shores in superb style. They may not project military might but a much more positive image is possible. The reason the political bickering will die down soon in Britain is that most people will realise that the new Britannia will actually be cheap in terms of what it can deliver, an example other states might do well to emulate.