Mark Francois has made himself into the most famous ex-TA lieutenant since Gareth Keenan in The Office by insisting on tearing up a letter he happened to have on him when the BBC was trying to ask him about something else. The letter came from the chief executive of a vast and successful company, formed in 1967 as a government initiative between the UK, France and West Germany and which employs more than 14,000 skilled people in this country. Its boss was pointing out that just because factories are based in the UK now, that doesn’t mean they will stay here if we decide to leave the largest free trade bloc on Earth.
Well and good, you might think. Sound, free-market common sense, with which James Dyson would smile and agree (although not with the cameras running). But Francois’s eagle infantryman’s eye had spotted a gap in the Brexit enemy’s defences and a chance to become memorable, live on TV. You see, the current CEO of Airbus isn’t just a businessman pointing out economic problems. He is also a square-headed, jackbooted, scar-faced, sausage-noshing, Sieg-Heiling swab! Cripes, Lt Francois, sir, we ain’t gonna let the likes of ’im shove us around, are we?!
Éamon de Valera claimed that if he wanted to know what the plain people of Ireland thought, he only had to look into his own heart. Sadly, it’s like that with me and ex-Lt Mark “Frenchy” Francois, and not just because I was almost a TA lieutenant, too (I got my entire squad “killed” when trying to qualify as an Intelligence Corps corporal, and was told – I can only assume, because I was tall, blond and had been to Oxford – that while I would clearly be NBG as an Int Corps NCO, they would recommend me as an infantry subaltern to a county regiment).
You see, we are both sons of the 60s. Our minds were bent forever by Biggles, The Victor, War Stories for Boys and suchlike. That was the world that was, to boys back then and to this day, I can – why, dear God, why? – tell an ME109 from a FW190 at first sight.
This national insanity, which still rules what passes for the brains of middle-aged Englishmen, is quite simple to explain. To us, the Germans are the perfect enemy, as England is to Scottish rugby fans: a mighty, almost inhumanly efficient power that we should never, logically, be able to beat – but did, twice!
That’s why the biggest day by miles every year at the Tank Museum in Bovington is when they wheel out the world’s only working Tiger tank. Thousands of Englishmen, who have known no peril deadlier than Tim Martin’s beer and sat fats, strap their uncomprehending sons into the backs of fat black Audis and bring the country lanes of Dorset to a standstill as they queue to see this terrifying beast, its yearly hour come round again at last, chew up a small patch of ye olde green & pleasant. As they watch, they don’t think about the pesky facts. (Tigers were so deadly because they cost five times as much as Shermans. The Germans bet on quality, we bet on numbers. Hard cheese on the poor bloody young Englishmen of 1944.) No, no. They think: my God, look at it. How did we ever win? We must be so damn special that somehow, the normal laws of war and economics don’t apply to us!
You see? The mightier we think the Germans are, the more special we must have been to beat them. This explains why we buy so many vast German cars but vote Brexit. Of course their cars are logically better, because they’re the Germans, aren’t they? But we are the people beyond logic, the plucky Brits who somehow win at the last gasp. That’s why we so badly need the Germans to be bad. If the Germans weren’t the Germans, the English would have to stop being the English and become, God forbid, just another, normal, middle-size nation. And that, as far as ex-Lt Mark Francois (TA) is concerned, would be a bridge too far.