Britain’s relationship with France runs very deep. The two of us have a profound historical connection, a close family resemblance, but also, let’s face it, a long-standing rivalry.
But actually I don’t think that rivalry amounts to very much these days: the odd spat in Brussels perhaps, or the odd boo at Twickenham. Fact is – with so many French people living in Britain and so many Britons living in France, we have simply moved “ever closer”, and in the real, rather than the EU sense.
Why even me, a mustard corduroy wearing Tory, is utterly unembarrassed to reveal that I simply love France.
The French countryside; the sight of a TGV hurtling through it; a
glass of wine at a cafe in a small town; any executive saloon by Citroen, old or new; the entire contents of boulangeries; French cinema; French chanson and French health care. All of these things and many more besides seem to me to make it indisputable that France is a wonderful country.
And not only is it wonderful, it is a historically indispensable
nation too, not least because, together with us on this side of the Channel, France is one of the principal authors of the Enlightenment, or the Siècle des Lumieres as they will insist on calling it.
Without Britain or France the Enlightenment might not have happened at all, and without the ideas that it ushered in, of liberty, tolerance and reason, of empiricism, science and progress, the world would be dramatically much the poorer.
In the Royal Borough we have long had our own large French community centred around South Kensington.
On the first Tuesday following the atrocities, I went to the French Embassy with our Mayor, Robert Freeman and the MP for Kensington,
Victoria Borwick, to sign the book of condolence and we also flew the tricolour at the town hall; two small but heartfelt ways of expressing
solidarity with our French residents, with our friend and ally, France and of course with Paris which in the words of Maurice Chevalier
“sera toujours Paris!
La plus belle ville du monde…”