17 MAY 2003, Page 38

The auld mesalliance

From Mr Alistair Home Sir: Is there no limit to the short-termism of the British media? I always thought that Simon Hefter knew everything; now I am left wondering what history books he reads to leave him with the impression that relations between Britain and France are 'probably worse than at any time since Waterloo' ('With friends like these. . ', 3 May). Has he, for instance, never heard of the `Fashoda incident' of 1898 — when a daring band of Frenchmen marched across French Equatorial Africa to stake a claim in what was considered at the time to be clearly pink on the map?

Britain and France came within an inch of war then; Fashoda was, in fact, the grit in the oyster which produced the pearl (if one can call it that) of the Entente Cordiale five years later.

Or what about Oran, in July 1940, when an agonised Churchill ordered the sinking of the French Mediterranean fleet, killing 1,300 French sailors? Or even, more recently, January 1963, when de Gaulle slammed the door of Europe in Macmillan's face? At least that provoked the cancellation of a royal visit; nothing quite so drastic appears to be happening in the 'little local difficulties' the Entente is now experiencing.

It seems quite evident that Chirac is now wanting to kiss and make up with Tony Blair, sending him half a case of the best that Bordeaux can offer. (Will he get the rest for 'good conduct'?) And with good reason: as things stand, the French government looks to have shot itself in both feet — certainly from the point of view of the future efficacy of the French army, likely as it now is to be cut off from all forms of high tech by the US. Alistair Home Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire