Leave.EU’s Aaron Banks has conceded that yesterday’s viral advertising campaign “went too far”. The ad showed a picture of Chancellor Angela Merkel with the catchy jingle “We didn’t win two World Wars to be pushed around by a Kraut”.
It represented the very worst, most moronic side of current British public debate. It was obviously aimed to be offensive, what Scott Alexander referred to as “the toxoplasma of rage”, a deliberately obnoxious style of political advertising mastered by animal rights group PETA.
Maybe where Leave.EU went wrong was to offend their sympathisers, even their hardline supporters. Merkel, as the emblem not just of the EU but of free migration, may be disliked by Eurosceptics, but Germans certainly aren’t. Survey after survey shows that British people feel very warmly towards “the Saxons overseas”, as our ancestors called them.
An overwhelming majority of Britons see Germany as an ally, on a par with France, even though we have far closer military relations with France, and have done for 150 years.
Britons have very positive attitudes towards the Germans as a people, even if – inevitably – the words we associate with the country do owe something to Commando comics (though that is probably changing).
Germans are also the third most popular migrant group in Britain, after two nationalities barely even considered foreign.
Brits asked – do immigrants from following make a positive or negative contribution to British life?
— Matthew Goodwin (@GoodwinMJ) May 2, 2018
Leave.EU’s Andy Wigmore, after being criticised by Piers Morgan over the campaign, pointed to the Daily Mirror’s front page back in 1996, with its headline “Achtung! Surrender!” next to photoshopped England players in Second World War helmets. Back then, the paper was edited, of course, by Piers Morgan.
Morgan replied that the front page was from “23yrs ago when Dad’s Army & ‘Allo ‘Allo were on TV. It was meant as a joke but people were rightly offended, and I apologised.”
By 1996, the first series of Dad’s Army was already closer to the war than the present day, and even then, Morgan’s ill-judged cover got huge numbers of complaints from the public. Most people even then thought it agonisingly embarrassing to be harking back to a 50-year-old conflict during a football tournament; the graceful behaviour of the German players and fans, including a full-page advert in British newspapers after the event thanking us for our hospitality, only made that sense of shame worse.
Certainly much of the British Right is as stuck in that conflict as the British Left, but even among nationalistic, Leave-voting British voters this kind of Kraut-bashing is embarrassing and beneath us – and it has been for decades.