Why I won’t be celebrating Britain on VE Day

Crossed out union flag bunting
John Ranson

This year, May Day is a week late. And it’s on a Friday. And it’s not even May Day. What’s going on?

What the hell?

In these ‘strange and unprecedented times’, most of us barely remember what month it is, let alone what day of the week. And the lockdown mindfuck will only get worse with the arrival of Bank Holiday Friday.

Other countries celebrate May Day as International Workers’ Day and observe it on actual May Day (1 May). But in the UK, we’ve become wedded to the idea that it has to be on a Monday. And far from memorialising the achievements of workers around the world, the UK’s version has evolved into a festival of optimistic incompetence. Hours spent attempting to install an outside tap, erect a shed or clear the drains are followed by removing the cobwebs from the barbeque and enjoying a range of meats, traditionally eaten either raw or carbonised.

Why the change?

This year, ‘everything is different™’. And this year also happens to be the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union and its allies defeating Germany in WW2. The government had already announced that the early May bank holiday would move from 4 May to 8 May – the day on which, 75 years ago, the allies accepted Germany’s surrender.

There were plans for street parties, parades and associated hoopla but these have fallen foul of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. So now the branding is all about staying at home but still having a party. The BBC is breathlessly promoting its broadcasts of “extracts from Churchill’s victory speech” and a second message from the queen in as many months. Needless to say, Katherine Jenkins will be wheeled out to perform a selection of 1940s bangers that only she and people over 85 know. There will be bunting and there will be cake.

So?

Look, if a family has fun baking a cake, that’s great. If people in a street take the chance to have a hollered chat with their neighbours, maybe for the first time, brilliant.

If folk plaster their houses in red, white and blue, I’m a bit less enthusiastic. That’s due to what seems to be a pretty strong historical correlation between over-zealous flag worship and the very sort of regime that WW2 was supposed to wipe out.

But when it comes to rehashing all the WW2 tropes, the Churchill cult and the ludicrous notion that ‘it was the Brits wot won it’, I’m gone. Fuck that. It’s not national pride, it’s complete ignorance and wilful delusion.

What is Britain?

Occasions such as VE Day anniversaries shine a light on a particular aspect of Britishness. As I wrote recently:

For many people growing up in the UK, especially England, it’s hard to avoid imbibing the notion that as a country, we’re somehow different, maybe even a bit special.

Any WW2-related public commemoration tends to take this feeling and inflate it, reinforce it, harden it. When, by the end of the evening, we’re standing on the table bellowing Rule Britannia, what are we actually saying? Are we simply celebrating control of the seas in the 18th century or are we reaffirming our belief that the UK is somehow the top country now?

Because it isn’t. OK, the NHS is one of the world’s best health systems. But as a country, we’ve hit a pattern of voting for politicians committed to its demise. So what else have we got? Shocking levels of inequality. A not-very-free press. And a staggeringly, brain-meltingly awful government response to the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe the UK is different. Just not in a good way.

Why don’t we do better?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting our communities to do better. That can apply at a personal level, across a local area, for the whole country, or for the whole world. And there’s nothing wrong with celebrating achievement. Indeed, there were countless praiseworthy examples in WW2 of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, just as there have been during the pandemic. We can take inspiration from those who’ve gone before us and do what we can to be the change we want to see.

But I won’t be helping our feckless, clueless, shameless government sweep its failings under a red, white and blue carpet of nostalgic jingoism. No ‘socially distanced street party™’ for me. Maybe I’ll clear the drains instead. It would feel more appropriate.

Featured image via pixabay – PublicDomainPictures

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  • Show Comments
    1. The sentiment behind this article is why Corbyn lost so badly.
      Perhaps have your own VE Day party celebrating Comrade Stalin’s glorious victory. Or maybe tell the Russians they shouldn’t be celebrating either because it was weather that saved them?

      1. Oh dear, we must all be anti semitic if we don’t think the Government should hide behind a bank holiday that is pushing jingoistic nationalism. The bank holiday they moved was/is an international workers day. I wonder what they will do for VJ day, move the August bank holiday? Nah, they won’t do that, Covid-19 will be history then, no need for flag waving then.

      2. How about freedom and justice for the Palestinians which has long been supported by Corbyn.

        In WW1 the Arab Countries were promised freedom if they helped to defeat the Turks. They agreed; the Turks were defeated. However they then discovered that Perfidious Albion had subsequently in 1917 promised Palestine to the Jews. The Arab revolt naturally followed.
        So perhaps we should also have a day to celebrate GB’s recent times’victory in Iraq and Libya et al.

    2. As well as the Tories’ pathological hatred of International Workers’ Day, another possible explanation for the VE Day holiday might be that May 9, as well as being Victory Day in ex-USSR countries, is also Europe Day, so would have been a focal point for demonstrations by pro-EU groups if there wasn’t the lockdown.
      In such circumstances, the government would have been able to rely on their friends in the right wing media to attack, and attempt to discredit, anyone having the temerity to organise a demonstration during this weekend, as they have done when there has been an anti-austerity demo during the “Armed Forces Weekend” or on the Saturday preceding Remembrance Sunday.

    3. If this sentiment is why Corbyn lost, it is the British people who don’t understand what is going on here.
      Perhaps the current crisis can change that and lead to a decent government, although Labour’s lurch to the right is not encouraging.

    4. We celebrate/commemorate the defeat of fascism which was hell bent on ruling all of Europe. Let us not forget thatThe Soviet Union had a non aggression pact with Nazi Germany which entailed carving up eastern europe between them it was ony following Barbarossa that the SU was dragged into the war. We entered it in the defence of a free Europe something we should all be proud to celebrate.

    5. This epidemic has been a godsend for the Tories; they have trying for years to ban the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, May Day and the Notting Hill Carnival; bet your bottom dollar that the lockdown will be liufted just in time for Royal Ascot, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Boat Race Day! Alsoi, it is HYPOCRTICAL in the extreme for the Tories to order us to all celebrate VE Day, because they were all rooting for Hitler before 1939, hoping he would turn against Stalin; the Rippentrop-Molotov pact made them realize that their plan had failed! AND; the reason we never celebrated the 40th anniversary of VE Day in 1985 was because Thatcher couldn’t pronounce it; there’s a tape of James Naughtie trying to coach her,m but it kept coming out “VD Day”! You can also hear Thatcher saying, “Oh FUCK it, we’re not celebrating it; I always thought we were on the wrong side anyway!”

    6. How miserable is your life John? Christ, a national celebration of the liberation of Europe from fascism and you lefty tossers can’t even celebrate that.
      You talk about International Workers day. Guess what; The working classes have abandoned and rejected the left completely. Champagne Socialists like Corbyn, Bob Crow and Milne can be thanked for that. The working class put Boris in power and he’s currently on 50%+ approval. Enjoy Sir Keir for the foreseeable 😉
      Please carry on writing this tripe. It means you lot won’t even have a solitary councillor in years to come.

      1. Smearing by the MSM of Corbyn (including the Guardian) put Johnson into power. On top of that were the Blairites in the party, including Starmer and the accusations of anti-semitism coming from Jewish pressure groups egged on by Israel. Starmer has agreed to all the demands of these pressure groups.

    7. I loved hearing John talk about the flag worship.
      The Brits after the war were on rations into the 1960’s. It was bleak, and many emigrated out. The aftermath of the war in England was misery while Germany under the USA’s Marshall Plan was rebuilt to avoid WW3 .
      It was realized the Treaty England created with Germany after WW1 was a main reason for the second WW11
      Lest we forget!
      What people choose to remember is pretty shallow.
      John has some spunk to see things differently, and say it.
      He’s a decent guy as well.

    8. I don’t celebrate VE day either, of course many people did courageous things. However the idea that Britain stood alone is a myth. Europeans Polish, French Dutch Russians and many other nations all fought against the Germans. And interms of sacrifice gave more. The arrogance of the British is shocking. This fuels brexit propaganda and a rule Britannia attitude when we should be thanking and thinking of all nations who bravely fought with them. The Russians for example lost more than 16,000000 men in their fight. This war demonstrates that we as a United Kingdom are stronger being part of the EU. We turn our backs on Europe at our peril. A long line of statesmen would be turning in their graves at this appalling and colossal misjudgment.

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