A photograph that defines the best of Britain

Peter Tatchell chooses an image from V-E Day, 8 May 1945


The Guardian – London, UK – 15 March 2015
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PHOTO: Servicewomen celebrating V-E Day in London

Peter Tatchell on why he loves this photo:

This photo captures the joy of one of the most important moments of the 20th century – the victory over fascism in 1945. Showing servicewomen celebrating, it symbolises the huge strides made for gender equality in WW2. Women entered previously all-male occupations; debunking the myth that women were the inferior sex. Without women’s war effort, we may not have triumphed over Nazism – the greatest evil in centuries.

WW2 was Britain at its best – a model of what we could be. It was the ‘people’s war’, where ordinary citizens showed courage and sacrifice beyond our modern imaginations. It proved that state intervention and a socialised economy can work.

Privilege and profiteering were deemed shameful. The common good came first. People of all classes, races and nations united to defend Britain against the Nazis. We welcomed refugees and allied with subjugated Europeans against the Third Reich. The need for a fairer, more equal society was the social consensus.

The wartime Common Wealth party was the equivalent of the anti-Tory alliance we need today; uniting socialists, liberals and independents. Well to the left of Jeremy Corbyn, it made radical policies popular and won wartime by-elections.

Social justice had mass appeal in WW2. The people demanded, and later achieved, public ownership of major industries and the creation of the NHS and social security. They won social justice in 1945. Why can’t we win it now?

Peter Tatchell, Human rights campaigner and Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation