While the V’s victory speech signaled an atmosphere of defiance and the assurance of eventual freedom, Churchill was certainly not promising what could not be delivered. It was a signal of defiance – two fingers to the Nazis and the Axis Powers. The personal freedoms of many in Britain continued to be curtailed until the end of the war four years later, in the summer of 1945 – and beyond. Rationing of meat continued until 1954.
People complained, but Churchill instinctively understood that people needed to hear frankly. Each of his war speeches was perfectly orchestrated with a good dose of realism, hope and unity of purpose.
Now from this government we have mixed messages, floating, shifting goal posts and empty slogans.
“Freedom Day” must have sounded great when it was first mentioned. Now, however, it looks flat, hollow, and deceptive. It doesn’t matter which side of the fence we stand on – full Lord Sumption or staying home too cautious – we all deserve to be treated with more clarity and honesty.
The public may be partly at fault. Were we too quick to give up our freedoms 482 days ago, at the start of the first lockdown? To be sure, the Coronavirus Act 2020 – the new emergency powers given to the government to deal with the epidemic – was passed in the Commons without parliamentary scrutiny, debate, or even a vote. He gave the state discretionary powers to prevent families from seeing each other, prevent people from letting others into their homes, prevent loved ones from attending weddings – and detain those suspected of being infected with Covid.
The wartime government acted in much the same way – with a similar lack of control, it created emergency laws limiting freedom of movement and censoring the press. But the nation as a whole accepted the changes because, for the most part, they recognized the unprecedented circumstances and that the war was a fight for their freedom and their long-term future.
It should also be remembered that 76 years ago this month, in July 1945, Churchill and the Conservatives lost the first general election since pre-war despite victory over Nazi Germany. Mr Johnson may still be leading the polls for now – but, just as Churchill found out, an electorate can turn around.
James Holland is a historian and author of Sicily ’43 (Corgi, £ 9.99). Buy now for £ 8.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514