Saturday, 16 May 2009

The politics of Eurovision and why last night was a mirage

Something that has frequently been forgotten after the humiliation of 2003 and the repeated disastrous finishes for the UK in the subsequent five years is that the UK did exceptionally well - third place, no less - in the 2002 version.  The song was, like this year's entry, a crushingly uninteresting ballad, but it had the good fortune to happen at a time when the UK was still benefitting from the massive wave of global sympathy that the US had received eight months earlier.  At that moment, it was widely seen in continental Europe as distasteful, or even an appeasement by implication of Islamic extremism, to criticise cultural influences from the Anglo-Saxon world, and future historians will undoubtedly be astounded that it took less than a year for Bush to so comprehensively piss that advantage away - for all that the rules were different as long as the Soviet Union existed, no previous president could have managed such a perverse achievement.

Undoubtedly the UK tried harder this year - Lloyd Webber's very obvious participation, the less conspicuous but commercially vital involvement of Diane Warren, and (crucially, and repeatedly mentioned by Graham Norton) Jade Ewen's unprecedented TV appearances throughout the continent.  Obviously the return of juries played some role.  But I don't agree with Norton that political voting has been marginalised.  As British troops leave Iraq, and as Europe settles into a much friendlier, more enthusiastic relationship with the US under Obama, the UK is far cleaner by association than it was in the previous six contests (and most of Europe knows better than us who really runs the UK).  It should make the best of this.  Its newfound cleanliness will be instantly lost overnight should - as the past week has made so much more likely - the BNP win seats in the European Parliament.  And if, as is likely, the UK goes to Oslo next year having just elected to power a party still deeply bound up with the most venal Europhobia, and which only this week has been talking about aligning itself with the most extreme and fundamentalist right-wing groups on the fringes of the European Parliament, its chances of another top five finish will be practically non-existent.  Indeed I believe that the long-term ramifications of the 2010 general election will include England's - as opposed to the by-then-defunct UK's - withdrawal from Eurovision, along with all other pan-European institutions.  I may be wrong.  But I think those who care about the ESC should cherish this moment.  It won't last.

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