Sunday, May 25, 2008

Puppets on a String

[Britain came last in last night's Eurovision Song Contest]

We used to be good at the Eurovision Song Contest. We rank second in the winners’ league. Only Ireland (7 victories) has won it more often. So last night’s result, with the UK at the bottom of the pack, ought to be a national calamity, akin to our failure to reach the finals of Euro 2008. Except this time we don’t really care.

Mind you, our entry was exceptionally dire. I don’t know which was worse, the singer or the song. We deserved nul points, so scraping fourteen was a bit of an achievement. But even if we’d resurrected Cliff Richard and persuaded Andrew Lloyd Webber to get a spare ditty out of his bottom drawer, I doubt we would have fared much better. We haven’t won Eurovision since the first day of Tony Blair’s government. That was on May 3rd 1997, when Katrina and the Waves gave us Love Shine A Light. It’s been downhill ever since. Not that we can entirely blame New Labour. It’s the fragmentation of the former communist bloc that did it. Isn’t it symbolic that Germany, Britain and Poland came joint last? How the power base of Europe has changed since 1939.

I don’t this think was just political. It was cultural voting. Those former communist states that voted together genuinely like those terrible jaunty songs. There are now two voting blocs controlling Eurovision: the Balkans and the Vikings. We only have a tiny blocette with Ireland. If their puppet turkey had got through to the final, he would certainly have had douze points from us. It was a protest song, and we would have got the joke. The Balkans take Eurovision seriously, whilst we have Terry Wogan. There’s the difference.

The song contest began as a symbol of European unity. Now that Europe is finally together, it’s showing us the cracks. Music, that great reflector of national spirit, is laying bare Europe’s cultural differences. We and Ireland, for all our Euro talk, are still islands off the far Western shore. Our popular music may sell around the world, our record industries matched in scale and diversity only by America, but at the end of the day, we don’t like the oompah band one little bit. And those Balkans adore it.

Watching the ghastly interval wedding-funeral songs from the Belgrade house band, we could have been sitting in some strange taverna, wondering why we’d booked the holiday, and counting the hours till we get back to nice British Easyjet. It takes something like the Eurovision Song Contest to remind us of why we like home so much.

Of course, if I’m wrong, and all this is just political, then we should be really worried. Despite the fact that Eurovision is just a lot of tosh, it should wake us up to an uncomfortable truth: Europe really doesn’t like us at all.

Terry Wogan says he may not do it again next year, because “it’s no longer a music contest”. Now that would be a national tragedy. Terry’s ironic comments have always been the only reason to watch this terrible, dull three-hour Eurocharade. It’s a waste of a good Saturday night, of a lot of licence fees, and of thousands of pounds worth of telephone votes. But we can’t pull out now that we’ve finished bottom: that would just be sour grapes.

It would also be the end of the contest. Britain, with Germany, France and Spain, pays 40% of the costs of this nonsense. Without us, the Serbians couldn’t have afforded the lighting bill. Ironically, we’ve let all these other countries into the contest in order to keep it alive. Now we feel like gatecrashers at our own party.

Anyway, I’ve got the solution. Let’s divide Britain up into counties, and give each one an entry. Then at least we’ll have 86 sets of douze points to throw around. That’ll show those Balkans.

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