Nil points for Eurovision whiners

Who cares about 'political' voting bias?

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

Another poor result for the UK in the fiftieth Eurovision Song Contest has increased the grumbling about ‘political’ voting. ‘There’s nul point in entering Eurovision’, declared the Mirror. Britain’s representative, Javine Lynton, who collected just 18 points to finish twenty-second out of 24, said: ‘People have been texting me non-stop, saying “Don’t worry, it’s all total politics”.’

Of course, some countries have always favoured their neighbours or political allies. Greece always awards its top mark to Cyprus, and Cyprus always awards its top mark to Greece. Norway and Denmark are usually similarly chummy, as are the Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. And, despite civil war just a few years ago, the countries of the former Yugoslavia usually like to spread the love among themselves.

But the question is: why should we care? Eurovision is trashy fun, no more and no less. Grumbling about impartiality misses the point of the contest.

Admittedly, Eurovision can help a small country raise its profile in the world. Ukraine, the hosts of Saturday’s show by virtue of winning in 2004, was bursting with pride at its moment in the sun. Having forked out a decent chunk of its annual TV budget on the show, Ukraine wasn’t going to let anyone forget about its ‘orange revolution’ or the fact that two of the best heavyweight boxers in the world – Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko – were sons of Ukraine (even if they both fight out of Germany these days). No doubt the Ukraine will be happy to return favour to those countries whose votes helped them to secure victory last year.

Research by Professor Philippe Le Guern of Lille University in France shows that there are bloc-voting patterns going back over 30 years of the contest. But that doesn’t make it impossible to win Eurovision if you aren’t a member of a large bloc. For example, plucky little Malta has no obvious voting bloc, but it came second on Saturday. And winners Greece picked up maximum points not just from close neighbours but also from Belgium, Germany, Hungary – and the UK.

The latest twist is the idea that there is now an anti-Western European bias. This year, Spain, the UK, France and Germany finished in the bottom four positions. Ironically, they are the four countries guaranteed entry to every Eurovision because of the large amount they contribute to staging it. Meanwhile, countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland never made it past the semi-final.

But there’s no clear-cut pattern. Last year, the same four countries didn’t do nearly as badly, coming eighth (Germany), tenth (Spain), fifteenth (France) and sixteenth (UK). In this year’s semi-final six of the 10 places were won by countries in the East – but countries like Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and Bulgaria all got knocked out, while Western countries like Denmark, Norway and Switzerland qualified.

In fact, regionalism arguably has less influence now because most of the contestants sing in English – in the past, everyone had to sing in their native language. It doesn’t help Western countries that there are now more participants from the East – but that hardly means that the contest is ‘rigged’. And while the UK moans about politics, it should be noted that all Javine’s points on Saturday came from Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, countries with close UK links.

The real reason that the UK hasn’t done well in recent years is that no popstar would touch the contest with a bargepole unless they really needed the publicity. Our three most recent entrants have been Jemini; two Liverpudlian wannabes who sang out of tune on the night; James Fox, a loser in Fame Academy; and Javine, who missed out on getting into girlband Girls Aloud through the TV series Popstars, and who had been dropped by her record company just before winning the UK qualifying competition. This year’s runner-up to represent Britain was Jordan, the glamour model not known for her musical talents.

Indeed, the four acts Javine defeated in A Song for Europe were two failed reality TV acts, a previous Eurovision loser, and a heavily pregnant, tone-deaf porn star. Hardly a huge pool of creative talent.

Even when the UK has done well, it’s been with acts that have been cheesier than a warehouse full of Gorgonzola: Brotherhood of Man, Bucks Fizz and Cliff Richard spring to mind. The last act to win flying the Union Flag was half-American – Katrina and the Waves in 1997 – and it was distinctly superannuated.

But so what? Eurovision has never really mattered in the UK. It’s always been entertaining because it was so bad. It’s such a shame that in recent years the smaller countries have become much more professional in their offerings. No more yodelling Lapplanders, long since replaced by Eurodisco and slick choreography. Thank god for the guys from Moldova who dragged the lead singer’s grandmother on stage to illustrate their song, Grandma Beats the Drum. And let’s not forget the handsome young man from Cyprus whose song was essentially a collection of the worst chat-up lines used over the years by Mediterranean barmen to sozzled, sunburnt British women.

Eurovision is pants – that’s why we like it. Let’s get back to not taking it seriously.

Read on:

Eurovision loses its focus, by Rob Lyons

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Topics Politics


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