The Eurovision Song Contest has never been more important, and I don’t just mean for fans of feathers, sequins and some eyebrow-raising exhibitionism.
This year’s Contest, with the grand final taking place in Rotterdam on Saturday evening where James Newman will represent the UK, will be the first competition post-Brexit and promises to test how good, or perhaps not, our relations really are with our European neighbours (and Israel and Australia, but let’s not get technical).
The delightful paradox has always been that politics ‘in lyrics, speeches or gestures’ at Eurovision are all banned by the EBU, rules enforced by the sinister sounding’ Reference Group’. Back in 2009, Georgia fell foul with its group’s lyrics ‘We don’t wanna put in’ – apparently a bit dissident-sounding to the Committee’s ear.
Despite the rules, though, I think we’d all be a bit concerned if Eurovision came around and the Cypriot jury didn’t announce, with a straight face, that 12 points were going to Greece. Politics has been laced into the Contest ever since 1956 when, in the same year six countries signed up for a ‘customs union’, exactly the same six nations participated in the very first trans-European singing contest. The UK didn’t sign up initially, but soon became one of its mightiest competitors, having won five times and come second fifteen times, before picking up our ball and feigning indifference in recent years.
In 1968, a more enthusiastic General Franco decided a Spanish win would bring his country closer to Western Europe, and so they did. Our entry that year, Cliff Richard, will never know if Spain’s victory was by means fair or foul, but Austria boycotted the following year in protest. More happily, when Estonia won in 2001 and joined the EU two years later, their Prime Minister was insistent, ‘We freed ourselves through song.