Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Brexit: a sign in the Eurovision tea leaves? maybe.

On November 17th I will take part in a Brexit Debate in the Irish Stock Exchange, Dublin as part of the View Temple Bar arts and politics festival. Ahead of this and just for a bit of fun I decided to see if I could find any link between Eurovision and Brexit.

The UK has always had a strange relationship with Europe. Never quite sure if they really wanted to be part of it or as far from it as possible. The Brexit vote was a shock but at the same time not totally unexpected. Euroscepticism has always been strong there but there were other signs too. Could it be that the Eurovision Song Contest was a harbinger of political doom all along? Behind all the glitter, shiny pants, short skirts and gimmicks there was a more serious trend?.  Just like the height of Ireland’s Euroscepticism coincided with the entry of Dustin the Turkey slagging off all of Europe to their face, there are patterns that heralded Brexit in recent times.

All Countries in the Eurovision are part of voting blocs. The UK is no different. Traditionally, once the song of a country in the bloc is half decent it can rely on the votes of its neighbours. The UK traditionally gives its votes to countries like Ireland, Sweden, Germany and Denmark. Interestingly the relationship with Sweden, Denmark and Ireland held up quite well with each  still picking up good votes from the UK when they had a decent entry. Even sometimes when they didn’t. In 2009 the UK and Germany gave each other scores of 7 and 8 respectively. All quite normal. Germany didn’t do all that well that year but Jade Ewen brought the UK in 5th.

However, something happened in 2010. Now many of you may remember that was Bailout year, height of the Crisis and talk of European meltdown. The Germans were playing the bad guy but it didn’t seem to hurt them at Eurovision. That year Germany, and the lovely Lena, won the competition. Now, traditionally Germany should have expected a decent vote from the UK. They got only four points. A bit of a shock when you have a popular song. To make matters worse who did the UK give 12 to? Greece.  Germany was now smarting and they gave nul points to a respectable British entry from the band ‘Blue’ the following year. In 2012 the Brits relented and gave Germany 6 points but there was no reciprocation and indeed neither country has voted for the other since. Something happened in 2010 that broke a long standing mutual appreciation.

The UK has looked out of step with Europe for some time. Only one top 10 finish in 14 years tells its own story. 8 times in the bottom four and three of those at rock bottom. However while the UK might have fallen out with Germany it did hold fast to its other friends. This includes Ireland.  Sweden won in 2012 and got douze points from the UK, second and third place countries Serbia and Lithuania got 7 and 8 respectively. So the UK seemed in line with European tastes. In 2013 another bloc country Denmark won and picked up 12 points from the UK, though second place Azerbaijan was not popular with the Brits.

2014 was Austria’s year, they got 12 points from the UK, while the Netherlands and Sweden in second and third got 7 and 8 points. All was well with the UK voting mood apart from the Germany spat. 2015  Sweden win and guess who they got 12 points from? The UK. That made the 2010 Germany result stand out even more but interestingly Russia and Italy came second and third and Russia got 6 points while Italy got 8. The UK seemed to agree broadly with the choices other Europeans were making. However 2016 was different. Ukraine won the contest with Australia and Russia coming second and third. We can split the jury vote and the public vote in this contest and see that while the jury did vote for Ukraine and Russia in second and third spot they give their top marks to Georgia who finished well back in 20th. Interestingly the public vote was even more out of kilter with Russia, Australia and Ukraine only coming 4th, 5th and 6th while the top three places went to Lithuania, Poland and Bulgaria. All of a sudden the UK seemed to be on a different wavelength. Not hugely, but enough to suggest that right then they were not thinking on the same lines as many other Europeans.

So small things make a world of difference and timing is everything in politics. A Brexit referendum may just have come at a time when a nation that is normally divided, but just about finds enough in Europe to agree on, felt a tad sour. In 2013, 2014 and 2015 Germany and France continued to languish at the bottom of the UK points awards. So perhaps we should have really seen this coming.

So what now? Scotland has already pushed for its own Eurovision entry and so has Northern Ireland. They may yet assert their independence by pushing this further. However the BBC holds the rights and there is not much can be done. But there in microcosm is the battle the UK is now fighting to hold itself together. Still perhaps the UK will happily try to keep its block and maintain friendly relationships with Sweden, Ireland, Holland and Denmark. Perhaps open borders are ok with these countries.  Brexit happened because what the UK really wants is a smaller Union. One where it holds more influence. One where its voting pacts are ok but others don’t do the same. A European Union where it can call the shots. While the UK is able to spot and back a winning policy it doesn’t like the fact that it hasn’t led the way for quite a while. Or maybe that’s the Eurovision I’m talking about?


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