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Beef Of The Week #403: Brexit v Eurovision

By | Published on Friday 11 May 2018

Eurovision Song Contest

Beyond the bluster, the backbiting and the posturing, we still don’t really know much, if anything, about what the UK’s big Brexit deal with the European Union will look like. What, if any, European institutions will the UK continue to participate in post-Brexit Day?

Maybe it was this general lack of movement that caused mediocre Boris Johnson-inspired character act Michael Fabricant MP to do an about turn this week on one of his key views about what a post-Brexit Britain should look like. Namely, whether or not a Brexited UK should continue to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Back in October 2016, in the early days of there being no real progress on the Brexit negotiations, Fabricant said that it was “fallacious” for “remoaners” to suggest that leaving the EU would mean that the UK would also have to leave other European institutions not directly linked to the Union. Like, for example, the institution that is Eurovision.

At the time, Attorney-General Jeremy Wright said that he was “unwilling to commit to making the case for the Eurovision Song Contest”. Mainly because the debate in Parliament when Fabricant made his remarks was about the kind of international co-operation required to keep the citizens of all European countries safe, and it therefore didn’t really seem that relevant. Although that was before the list of banned items for this year’s Eurovision shows in Portugal had been published.

This week, Fabricant was slightly more on topic when he raised Eurovision again during a parliamentary debate on the economic contribution of the British music industry. Although his view on the big Song Contest did since seem to have changed somewhat.

He asked Culture Secretary and noted social media entrepreneur Matt Hancock: “Does my right honourable friend share my dismay that Brexit does not mean that we are leaving the Eurovision Song Contest?”

The exact context (that is, motivation) for this new remark isn’t entirely clear, except that the first semi-final for this year’s competition had been broadcast the night before Fabricant made his plea. He may, therefore, have been aghast at the dullness of the majority of this year’s entries – Israel’s contribution to the art of clucking like a chicken in songs aside. Although I’m sure, like me, he actually watched them all on YouTube long before we got to the semi-final, so there were no actual surprises in that domain this week.

Somewhat derailed from the issue of protecting small venues, which he had been discussing at that point, Hancock nonetheless came back with a mildly witty answer, saying: “We should apply to the Eurovision Song Contest a principle that I try to apply to my life: whenever something goes wrong, we should try, try and try again, and maybe we will eventually get there”.

Getting “there” presumably means winning the damn thing one day. Or at least getting somewhere near the top of the final score board. Like in the olden days.

I’m not sure Hancock’s remark answers Fabricant’s question though. Or any question, really. Although it does raise the issue of this year’s UK entry, which is yet again not up to much. I mean, just before Fabricant put forward his question, Hancock had told fellow Conservative MP David Amess that “Britain’s music is our global calling card, so we will keep on supporting it, so that it is rocking all over the world”.

Maybe he was still embarrassed that he’d actually said those words out loud, and that’s why he failed to address ‘Storm’ by SuRie. Why are we putting forward such a poor imitation of the sort of pop that is currently overworked in its job of saving face for an otherwise ridiculous-looking country on the international stage?

It’s not really good enough to say that “we should try, try and try again, and maybe we will eventually get there”. After all, we have music here that consistently out-performs that of other countries. Why does the BBC keep giving us the illusion of choice each year by putting forward six utter clangers to pick from?

I understand that your average performer who has decent management and reckons they might actually have a shot at a long-term career isn’t going to want to drink from the poisoned chalice that is Eurovision. But it’s about the song, isn’t it? Songwriters don’t face the same stigma as performers. Actually, if you were the songwriter who wrote a great song that stormed Eurovision, you could probably dine out on that for years.

I suppose there’s the argument that putting forward something that was actually good might come across as a bit arrogant, given the existing global success of our pop stars. But I’m sure there’s a balance to be struck though, with something that comes across celebratory and in-keeping with the overall vibe of Eurovision.

Plus, Everyone in Europe already thinks we’re arrogant regardless. Partly because of that whole Brexit thing. Partly because of everything we’ve done in an international capacity for the last 600 years or so. Though mainly because a man who once described the citizens of commonwealth countries as “cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies” is our actual Foreign Secretary.

Anyway, that’s the sort of important debate I’d like to see going on in Parliament. Not just a man asking an inane question and receiving an inane answer. At the very least, Hancock could have pointed out that Eurovision is an institution that pre-dates the EU (in fact it pre-dates the formation of the European Economy Community, which became the EU, by three whole years).

Not only that, but its reach already stretches well beyond the EU. And Europe for that matter. Several non-EU countries are free to advance the art of clucking like a chicken without any barriers at the big Contest. And they let Australia in, for fuck’s sake.

Approximately half a billion people did point this out to Fabricant on Twitter. Responding to one, he said “of course I know that”, adding the hashtag #senseofhumourfailure.

Twitter’s not a great place for nuance and context at the best of times, but Fabricant seems to be saying that he only asked the question as a joke. Fair enough, I’m all in favour of putting jokes in entirely inappropriate places. Although I do attempt to make them – if not actually funny – at least look like jokes. Maybe he could have added “knock knock” at the start of his question.

Besides, watching the government attempt to actually deliver Brexit is already hilarious enough. Any MPs wanting to generally make light of the situation really need to up their game.

In the meantime, the UK remains a member of both Eurovision and the EU, so let’s enjoy both while we can. I suspect we won’t be coming out of either any time soon. At least the deadline for discovering our fate in Eurovision is only a day away.