The Brit Awards matter . . .

. . . for all the wrong reasons. Like Coldplay.

 

In terms of record sales (or, increasingly, download receipts), the Brit Awards still matter. The appropriately named Duffy, for example, who claimed three gongs at the 2009 tedium, saw a substantial hike in profits -- this, when even the NME compared Rockferry, her debut album, to "an X Factor covers record". Its total first-year sales hit the 1.7 million mark; "Mercy", taken from the LP, was the third-bestselling single of 2008. Paul McCartney's lacklustre Memory Almost Full, which received the "Outstanding Contribution" nod in 2008, sold five times as many copies immediately after the ceremony as it had before it.

When the Brits began in 1977, the panel retrospectively awarded three prizes to the long-defunct Beatles. For an institution that claims to "showcase the sheer depth and diversity of British and international music talent", its choices are marked by a distinct lack of daring: Travis, Coldplay and the Darkness (!) are among past winners. This is partly because, to be eligible, artists are required to have had a hit single or album the previous year. It's an unapologetically commercial enterprise, which, I concede, is fair enough in these hard times. Judging from its logo, it isn't even called the Brit Awards. Its full name seems to be "the Brit Awards with Mastercard". Ker-ching.

This year marks the Brits' official 30th anniversary. For all its self-professed "glamour", the event has long had the deathly atmosphere of a musical Slug and Lettuce: smartly dressed people desperately trying to have fun, all the while aware that they're actually at a work do. It'll be a big moment for Lady Gaga, La Roux and the sundry other popstrels on the coveted shortlist. But the Brits, whose first lifetime achievement award was awarded to the EMI chief Leonard G Wood, is an extended TV commercial -- much like the time-fillers on QVC -- and it's made by the music business, for the music business.

What's more, it's unlikely they'll ever top their 1990 showbiz coup: Maggie Thatcher singing "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window". Where do you go from there?

Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

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Leader: Europe and the long shadow of war

Amid the rancour, it is easy to forget what drove European integration in the first place: the two great wars in the first half of the 20th century.

Amid all the claims and counterclaims about David Cameron’s so-called renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the European Union, it is often forgotten, or conveniently ignored, just how successful the European project has been in helping to create and maintain the post-Second World War peace order.

We support continued British membership of the EU but are sceptical of the imperial ambitions of the European elites. We opposed British membership of the single currency, a decision that the eurozone crisis has vindicated. It is obvious that the Schengen Agreement is unravelling and in all likelihood is unsustainable, as embattled nation states reimpose emergency border controls and the continent grapples with its worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. Like the British government, we are opposed to further political and economic integration and to the creation of a federal or quasi-federal superstate.

However, at a time of profound instability in the world, we accept that it would be foolish for the United Kingdom to retreat from our various multilateral peace alliances – whether that be membership of the EU or, indeed, Nato (as some on the left would wish) – all of which involve some kind of surrender of sovereignty.

Amid the rancour, it is easy to forget what drove European integration in the first place. The two great wars in the first half of the 20th century racked the continent, with neighbouring armies slaughtering each other on a scale that still defies comprehension. As Alistair Horne writes on page 22, “the most atrocious battle in history” began a century ago next week in Verdun, France, on the Western Front. The German army hoped to lure the enemy into a trap and then “bleed the French army white” using its superior firepower. Yet the rivers of blood flowed both ways: in ten months, over 25 square miles, pounded by heavy artillery and poisoned with gas, 300,000 French and German soldiers died.

The lessons of the battle were not quickly learned – the carnage of the Second World War was still to come – yet ultimately they were. In 1963, France’s Charles de Gaulle, who was wounded at Verdun, signed a treaty with the then German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, binding two countries that had engaged for centuries in tit-for-tat wars in an enduring nexus of co-operation. The aim, as David Reynolds notes in his article on page 28, was “to free the next generation from the vice of nationalism”.

Two decades later, President François Mitterrand, who fought near Verdun in 1940, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose father served there in 1916, attended a commemoration ceremony at one of the battle sites. In what became an iconic image of reconciliation at the heart of Europe, Mitterrand impulsively gripped Kohl’s hand during their national anthems. The two men were later the architects of the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union under its current name.

These are troubling times for Europe. Confidence and optimism are low. The wars in the Middle East and the rise of Islamic State, Russian revanchism and financial and economic turbulence have dented the morale of even the most committed liberal Europhiles. In addition, the EU seems unable or unwilling to control or police its borders, just as it has been unable to bring an end to the crisis in the eurozone. Nor is it any closer to forging a common foreign policy, let alone forming a common European army that might be necessary in future years to patrol the outer edges of the continent.

“Unless the EU can find solutions to the problems Europe is facing that are acceptable to its members . . . the Union will be on a glide path to collapse,” wrote the historians Brendan Simms and Timothy Less in a recent issue of the New Statesman. And yet, for all its flaws and present difficulties, the EU remains a force for stability in the world. It embodies the liberal, rules-based order without which barbarism and war are never far away, as the centenary of the Battle of Verdun so poignantly reminds us. 

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle