The politics of Eurovision

My pick for the winner – and why Britain will get nuls points.

Eurovision is Europe in miniature – at the same time both maddeningly wonderful and brilliantly depressing, a Babel tower of colliding cultures and simmering rivalries.

But Eurovision is better than the politics of the New Europe: instead of over-expensed, starched suits carving up quotas in a darkened room, it's a camp-as-you-like kaleidoscope of sequins, bad dance routines, terrible lyrics and awfully joyous ditties about boys and girls holding hands and asking, "Hey, can't we all just get along?"

What's not to love? Nothing, that's what.

Of course, behind the scenes, the knives will be out. Despite the promise that juries will help eradicate the bloc voting that has marred previous contests, we all know that certain countries are bound to give douze points to their pals, regardless of the content.

Some countries could put a dead duck on a stick to a backing track of someone noisily farting the national anthem, and still get 12 points from their near neighbours and the diaspora who live across the border; others won't get a sniff of a point from old enemies no matter how hard they try.

Such is the gloriously unfair nature of the contest, I'm afraid, if you look back at voting patterns to try to work out who likes whom – but that's part of the joy of it, and part of the joy of being European, trying to navigate all these old conflicts.

An interesting question is whether new tensions are beginning to surface in this new age of Austerity Europe; and if they are, whether they will manifest themselves in this year's voting.

Dana, Dana, give me an answer, do

Will Iceland, for example, have forgiven the UK yet for using anti-terror legislation to demand its money back a couple of years ago? Will Portugal, Ireland and Greece show thanks to their eurozone benefactors, or anger at the conditions imposed on them by the likes of France and Germany? Will Azerbaijan give 12 points to Turkey? Ah well, some things are easier to predict than others in this game.

It was intriguing last year to see Europe turn, in its hour of crisis, to the big daddy, Germany. Were they simply looking to the larger nation to help steer them through troubled times? Was it that they wer sure that Germany would at least have a few spare euros to put on a good show?

I think it's more complicated than that. I may have hated every second of the demonic Deutsch Dick Van Dyke Lena and her mockney meanderings about buying new underwear, but that's just me. The song had been a hit across the rest of Europe by the time the contest had come around; it had a built-in fanbase.

This year, the favourites are France. Listening to the entry, it's hard for me (and many others) to see why: I find it an intensely unlikeable dirge from Amaury Vassili and "Sognu", lacking in warmth or personality, just a moany lament that leaves you entirely cold.

There's just something completely impersonal about it, which makes me wonder why it's managed to create such a buzz. Or is there something else going on? Perhaps, after Germany, Europe turns towards France for inspiration, for help in its times of crisis. And if that is the case, why not the Royaume Uni?

Why not, indeed? Well, I think there are two main factors. First, the fragmenting UK, with Scotland contemplating a more independent future, still refuses to be friends with Europe. That looks unlikely to change with David Cameron having to shore up the anti-European wedge of the Tory party on one side, despite being in coalition with the more Euro-enthusiastic Liberal Democrats.

Second, we've produced an awful lot of shit down the years. Katrina and the Waves, lifted on a buzz of Blair bliss in that honeymoon period before we started bombing too many people, also had the virtue of having a half-decent song.

It's easy to point to the awfulness of Jemini – and they really were appallingly bad – but they weren't alone. We've had nothing to cheer since then, and I can't see Blue turning the tide, either, despite their relative high profile. No, it'll be another year of dashed hopes for the UK – and rightly so.

Optimistic stormclouds . . .

Who will win, then? My personal favourite is Switzerland, for a song that offers an optimistic vision of stormclouds disappearing across Europe, the recessions receding, a future full of hope, and all of that.

But I don't think they'll quite make it over the finishing line – like my pick of last year, Tom Dice of Belgium, I just don't think they have the all-round appeal necessary to get the big votes.

Serbia has a chance, and a pretty decent effort that should hoover up a few votes in the all-important Balkans, but I don't know if it'll play well enough across the north of the continent.

Which leaves us with Jedward. If anything can cross cultural boundaries, it's a pair of There's Something About Mary-quiffed, rubbery twins bounding around with Labrador-chasing-a-tennis-ball enthusiasm, singing about make-up.

What could possibly go wrong? It's just the kick-start that Ireland needs as an era of gloom descends, and they'll get a few votes from fellow struggling eurozone nations for that, too. They have the perfect combination of the political, the tactical and the sheer Euro wackiness.

I hope so, anyway. Please, anybody but France.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.