Normally when the UK trots out its age-old excuse for coming last at Eurovision (“Europe doesn’t vote for us because they hate us!”) it’s seen for what it is: an obvious whopper. This year though – the year in which we triggered Article 50 and began the formal process of leaving the EU – the claim might not ring quite so hollow.
One survey shows that more than half of Brits are already convinced that Brexit will scupper our hopes of Eurovision glory before Lucie Jones has even sung a note – but will it?
The power of political voting in Eurovision is often hugely overstated. The late Terry Wogan famously claimed that our 2003 entry Cry Baby got nul points because of a backlash to the UK’s involvement in Iraq. A compelling theory, but one that brushes over two rather crucial points.
Firstly, the hammer didn’t seem to fall on any of our coalition partners to anything like the same degree. Poland, Iceland, Spain and Romania all placed in the top ten, and Turkey ended up winning.
Secondly, without wishing to inadvertently downplay our disastrous engagements in Iraq, Cry Baby was a national disgrace in its own right. We’re lucky we got away with just last place. We deserved sanctions.
But let’s presume for a moment that there is some mileage in these Brexit fears. If the EU really was hellbent on using Eurovision as a way to humiliate the UK (a strange platform to use, given how regularly we humiliate ourselves without any outside assistance) how effective would a Brexit voting bloc be?
There are 42 countries competing in this year’s contest, of which 25 are EU members (Luxembourg and Slovakia are sitting this one out).
Under the new voting system, each country can give points to as many as 20 different countries. That being so, a voting bloc of 25 is too big to be beneficial for everyone involved. Five EU countries would have to agree to sacrifice their scores completely, simply to spite Britain.
Moreover, the plan only works if the EU could be certain we wouldn’t pick up any points from non-EU members – but with 16 non-members in this year’s contest, that’s by no means a guarantee.
Between them, the 16 non-EU countries in this year’s contest have a maximum of 384 points to offer the UK. This is more than enough to finish in the top five, no matter what happens elsewhere on the scoreboard.
But how likely is it that the EU will cut us loose completely? Among the EU25 are two of our closest Eurovision allies: Ireland and Malta.
Ireland and Malta have not had particularly successful decades in Eurovision. The last three Irish entries failed to qualify for the grand final, and the one before that came dead last. Malta have, arguably, fared even worse.
It makes no sense for them to start busting up the only alliance they have, so if things do become tribal, Ireland and Malta would side with us long before they took on the risks associated with being part of any Brexit bloc.
As for the rest of them? In 2009 (the year of Jade Ewen) we got points from 19 different EU countries. In 2011 (the year of Blue) we got points from 12 of them. As much as we like to pretend that Europe never picks up the phone for us, it seems that when we send modern, credible entries we get a good response.
By almost every measure, the UK’s entry this year is a solid one. According to the model I put forward in these pages this time last year, it very closely matches the musical profile of a modern Eurovision winner.
Never Give Up On You is in a minor key (D minor, the most successful key of the 21st century), the melody sits within a winning range, the tempo is good, the lyrics mention storms, it was co-written by a previous Eurovision winner and it’s been drawn in the second half, which is the more favourable of the two.
It’s understandable that we’re bracing ourselves for disappointment. Disappointment has been our bread and butter in this competition for nearly twenty years now, but we’re actually in a pretty decent position this year.
And if it does all go belly-up, we’ll be out in a few years anyhow – so maybe Russia will let us join Intervision?