Despite an initial run of votes which offered the horrifying/amusing notion of the world’s campest television event visiting Vladimir Putin in Moscow next year, last night’s Eurovision saw Sweden triumph by a comfortable margin.
As this happened, my Twitter feed broke out with comments along the lines that the Swedes had finally toppled the UK from a previous position of Eurovision dominance. Which, if like me you only really started paying attention to the contest after about 2000, seems somewhat surreal.
For yesterday bore witness to the culmination of the BBC’s annual act of national masochism: paying the Eurovision contest an awful lot of money for the privilege of disgracing itself before one of the world’s largest TV audiences.
A selection of comments from some of our competitors illustrates the point: an Austrian commentator called our entry “a three-minute long cry for help”, whilst the Germans accused the BBC of failing to realise that “this is not a comedy show”.
Best of all was the Norwegian contribution: “The UK used to rule one quarter of the world. Now they mostly rule the last place of the Eurovision top list.”
What many European viewers won’t know, however, is that British citizens sit through our entries in much the same state of helpless horror as everyone else. Our entry is selected by an anonymous BBC committee, which then pays through the nose to bypass the semi-finals.
This has been decried for some time, especially as our ongoing poor performance has focused attention the selection process.
It is a Conservative article of faith that the state is terrible at picking winners, so now a majority Conservative government can finally tackle this important issue head on.
First off, the party retains the Chairmanship of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee. Whoever eventually takes up that position should pledge to find out who picks our entries and drag them into the light to defend their methods, and the Corporation’s atrocious track record.
Secondly John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary, should set out to get the BBC to change its ways. British television is already well-versed at formats whereby the public choose musical acts, after all.
He should also consider trying to stop the BBC buying its way into the final, a lazy substitution of public money for actual effort that further reduces any incentive the Corporation might have to reform its selection process.
If it refuses, he should be willing to hand Eurovision to one of the commercial broadcasters. If he needed any extra incentive, apparently advertising takes the airtime from the ghastly green-room sessions.
The Conservative agenda strongly emphasises reform in Europe, reigning in an out-of-control BBC, and devolving power from the centre to the people. Truly then, failure to tackle our Eurovision woes would be a betrayal both of our values and the British people.