May 17

Making Your Mind Up: How Eurovision Caused Brexit

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FAKE NEWS! But REAL POP! In April I went to Seattle and talked about Eurovision and Brexit, and now thanks to the miracle of YouTube and Bruce from my work’s Graphics Department you too can experience my presentation. It isn’t quite the same as being there (lots of people laughed! honest!) but it’ll have to do.

I hope you enjoy this piece of multimedia content, I certainly enjoyed making and presenting it – we will be back to the written word (and to Popular) before long, I promise.


  1. 1
    Tom on 10 May 2017 #

    (There was a previous recording where I sounded too much like Adam Curtis even for me.)

  2. 2
    swanstep on 11 May 2017 #

    A couple of possible corrections:
    1. Don’t you mean (1965) ‘In the year of Rubber Soul and ‘Satisfaction’…’ not ‘In The year of Revolver…’?
    2. Bardo’s song (new to me) appears to be ‘One Step Further’ not ‘One Step More’

    On your main thesis that Brexit was partially caused by the British public’s never sincerely, positively embracing the EU (just the way they only rather sourly and ironically participated in Eurovision over the years): maybe. From the outside it seemed that Brexit’s relatively narrow victory turned on a series of outright lies that (i) the costs of staying (in the EU) were much higher than they actually were (e.g., that EU membership was literally at the expense of lots of NHS funding) and that (ii) the costs of leaving would be very minimal (e.g., that Britain would definitely be able to maintain a very favorable trade relationship with the EU, and certainly not lose the City). But maybe your point is that a lot of people were susceptible to these sorts of relatively technical lies in part because they weren’t positively emotionally invested in the EU (paralleling their unconvinced, sour disposition towards Eurovision).

  3. 3
    Tom on 11 May 2017 #

    1. No, the chronology is. 1965 – France Gall wins. UK entrant is Kathy Kirby (who slaps her). 1966. Year of Revolver. Lessons not immediately learned: UK entrant is man in kilt. 1967. UK entrant is Sandie Shaw, who wins. I should probably have spelt it out.

    2. Oops!

    Wider point: yes, most of the post-Brexit analysis has focused on the strengths of the Leave campaign, which were both real (strong, positive, emotive story) and heavily bolstered by the fact they were prepared to lie outright to get the result they wanted. I thought it would be more interesting to look at the dog that didn’t bark – why the Remain campaign couldn’t draw on a positive well of pro-European sentiment. Eurovision is a useful lens to do this with as it dramatises the distanced UK attitude nicely.

  4. 4
    Cumbrian on 11 May 2017 #

    I enjoyed this, both for the humour and the content more generally, but also because it got the synapses firing a little. Apologies for the following lengthy post. I dare say the following is not something Tom would have been able to get into given the remit and required length of his presentation!

    Unless I am reading Tom’s underlying thesis incorrectly, he appears to be saying that there is something about the UK’s mentality towards Eurovision that is reflective of its attitude towards the EU more generally. I would go the whole hog and suggest that this attitude can be found writ large in many areas of the UK’s (possible just the English?) attitude to life in general, not just the European project. To talk about this more coherently though, I am going to need to steer this to a subject that I am far more comfortable with: sport.

    Taken together the books “Why England Lose” (later titled Soccernomics) by Kuper and Szymanski and “Inverting The Pyramid” by Jonathan Wilson go into some detail as to the underlying causes for the underachievement characteristic of the English international team and its increasingly desperate forays into tournament play. Where both hit on the same reasoning, it comes down to what K&S term “knowledge circles”. Football tactics underwent a series of cross pollinating ideas on the continent throughout the 20th century (thesea are continuing right up to today), with these knowledge circles expanding the idea of what formations, styles of play, tactics, etc, were possible and effective. The English were not included in these circles and, so the argument is presented, consequently stayed in tactical stasis. The reasons for English exclusion are many and varied – a sense of superiority (we invented the game so not engaging, our club sides did well in European competition throughout the late 60s-early 80s so what can we learn, etc), the language barrier, lack of interest, all play a part. Subsequent attempts to parachute in people to catch England up (Sven, Capello) have failed. In other words, a short term fix, copying patterns that work elsewhere, hasn’t worked. If the English want to win, more fundamental reform and more open football culture is probably required (coaches and players working abroad would be a good start, the football public being accepting of new ideas, instead of incredulous, would also help). As in football, so (arguably) in Eurovision.

    Now we’re in a period where, if you read the soccer blogs, English opinion of the international game is declining precipitously. There are those that say the standard is low – which is almost certainly true by comparison to Champions League football – but there’s also a creeping sense that the English public is withdrawing interest because we don’t win and thus the international game is slowly rendered less important than club football. This attitude is given the lie by the players themselves – Messi was distraught when he missed out for the umpteenth time with Argentina, retired from international football and then swiftly unretired. He hasn’t won – and clearly wants to win – an international tournament. Ronaldo put himself to the sword for his country (and eventually appeared to be managing Portugal from the touchline in the final) during the last Euros – these players know that an international tournament win is a crowning achievement for their careers. The deep run the Welsh made in the same tournament is a source of great pride for them. Meanwhile, the English are retreating from this, to the extent that you’re even seeing people in the game saying that it’s worthwhile not being in European club competition, so as you can concentrate all your efforts on winning the domestic league.

    There are, I think clear parallels, here with Eurovision (we’re dominating club football in the 60s-70s-80s = we’ve got The Beatles, The Stones, T Rex, Bowie, Led Zep, The Pistols, Duran Duran, etc, are both sticking plasters over failure elsewhere; we’re failing internationally, so withdraw interest and concentrate on ourselves, etc) but I think it goes even deeper than that small island mentality.

    The UK has had massive international sporting failure before, many times in fact. Prominently, there is the 1996 Olympics, where only one gold medal was won (the seemingly guaranteed Steve Redgrave/Matthew Pinsent medal). All the UK’s track stars were getting old/had retired (Linford Christie, Colin Jackson, Sally Gunnell), were prior to the full blossoming of their potential (Denise Lewis got a Bronze which she would later turn into Gold in Sydney) or underperformed (Jonathan Edwards in particular). Chris Boardman had jumped to pro road racing, so was no longer able to marry his legs to British engineering in track cycling, and came 3rd in a much more competitive road time trial. Ben Ainslie was 19, I think, and not quite ready to start his run of domination in sailing. Swimming was in the doldrums.

    All of this has turned around for one reason. Investment. Of time, effort, resources and, obviously, pots of money. Winning the bid to host in 2012 gave the UK further impetus in this regard. 20 years later, the UK won its most Golds at an Olympics in living memory. This is down to slow, painstaking work, mostly hidden away from the public gaze. It also required the integration of coaches and ideas from around the world into our sporting culture. Openness and investment reaped dividends in the end.

    All of which brings me to my point – the UK seemingly no longer really wants to invest in things, accept due diligence as a necessity, do the painstaking hard yards. We don’t want to do it in football – we want to parachute in coaches from around the world rather than teach our kids to play football in a way that will make them more able to enact different tactics and we want to spend money, so our club sides can win now. We don’t want to do it in Eurovision – we want to copy ideas from other parts of Europe and then moan and withdraw when we get nowhere. We don’t want to do it in Europe – where the money spent has created positives but in ways that the public considers unknowable and therefore valueless (helped by a press culture that wilfully obfuscates any achievement coming from the EU). And I would say, we don’t want to do it in government or society more generally either. I would say is the backbone of the “age of austerity”; acceptance that we must cut and have less, rather than investing and reaping the benefits later, from both government and a quiescent electorate.

    You can see this in the NHS – turning around some of the issues there, will require years of hard work and investment. The country as a collective seemingly has little appetite for this. The government certainly doesn’t – instead, cutting and cutting to make the numbers fit as a quick fix, rather than accepting the necessity and responsibility for hard decisions and difficult work (this difficult work of course also being able to sell slow incremental change to the public, as being worthwhile).

    Why did it work for the Olympics? I would argue that it’s because the big reveal happens every 4 years. No one focused on the boring, hard work that was being done. It also worked because the outcome played into Britain’s sense of its own exceptionalism. For most, it’s a magic trick that confirms their own beliefs. You can’t do that with public services that everyone sees every day, are used every day, are reported on almost every day. Short termism is the real British malaise and, I think, is the root cause of Eurovision failure and much else besides. It will be the death of us.

  5. 5
    Tom on 11 May 2017 #

    Fantastic comment and thinking – thanks Cumbrian, this is why I do this stuff in the first place!

  6. 6
    Cumbrian on 11 May 2017 #

    Thanks. The credit is yours too though – wouldn’t have thought about any of this stuff without the right material to consider it altogether as a piece.

  7. 7
    katstevens on 11 May 2017 #

    I might be able to shed some light on swimming’s drastic improvement here (0 medals in Sydney 2000 vs 6 medals in Rio 2016 – and 7x 4th places). Lottery funding was one major part, but also the will to take part in the lower key international meets (your Champions League equivalents, I guess), and to get external coaching expertise in – Bill Sweetenham was the Australian Sven here, brought in before Athens 2004 to give the swimmers a kick up the arse. The older swimmers generally didn’t like this at all (and he got sacked after a couple of years), but the younger ones responded well and have since passed it on to the current generation (Adam Peaty’s coach Mel Marshall was a swimmer during the Sweetenham years). Drawing pop music parallels to swimming is a bit difficult due to the historical (and dubious) Eastern bloc strength messing up the narrative, but I would like to suggest Lithuania winning an Olympic swimming gold in 2012 was the equivalent of this surprise victory.

  8. 8
    Steve Mannion on 11 May 2017 #

    Jade Ewen’s and Blue’s decent performances in Eurovision a few years back suggested the UK might have finally stumbled on how to do well (again). Triangulate in terms of conviction (in performance even if you’re playing for laughs), credibility (sufficient technical prowess both on paper and on the night) and…concept (or even controversy-factor?)? Maybe you only need to score high on two out of those three – Jade and Blue’s entries both seemed v boringly orthodox and safe to me but then I’m routinely baffled every year by the stuff in that category that can transcend midtable mediocrity.

  9. 9
    Tom on 11 May 2017 #

    I suspect there is a LOT of stuff that happens behind the scenes in terms of influencing juries, and a general feeling that so-and-so is a ‘strong’ contestant and so-and-so is not, which has an upshot in the actual votes but can’t really be fed into models of how the contest works (especially simplified ones like my reading).

  10. 10

    ^^^jedward would have won

  11. 11
    Cumbrian on 11 May 2017 #

    #7: Thanks for that primer on the swimming. Not an area of strength for me, except in being able to note that we weren’t much good for quite a while. It sounds very like the model that happened in cycling, right down to the abrasive Australian coach who got kicked out but nevertheless changed the culture around the sport (though Shane Sutton sounds like someone who tips over into outright obnoxiousness and the cycling team currently operating under a cloud, following recent questions about Team Sky).

    Wasn’t the Lithuanian woman who won in 2012 also being coached in the UK – or is that me misremembering some jingoistic coverage from Our National Broadcaster during London Olympics?

    You’ll note I am very carefully tiptoeing around any real discussion of Eurovision. I honestly know very little about it anymore and my stuff above was almost entirely a response to Tom’s analysis rather than based on any of my own knowledge – usually there’s a boxing card on at the same time and I tend to watch that (this year’s clash with the boxing is Kal Yafai defending his Super Flyweight title, in front of which I suspect I will be parked).

  12. 12
    will on 11 May 2017 #

    Cumbrian – I agree with you 100%. I haven’t read a better dissection of the English (not British, mind you) malaise.

  13. 13
    katstevens on 11 May 2017 #

    #11 Yep she trained in Plymouth.

    #8 Blue’s arena/touring experience really helped them deliver on the night despite a weak song (I am glued to Eurovision every year and I can’t remember it at all). Jade had Andrew Lloyd Webber traipsing round Europe with her for a month on the promo tour which certainly beefed up her profile (at least I can still hum the chorus for her one). I think the only other recent entry that had half a chance was Posh Molly’s Children of the Universe one, scuppered by a) inexperienced performer bricking it on the night b) being drawn last in the running order (I think this is such a big drawback that it’s now been changed so that the host country always goes last).

  14. 14
    katstevens on 11 May 2017 #

    > (I think this is such a big drawback that it’s now been changed so that the host country always goes last)

    Just checked and this is totally false! Not sure where I got this idea from.

  15. 15
    Andrew Farrell on 12 May 2017 #

    Just chiming in to add to the praise for Cumbrian’s comment, that’s two of the best in the last year – do you write elsewhere at all?

  16. 16
    Cumbrian on 12 May 2017 #

    Thanks very much Andrew.

    I don’t write anywhere really – at least other than in the comment boxes here. I’m a market researcher by trade (which is how I first heard of Tom and wound up here), who currently is finding it very difficult not to see everything through the prism of politics, whilst working in house for a large entertainment company.

    Maybe I should write more regularly, if only for myself without publishing anywhere, just to let out some of the frustrations that I have with the current situation and direction in which things appear to be heading. My comment above was not intended (and still isn’t!) to detract from Tom’s presentation, or to particularly move the conversation away from Eurovision, but it was at least somewhat personally cathartic. Might have saved me from bursting a blood vessel screaming at the news for another day, at least.

    Will @12: yeah, I obviously hedged explicitly at least once on whether this is Britain or England I am describing. England is obviously such a dominant voice in the state of the UK that that conflation is in one sense true and, in a whole lot of more important ones, not true at all. I’m trying to learn more about politics in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in my spare time reading, mostly through the perspective of current events but there’s a whole load of history (some of which I am aware of, some of which I am absolutely not) that needs unpacking too, to understand why the current situation stands for those nations before I can say with any real certainty that it would be fair to tar them with the brush I’ve got out at #4 above.

  17. 17
    flahr on 13 May 2017 #

    2017: The Eurovision of Rockism.

  18. 18
    speedwell54 on 14 May 2017 #

    Tom- just watched and listened to your presentation on Eurovision and how we view it. I particularly enjoyed your “yeaaarrgh” after Love City Groove; it said so much. Cumbrian- your comments on on the underlying reasons as to why we fail and why we are turning our backs on life and Europe is really quite something.

    Like many questions in life the answers are numerous and complex and my immediate thoughts were to be rather defensive about this and argue the toss over the premise. We are not doing that badly in Eurovision. Our lower placings are unconnected to our effort, and any political voting effect is minimal. I do not think my arguments are entirely specious but I am dubious over their merit.

    Firstly in 1999 the rules changed (not first the first time) which allowed countries to sing in languages other than their own native tongue . Guess what, everyone* goes for English except the French- now there’s a country who have really fallen off a cliff results wise. Overnight the edge we had with other countries understanding our songs better than anyone else’s (that they could vote for), disappeared. Pre 1999 we only missed a top ten place twice, since 1999 we have only reached the top ten twice. There has only been two non English language winners since 1999. Only 4 out of the 42 participating countries in 2017 are not singing in English. I think post hoc ergo propter hoc works in this case.

    Secondly the political voting or block voting that ol’ Tel used to bang on about is little more than culturally close countries having affinity for their neighbour’s musical output. What has changed is we have more countries, and those countries do not help us. The Eastern European countries once part of Russia and Yugoslavia have a tendency to share votes. Nothing underhand. To maintain the level playing field we need to pack in the UK entrant and push for England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Dogs* or whatever, all entering separately. Shared media alone would surely increase our (England’s) points tally with a decent performance. Another change is mass migration means that now for example there are over two million Poles not living in Poland which means they can vote for Poland. And some of them do.

    Thirdly and now I’m struggling but it’s just maths. Quality aside, more countries equals less chance of winning or placing well. In 1994 and 1995 we came 10th/25 and 10th/23. Is that really so different to 19th/39 in 2013 and 17th/37 in 2014 . Of course I am including all the participating countries and not just those that reached the final. And Cumbrian, just because you mentioned football- when Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the World Cup Final in Brazil no one said Argentina came last, but that is just what happened to the UKs’s Andy Abraham and Josh Dubovie despite 32 countries collectively doing worse. I realise it sounds like I’m on ‘Defend the Indefensible’.

    I believe Terry Wogan has a lot to answer for, but it’s not just him. His “pithy and often mocking commentaries” year after year undoubtedly helped shaped the views of the nation and form long lasting opinions that still remain – especially in Stoke. When the UK were doing well it might have been forgiven in some quarters to run with this light hearted approach but regardless it is just disrespectful. Terry’s eventual implosion and withdrawal post Andy Abraham in 2008 was overdue. I wonder how much of his anger was guilt. He had put Andy through a wild card on “Eurovision- Your Decision” when he had already been voted off. He placed last in the final. Michelle Gayle was far more Eurovision and was robbed.

    On the argument of are we really trying. The evidence would suggest not. It is not a throw money at it type of problem. To over simplify hugely, football and music are “art” and Olympic sports are largely “science” Hence you can invest in Olympic sports** and measure results. Faster, higher, stronger, is pure and variables are reduced. Any team sport is so much more than individuals and tactics just explode the science. The Eurovision Song contest is actually really a performance contest and you have three or so minutes to stand out hence this year*** a dancing gorilla, wedding dresses, a rap/yodel duet, an opera/pop duet from one person, but that is fine and it will always have that element. To second guess what will catch the ear of the judges and the phone voters each year is unpredictable.

    We could try harder but if commentators give it little or no respect (and therefore everyone else) Ed Sheeran is never going near it. I think Graham has less distain for the acts than Terry and there is more cultural awareness and sharing of music across Europe. We seem to have lost the countries going for the traditional heritage stuff which comes across novelty to everyone else.

    Changes outside our control don’t help us. We have contributed to our downfall.
    In summary other countries try harder than they used to and harder than us.
    We don’t know how or if, we want to try and catch up.

    *not literally
    ** not that elements of cycling are not team based or tactical
    *** not my favourite but there has been worse

  19. 19
    Kinitawowi on 14 May 2017 #

    #18 Secondly the political voting or block voting that ol’ Tel used to bang on about is little more than culturally close countries having affinity for their neighbour’s musical output. What has changed is we have more countries, and those countries do not help us. The Eastern European countries once part of Russia and Yugoslavia have a tendency to share votes. Nothing underhand. To maintain the level playing field we need to pack in the UK entrant and push for England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Dogs* or whatever, all entering separately. Shared media alone would surely increase our (England’s) points tally with a decent performance. Another change is mass migration means that now for example there are over two million Poles not living in Poland which means they can vote for Poland. And some of them do.

    When there was a block of a dozen or so countries all pulling in roughly the same direction it was seen to mostly work, but as it progressively expanded as countries broke into smaller countries and more and more countries joined in, it reached a point of over twice that many; the UK ended up feeling further and further cut adrift and some people started to question the point of the entire exercise. Useful once, but is it still fit for purpose?

    I leave it to the reader to decide if that paragraph’s about Eurovision or Brexit. ;)

  20. 20
    wichitalineman on 14 May 2017 #

    I liked Love City Groove myself! Written by Q-Tee, a song she had in the bag when she was briefly a Heavenly artist, I’m not sure how it ended up in Eurovision. Her distinctive husky voice would certainly have made it a better entry, this is true.

    Great piece, Tom.

  21. 21
    Rory on 15 May 2017 #

    A compelling argument, Tom. A quickly deleted tweet from a Tory councillor on Saturday night would appear to lend it extra weight.

    I missed the first half of the broadcast on the night so didn’t vote, but the winner was a solid choice: a wistful coda to a year of Euro-turmoil. “City Lights” (Blanche, Belgium) is the song I’ll return to, though.

  22. 22
    Auntie Beryl on 15 May 2017 #

    #19 your point about a nation feeling “further and further adrift” would have applied to perennial also rans Portugal, I guess. And then they won.

    (No political point intended, just something that struck me at the weekend.)

  23. 23
    Rory on 16 May 2017 #

    Further evidence! Leave voters 76% in favour of quitting Eurovision versus only 35% of Remain voters.

  24. 24
    Ed on 14 Jun 2017 #

    Great presentation!

    “Nigel Farridge” lol

  25. 25
    hardtogethits on 7 Jul 2017 #

    I keep going back to Speedwell54’s post and re-reading it. It’s full of valid points that I think warrant further consideration. Some are debatable (in the truest sense – I don’t mean it as a neologistic euphemism for ‘weak’), others straightforward and inarguable.

    Of all of those points, the one that I’m keenest to discuss is the one about Wogan. He sure did have a lot to answer for. I’d rather not talk about him in the present tense, but I’m puzzled as to how the BBC, funded by public money, could name one of its (ie our) buildings after him. It seems so hypocritical that an organisation operating under the motto “Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation” would celebrate the life of someone who so utterly, manifestly failed to give this admirable intent any thought at all. Ok, so he did not wage war, but if he ever had a nice word to say about any other nation (ie not the UK, not Ireland), then he is not remembered for it. All the excuses about his light-hearted joshing and puncturing pomposity were nonsensical and cliched. As Jude Collins has written, Wogan regarded people from ‘other’ countries as “lesser breeds”, and commented as such. As Speedwell says – it was “disrespectful”. Was the only reason for his spiteful condescension that other countries did not give their votes to the UK and Ireland’s Eurovision contestants? It seems ludicrous to suggest so, but frankly there doesn’t appear to have been any other reason. And, all the while, his xenophobia spoke to, and for, the UK. People loved it, and apparently loved him.

    I think it would be a more fitting tribute to Wogan and his popularity to have a BBC motto that reflects the legacy of his commentary.

  26. 26
    weej on 15 Nov 2017 #

    Not sure if it’s the same research, but noted this in the Guardian the other day

    “Leave voters also want out of Eurovision

    Forty-one percent of leave voters say they have made their mind up that the UK should permanently exit the Eurovision song contest. ”


  27. 27
    weej on 1 Apr 2019 #

    Daily Express making an April Fool’s joke today, but missing the point more than a little


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