What with the euro, the Greeks and her own poll ratings, Angela Merkel has not had much to smile about in recent weeks.
But as Saturday night became Sunday morning, she could have been forgiven for raising a small glass of sekt. Germany had just received an unheralded international bonus, with 19-year-old Lena’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. This was Germany’s first win for almost 30 years, and you don’t need to mention the war to find a certain irony in the way Britain simultaneously trudged in last, only narrowly escaping the ignominy of “nul points”.
Now, of course, you can say that it’s only a song contest. And over the years it has become acceptable, a requirement almost, for the big “old” countries to deride this annual extravaganza as a relatively harmless outlet for the rediscovered nationalism of small “new” countries, while condemning the political allegiances evident in much of the voting. We British have been particularly good at this, perhaps because such a rationale allows us to explain away our abysmal showing, without admitting the direness of our song.
But Eurovision is not just a song contest, and it wasn’t again this year, even though the changes in the voting system worked to make the national votes in many cases less blatantly political. It is also, to an extent, a poll reflecting popularity and expedience – which is why Germany and Ms Merkel have reason to start this week feeling reasonably happy and why David Cameron, Nick Clegg and William Hague, amid all the other things they have to worry about, might divert just a little attention to the way this country is viewed abroad.
The song, of course, plays a part, and Germany had a good song. I am no one to judge, but the cognoscenti seemed to think that it was Eurovision’s first really “modern” song and one that would hold its own in the international charts. What I can say is that in Lena, Germany had a very natural young singer with a guileless, girl-next-door quality that left her ecstatically bouncing around and searching for words when she won. And the simple staging was a refreshing change from the rock-video tricks of the majority.
Personally, I think it’s a pity that everyone now sings in English and most traces of national musical traditions have gone, but I suppose that’s globalised entertainment for you.
Anyway, there were clearly artistic and personality reasons why Lena should have done well. But she would not have had a chance, had the European viewing public and the national juries from Moscow to Paris and back again considered it unacceptable to vote for Germany for other reasons. Remarkably, Germany attracted votes from across the continent, including from countries whose historical experience might well have dictated otherwise.
When Germany last won, in 1982, Europe was a different place. Saturday night’s result showed that in most of today’s Europe, Germany is seen either in a benign light, or as a country with clout that is worth cultivating. Not so, Britain. What our sad last place laid bare was not only the inadequacies of our song, but a hard-headed calculation by most of our neighbours that, as a country, an ally, even as an economy perhaps, we don’t matter that much. We’re not loved, we’re not needed, and we’re not feared.
Nor does our cultural clout compensate. London’s “Swinging Sixties” are past history, and the “cool Britannia” of the 1990s is no more. Other cities – Berlin, anyone? – are successfully competing in the “cool” stakes. However you look at it, we have some serious catching up to do.
MPs tainted by the expenses scandal could yet put it to use
I’m sorry that MPs’ expenses have re-entered the public conversation in the particular way they just have. And I defy anyone who saw David Laws’s resignation statement not to feel at very least a twinge of sympathy.
His difficulties, though, are a postscript to the expenses regime of the past; among re-elected MPs, it is the new rules on renting that loom largest. One MP’s complaint, though, is another’s consultancy opportunity. Try this, from a circular that came though our door from a London estate agent.
“To coincide with the introduction of a new government, Winkworth have established a bespoke, entirely unique package designed to cater exclusively for the property needs of new and existing Members of Parliament. The Winkworth MP Service (WMPS) is an exciting new format developed wholly in consultation with recently retired senior MPs from all parties to offer an entirely exclusive, confidential, personalised and highly professional relocation service...
“By accepting a Member of Parliament as your tenant, the benefits to you as a landlord are immense. A guaranteed rental income, less wear-and-tear on the property, given that it will be used as a second home, a professional tenant and an expert service provided from one of our parliamentary Property consultants...”
You could say that as one front door closes, another opens – at least if you are, or were, an MP.Reuse content