The UK feared it would be humiliated in the first Eurovision after Brexit. It was far worse than that

A glance at our finishing positions over the last two decades suggests it's possible to chart the decline of Britain’s EU relationship with Europe through the medium of Europop

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The Independent Online

“Good evening, London, this is Europe calling. First of all, guys, thanks for putting on such a great show these last 44 years. It’s been amazing. And now here are the results of the European jury. And the result is... we couldn’t care less about Brexit.”

So much for the speculation that the continent would take its chance to humiliate the UK at Eurovision. In the event, it was far worse than that. Rage and resentment we can live with. Irrelevance is an infinitely heavier cross to bear.

Host Graham Norton succinctly summed it up with his second most memorable observation of the evening. The first, for the record and your reading pleasure, came early in the marathon. “They’re all keen on the fiddle,” he said about the family of Poland’s Kasia Mos, the second of the 26 acts. “And in fact her brother will be fiddling with her on stage tonight.” Well, you’ve got to give the kids a treat every now and again.

Another two and a half hours elapsed when, as a stoned-looking Georgian cranked up his larynx, Norton addressed the comatose elephant in the concert hall. He’d been in Kiev all week, and “not a soul has mentioned it. It’s as if they don’t care about Brexit. Also, and not to be too blunt, we can’t do a lot worse.”

Bless him for identifying as “us”, although perhaps it’s easier to be gracious with a lovely Irish passport in the top drawer.

As it turned out, Lucie Jones did a lot better than expected with a ballad titled, with some irony given the British jury’s result on 23 June 2016, “Never Give Up On You”. The one-time X Factor contestant from Wales came 15th, a placing that would once have been interpreted as a punishment beating but is the height of respectability today. So degraded is Britain’s status as a Eurocrooning power that our entrant gets fewer than half the points won by Romania, with a bold attempt at melding the musical genres of rap and yodelling, and it’s deemed a success.

Whether it’s possible to chart the decline of Britain’s EU relationship through Eurovision results is a bone of feverish contention among political scientists. Professor Anthony King will tell you one thing, and the psephologist John Curtice will say the diametric opposite. (The two are rumoured to have come to blows over this at a Eurovision party in 2006, the year monster mask-wearing metal band Lordi won for Finland with the exquisite "Hard Rock Hallelujah".)

But it seems to me that a glance at finishing positions over the last two decades does offer a hint. Our last victory, care of Katrina And The Waves, came in 1997, two days after Tony Blair stormed to his landslide promising to shine the light of British love upon Brussels and Strasbourg. The following year, Imaani came a close second to the Israeli transgender Dana International.

After a brief period of moderately enthusiastic Europeanism, however, things took a nasty turn on the boom-a-bang front. Gordon Brown strangled Blair’s ambition to join the Euro with the “five point test” he wrote on the back of an envelope during a 90-second car ride. And Rupert Murdoch took to nipping through the No 10 back door to remind Blair that, as an Australian-born naturalised US citizen, he wasn’t bleedin’ having it with this UK-at-the-heart-of-Europe cobblers.

In 2003, Jemini landed the first nul points in UK Eurovision history. In 2007, Scooch’s doors-to-manual airline classic "Flying the Flag (For You)" went into a corkscrew spin, and crash-landed in 22nd place. Even Engelbert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler, flying the flag (for youth), could finish no higher than 25th and 19th respectively in 2012 and 2013.

The Eurovision glories from the dawn of European Community membership in the Seventies and early Eighties, when we were seldom out of the top four and won with Bucks Fizz and Brotherhood of Man, were ancient history long before we were making our minds up to leave. But while, with a sole exception, no one was saving their kisses for the UK last night, they couldn’t even be bothered to give us a kicking. Brexit, Schmexit seemed the sub-theme of the night, and death by indifference is a painful way to go.

But let’s not be too glum, because that exception may point the way to a brighter tomorrow. The lone jury to give Lucie Jones les douze was the one from Australia (yes, thanking you, I’ve seen the map too; try to let it go). However important it is to increase trade with the Aussies, Canada, India, and so on, it is more crucial to infiltrate Eurovision with a clutch of Commonwealth countries. That way, we might yet produce another Sandie Shaw.

For now, the ambition is lower. Long after reporting that “the Union Jack just fell of the wall in the dressing room. Hope that’s not an omen,” Norton summoned the strength to feign excitement about the finishing position. As the viewer’s votes were being added to those of the juries’, he obsessed about Lucie Jones remaining on the left hand side of the results screen among the top half of finishers.

It was not to be. At the death, in a needlessly blunt reflection of the political realities that led to Brexit and are expected to decide the coming election, the UK moved sharply to the right. 

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