Voices: ‘Hello Stoke, this is Paris calling’: Can Eurovision succeed where levelling up is failing?

·4-min read
Think a funding-deprived Victorian town hall, or the sort of seaside conference centre usually reserved for glum political party conferences, for Eurovision 2023  (AFP via Getty Images)
Think a funding-deprived Victorian town hall, or the sort of seaside conference centre usually reserved for glum political party conferences, for Eurovision 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)

For Britain to come second to Ukraine at Eurovision 2022 was no mean feat. It also put an end to one of the silliest myths about our dismal performance in recent years: that it’s somehow All About Us.

By combining a decent enough song with a genuinely charismatic performance and an existing online fanbase, Sam Ryder proved we can still win this thing. Let this put an end to the sanctimonious idea that Britain was losing out year after year at Eurovision because of Brexit, or because of fatigue at our warmongering colonial arrogance, or something – a conceit every bit as Anglocentric as the idea that we somehow deserve to win.

The viewing public of Europe and beyond simply are not fixated on passing sombre judgement on us and our politics, and it’s self-aggrandising of us to think so. For years, we sent Eurovision anything but our best, and we got the points we deserved (or rather, we never got the ones we didn’t deserve).

Now, by taking on the mantle of hosting Eurovision while Ukraine suffers a continued pounding by the inept but still murderous Russian army, we have the chance to show our solidarity. Unfortunately, we’ll also be calling attention to ourselves at the worst possible time to show off.

Hosting Eurovision isn’t just expensive; it’s also very exposing. The hosts can screw everything up spectacularly. Coming up with something to fill the excruciatingly long gap during the voting is almost as challenging as pulling off an Olympic opening ceremony – but without anything like the budget or lead time. And overshadowing it all is the task of putting on your best national face.

So, where’s it going to be? Glasgow and Manchester, of course, are straight out of the gate as the top contenders. Classic British thinking: for all that truly great music, live and recorded, emanates from every corner of the union, there isn’t a long list of non-London cities that outsiders associate with both inclusive fun and musical excellence. The go-to stand-ins for the entire North and the whole of Scotland are, as ever, the thunderingly obvious choices.

Neither is the worst possible option, self-image wise, but the fact that they’re leading the pack already does signal a lack of imagination. Maybe we could be a bit more honest and invite this international circus deeper into the heartland. We could even think of it as an unexpected boost for the depleted levelling-up agenda: yes, HS2 has been hacked to its bones and the North has now fallen behind the English public spending average, but there’s always the option of bringing Eurovision to Victoria Hall in Stoke-on-Trent or the Northern Echo arena in Darlington.

And given the condition of the country and the peeved mood of the mythical 2019 red wall voter, maybe it would behove everyone involved to think even bigger – or rather, smaller.

The ultimate example was set by Ireland in 1993, when an equestrian facility operator had the chutzpah to write in to RTÉ and pitch them on the idea of hosting the international contest in the County Cork town of Millstreet. Its nearby Green Glens Arena could seat nearly two-and-a-half times the population of the town, and the national broadcaster went for it.

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So if we’re serious about leaving no one behind, about building the “Global Britain” we were promised instead of a shrivelled remnant fast acquiring a reputation for complacent cruelty and broken promises, why not go the whole hog and point Eurovision’s hundreds of millions of viewers at a part of the country now condemned as “left behind”?

Think a funding-deprived Victorian town hall, or the sort of seaside conference centre usually reserved for glum political party conferences. Or maybe we could go the whole hog and host it somewhere truly off the radar – a Working Men’s Club in Grimethorpe, perhaps, or the Athletic Sports Club in Mexborough.

After all, in the face of non-existent growth and excruciating living costs, patronising grand gestures with no promise of delivery are apparently all we have left to offer. So for Eurovision to swoop in with a few days’ worth of big money (much of it from EU countries) before vanishing again and leaving nothing behind would fit the spirit of the times just perfectly.

Funnily enough, Millstreet’s Green Glens has since served a new purpose as temporary accommodation for Ukrainian refugees. Popular in Ukraine though Boris Johnson might still be, it’s hard to imagine a government led by him or his emotionally jaundiced party giving up even a modest privately owned rural events venue to shelter people fleeing a despicably violent conflict. Hosting the Eurovision Song Contest on Mariupol’s behalf will have to do.

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