Eurovision, populism and democracy

The Spectator argues that the UK giving 12 points to Austria’s Conchita Wurst is an example of “an out of touch, unelected euro-elite” defying the will of people. In fact, it’s a pretty good example of why popular polls are not necessarily the right way to make decisions.


Much to the inexplicable delight of the Spectator’s gossip columnist it transpires that the while the UK may have given its 12 points to eventual Eurovision to Conchita Wurst – Austria’s bearded lady – due to votes of the UK’s jury rather than the public poll.

The winner of the poll Poland’s salacious entry with rather prehistoric lyrics like:

We are Slavic, we know how it is
We like to shake what mama in the genes gave us
This is the hot blood, this is our Slavic call
We’re Slavic girls, we know how to use our charming beauty
Now shake what your mama gave ya!
This is the Slavic blood, this is the beauty and grace

The implication of the article in the Spectator is that this is a rejection of political correctness by the British public. I’d suggest that a more plausible reading of the result is that the 600,000 plus Poles living in the UK cast patriotic votes. Migrants voting for the mothercountry is not unheard of: two UCL statisticians – who apparently have rather too much time on their hands – studied the competition and found that for example Turkey scores well in Germany because of the large Turkish diaspora there.

The EBU moved away from relying solely on public votes in 2008 precisely to reduce the role played by this kind of thing. They concluded that the competition would lose credibility* if it was seen to be about geopolitics rather than music.

Which is in microcosm an illustration of the fact that regardless of what the faux populists at right-wing papers say, there is a role for elites in policy making. For example, we need the judiciary and the Bank of England isolated from popular democracy if they are to perform the constitutional and economic roles we have given them. Every system needs checks and balances hence no element can be allowed to become all-powerful. And that includes public opinion.



*an interesting concept in this context, I’ll admit!



One thought on “Eurovision, populism and democracy

  1. Also, the idea of people using Eurovision to stage some sort of protest against political correctness is hilarious.

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