Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Liz Truss: An apology

Earlier this week, I wrote a post based on a short report about Liz Truss' comments on Eurovision where I assumed she didn't really know what she was talking about.

Having now seen seen her full quote I would like to apologise. I seriously underestimated how far from informed she was.

Earlier, the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, dismissed the idea that the UK’s nul points was a “post-Brexit snub”. She told LBC there was a “fundamental problem” with the way entrants are currently chosen and suggested the BBC shouldn’t choose future artists.

“I think we need to have more competition to get the right entrant, I think they need to be more tested with the public,” she said. “I’m here today at LBC responding to questions from listeners, that’s the kind of testing that we need our song contest entrant to go through. So maybe it should be LBC that’s running it, not the BBC.”

There's a lot to unpack here. I think we can safely say that Eurovision is not Truss' field of expertise. I'm not sure such a Trussian field of expertise actually exists. It might just be better to accept that Truss, like a confused sheep on an A-road, has somehow found herself outside a field.

It's perhaps unsurprising that Truss seems to think that going on LBC is somehow part of the democratic process and doesn't realise that, you know, she's an MP and should be listening to the public in the form of her constituents on a regular basis.

It's perhaps unsurprising that Truss also confuses what you hear being honked through the switchboard at Global Radio is a representative slice of informed public opinion and not merely the confused wheezing of people who are dull enough to tune into LBC and puffed-up enough to be bothered to call in. These are people using their time to put questions to you, Liz. That should be a big red flag for a start.

But let's put that to one side, and focus on the barely-beating heart of Liz's argument. Is the suggestion that LBC should choose the entrant Liz being playful, or is she seriously suggesting that a talk radio network ought to be choosing a song?

Taking that idea as being a sensible suggestion, and accepting that LBC listeners would probably choose Nigel Farage doing some skiffle as our entry, there's a bit of a problem with it. LBC is not, under its broadcast licence, allowed to play music except for "illustrative" purposes. So Liz is floating the idea that, in future, it would be better to have our entry for a song contest chosen by listeners to a radio station that cannot play music. 

That's probably not as unlikely as it sounds. LBC often invites its audience to vote on matters about which it is incapable of providing them the basics they need to make a valid opinion. But do we really think a song chosen on such a basis would perform any better at Eurovision, than the results of a Twitter poll asking "something something is it too woke" is at shaping public policy?

If we remove LBC from the mix, though, Liz is suggesting that the reason we flop on the big stage is because BBC clipboards are picking a winner and it would be better put to a public vote. We've already pointed out that Liz seems unaware of the involvement of BMG employees in the process - people whose business is driven by an understanding of what popular music with the widest appeal sounds like - but let's assume that Truss is mostly concerned about the lack of transparency in the process. After all, we're talking about a song contest here, not something trivial like the procurement of PPE during a pandemic.

Liz Truss is a cabinet minister in a government led by the apparent offspring of Humphrey Cushion and Arthur Daley who somehow managed to achieve an enormous majority in the last general election. It's clear why she might have more faith in the outcome of asking the Great British Public 'what do you think?' than those of us who have to live with the consequences.

That, though, isn't the real problem with Truss popping up to go 'why don't we ask the public?' Because, Liz, that's also been tried. It's been tried a lot. Asking the public, Liz, was what was done between 1957 and 2010, and then again between 2016 and 2019.

Now, fair enough, that means that The Public picked Bucks Fizz and Lulu and the Brotherhood of Man, but if we focus on their more recent form, you'd have to admit that the Public aren't really all that good at this selection business.

Joe And Jake? 24th in 2016.  Michael Rice? 2018's choice came bottom of the heap.

More curiously, although the public chose the tracks between 2016 and 2019, the chart positions of those songs suggests that, actually, nobody very much liked them. In fact, no public-selected Eurovision candidate has made the Top 20 since Scooch back in 2007, and there hasn't been a number one since Gina G in 1996. Michael Rice's single didn't even make the charts.

So asking the public to choose the song they like best simply results in them choosing a song they like well enough to send to Europe but not so much that they'd actually pay for it (or, in modern chart terms, even listen to it enough.) Which raises the obvious question: if it's a song that the UK public don't invest time or money in,  why would you expect the European public to give more of a shit when picking a winner?

Obviously, Liz Truss doesn't really give a raspberry tuppence about what happens in the Eurovision Song Contest, any more than I have any investment in who wins her local Conservative Association's Who Can Put The Most Spaghetti Down Their Trousers fund raiser, and the chance to attack the BBC over anything has ministers' knees jerking like they're auditioning for a spot in a Restless Leg Syndrome infomercial.

But, he says spinning to a close-up camera and pulling a serious face, this kind of rough-and-tumble over Eurovision, in which a woefully ill-informed person with a not-very-hidden agenda drives over the creative industries for a spot of sport is like a little microcosm of how the nation is now. There's no analysis, no understanding, no - god forbid - research. Just a stupid, unworkable proposal plucked from the air while Nick Ferrari is cuing up the next advert for a walk-in bath. If you really believe Eurovision deserves your opinion, Liz, could you do us all a favour and put some thought into shaping that opinion?

Anyway, this blog is on hiatus.


Robin Carmody said...

Not sure the public were polled *throughout* the time you say - didn't they sometimes use regional juries and the like? I might be confused, though, for a lot of that time they were polling the public by post: phone voting only arrived in the late 1980s. But I'm not sure if the BBC would have regarded *any* sort of public poll as wholly appropriate in 1957.

Talking of 1957, for all that Leave voting skewed older I am pretty certain that there are plenty of Leave voters/LBC listeners who like music after that, though at least you haven't implied that they can only like orchestral music as some people do (when in fact England's classical heartlands - Harrogate, Cheltenham, Tunbridge Wells &c - were considerably more pro-Remain than more rock-orientated neighbouring areas). But even if an 80-year-old racist who was 16 in 1957 might make an exception for skiffle because it was before their racism had truly set in - and I certainly knew an extreme racist (freely using the N-word and declaring BNP voting intentions), Europhobe and antisemite (openly referring to "Zog" and calling Jews a "parasitic sub-species") who would, had he lived, have been 80 at the end of this year who did make that exception - then there is a heavy irony to it because it is where the racial and cultural hybridisation which has defined the pop era truly first set in and first made its presence felt, it was the blueprint for all that was to follow. Even more ironically, it was boosted massively by the Suez humiliation - the old order discrediting itself in that way greatly increased demand for a new music, very much as with jazz after the First World War - and the people most supportive of the Suez adventure and most enraged by its failure, i.e. the Faragiste equivalent of their time, despised it as fervently as the LBC audience would despise Russ Millions & Tion Wayne and whoever else gets played, under the same ownership, on Capital Xtra.

But it should also be acknowledged that it also saw the beginning of the great rejection of the European canon, so maybe it's not so ironic if its remaining fans buy into every aspect of the pro-Brexit media. Certainly Brexit is, in my view, a product of rock music rather than the rejection of it which it is so widely and wrongly considered to be. I've always lived in strong Leave areas and they are places where the Elgarisation of Rock is absolutely, 100% complete. As I said above, visiting nearby areas with higher Remain votes, both here in Dorset and previously in Kent, has always given me the impression that these are areas where the erosion of the status of the European canon hasn't been so total. (At least, this is the case in the South, the places I know best: I'll grant that in the North it was different, with the cities most orientated towards American pop culture also voting Remain and staying Labour while areas with less of a special relationship with American pop culture voted massively for Leave, and then went Tory.)

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