Where should EUROVISION look?

For the first time in the contest’s history, land war in Europe between two of the participants is forcing EUROVISION to relocate its grand final. Our Features Editor, Dan Lentell, talks about the choices facing all those hoping to influence one of the most consequential decisions organisers have ever had to make.

Ukraine won Eurovision. We know that. We also know that, due to the conflict in that country, the 67th Edition of the Eurovision Song Contest (2023) will be held in the UK. We know that the BBC will act as host broadcaster. What we don’t know (yet) is in which UK city the show will be staged. There is no shortage of viable contenders. The politics – big and small ‘p’ – will be fierce and largely unseen, perhaps only to emerge in a little-read Political Masters dissertation in the latter part of the present decade.

The first thing to think about, as ever, is money. With a global cost of living crisis compelling every local authority to tighten belts and squeeze essential services, arts funding is a hot potato many may eye but few councils would actually wish to grab. After all, how does one justify Azerbaiji levels of expenditure in more modest times?

For the twitchy, nervous, councillor types who pay lip service to the vitality of the arts in public, but who secretly dread a discontented taxpayers’ revolt at the polls, the need to demonstrate value for money is an all-consuming concern. In addition to the fact that much of the essential funding for Eurovison comes from other key players, there are two obvious responses to the maybe/naybe sayers.

First, there is no doubting that Eurovison is a very big deal, a very big draw, and a very big legacy for any self-respecting European centre of culture. Tourism and its related economic sectors will feel an immediate benefit which, with a little skill, could be extended into the medium and longer term. Few in-house tourist information campaigns could match Eurovision for glitz and glamour.

Second, there is the more nebulous national levelling up agenda. London’s gravity bends the UK’s economic and social fabric south-eastwards. Successive governments have attempted to counter this with targeted support and investment north of Watford Gap. The opportunity for a repeat of London’s spectacular 2012 Olympics – not to mention its ‘60, ‘63, ‘68, and ‘77 Eurovision stagings – seems unlikely. So it will be interesting to see if, how, and where the new Prime Minister in Downing Street sows this unexpected windfall of Eurovision potential. 

A further consideration are the wider political conversations being held about the UK itself. The Nationalist administration in Scotland is determined to hold a second independence referendum in the very near future. Edinburgh’s council leader has said that, as Kyiv’s sister city, Scotland’s Capital would be a “fitting host.” Decision influencers at Westminster might be more inclined to approve of a Labour-led administration dusting off the auld bunting from ‘72 and stepping into the European spotlight – with or without Will Ferrell and Dan Stevens – than to hand the mic to the SNP-led City of Glasgow, “safest of safe pairs of hands” or no.

Whichever city is chosen, the contest organisers have said that the host venue should accommodate c.10,000 spectators, be within easy reach of an international airport, and have enough hotel accommodation for at least 2,000 delegates, journalists, and spectators. Birmingham, the last UK city to have hosted (‘98), will be match fit following the Commonwealth Games. But for Brexit, Leeds might have been European Capital of Culture in 2023, and the city will be determinedly staging its own year of culture in 2023 which feels like a kind of fit. Liverpool has no small connection with popular music in the public mind.

But this will not be an entirely UK event and nor should it be. This will be Ukraine’s moment to speak to the world. To remind all the peoples of Earth of why Eurovision matters, of our shared values and of the value of sharing. For that reason, I suggest that of all the UK mainland cities few can match Manchester as the 2023 Eurovision host. Manchester’s own history of courage in the face of successive terrorist outrages includes the demonic murder of 23, and injuries to a further 1,017 more, concertgoers just five short years ago. To misquote the late Queen Mother’s epic response to the wartime air raid on Buckingham Palace; it is only from Manchester that we can look the people of Europe’s east end in the eye.

This is a think piece by our Features Editor, Dan Lentell.