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Should you vote if your vote doesn’t count? Jun 08

Last night, in the run up to today’s festival of democracy, I tweeted this:

Subsequently, I’ve been pondering whether taking part in an election built on an unfair system gives legitimacy to that system.

There are plenty of countries in the world where opposition groups boycott elections because they don’t believe them to be free and fair. Now I wouldn’t for a minute draw comparisons between our pretty sturdy electoral process and a vote that gave Saddam Hussein 100% support, but the word “fair” is an important one. Campaigns for proportional representation have long boiled that unwieldy description down to “fair votes”, which clearly implies the current system is not fair – and can’t, then, be “free and fair”.

Does that outweigh an abstract notion of “civil responsibility” to take part regardless? Or is there a separate civil responsibility to challenge systems that don’t work? Suffragettes fought for the right to vote (not for me, obviously) but that was also a challenge to an unfair system. That said, I don’t picture the Electoral Reform Society chaining themselves to railings any time soon.

One of this week’s poll projections suggested the election will be decided by 37 seats changing hands. That’s out of 650. Of course, a seat changing party isn’t a definition of good democracy – people absolutely should re-elect an MP (or, by proxy, a government) that they’re happy with. But it highlights how much power a handful of swing voters in a handful of seats have. I live in a pretty safe Labour seat and that means my vote will make little difference one way or the other. On the other hand, in the London elections – using a system the Conservatives have been talking about scrapping because *eyeroll emoji* – I get a second preference for mayor that gives more choice and a London-wide party vote for the Assembly that brings greater plurality of representation.

So I’d say that yes, taking part does legitimise a broken system. But is that a good enough reason not to vote? An ever-falling turnout might flag up to our rulers that something is wrong – but having been elected under the very same system, they have no incentive to change it. The most likely outcome would be the introduction of compulsory voting. That’s a convenient way for politicians to force up turnout without addressing the underlying issue and at the same time conceals disenfranchisement and takes away a personal freedom – the right not to vote.

Elections shouldn’t be about electoral systems: they’re about the economy and taxation and public services and, this time round, how we implement our collective decision to walk the country off a cliff into the English Channel. So if the party you support has no hope of winning in your constituency, there’s a good case for voting tactically for the least worst option. That’s the best choice under our electoral system; it also entrenches the status quo. The more tactical voting, the more skewed a seat becomes towards just two parties and the more tactical voting is required in future. Great.

The only “democratic” route left then is to carry on slogging under the current system and try to elect enough people who are altruistic enough to pursue genuine reform.

None of that fires me up to vote in my safe Labour seat, but I’ve come up with three reasons to do it anyway.

1. Keep buggering on. A tactical vote in my seat would continue to minimise the smaller parties. For one of them to win they need to get into contention and the only way to get them into contention is to vote for them.

2. Short money. My vote (for the Liberal Democrats, if the tweet wasn’t clear) won’t help them win in my seat this time round. I don’t want to talk down their changes but no polling suggests a surprise upset of that scale. But opposition party funding is related to the number of votes cast as well as the number of seats won, so my vote goes a small way to seeing a greater proportion of parliamentary funding going to the party I support.

3. OFCOM. It’s the job of everyone’s favourite media regulator to decide which are “major parties” for the purposes of public elections. In particular this affects the number of election broadcasts a party is allocated and the overall level of coverage given. Broadcasters may also take it into account when putting together debates or other political programming. Overall national vote share is a factor that OFCOM will consider and so maximising this helps to ensure TV and radio coverage, which is important for future growth.

Of course one can argue that the systems underpinning points 2 and 3 are further reinforcing the status quo, but that’s a discussion for another time. I have a vote to cast.

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Eurovision 2017: The Final May 13

The day is here and, excitingly, it looks like anyone could win! And by anyone, I mean Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria or the UK. Of course, probably not the UK but it really is the best of the bunch and Lucie Jones has been nailing it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Twenty countries have made it through from the semi-finals to join the six pre-qualifiers: the Big Five who put the big money in and Ukraine, last year’s winner and this year’s host.

The running order was decided after the second semi-final so here they are in order with my comments. I’ve revised my views on a few after the semis, in particular dark horse Bulgaria.

The contest opens with one of the few full-on uptempo bangers. It’s one of the weaker vocal performances, which is traded for energetic choreography.

Poland shouldn’t be in the final and are hogging a place that could have gone to someone more deserving, like Finland or Estonia. They need to take their hackneyed love song, go and sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

There are a lot of white outfits in this year’s contest, even with some of them having been evicted earlier in the week. One of the few duets to make it through, both singers are in white. The song is jangly nonsense but they seem to be having a lovely time, possibly because they are not in Belarus.

It’s another white ensemble for Nathan Trent, who is also sporting this year’s fashionable but awful too-short trousers with no socks. It’s a recipe for cold ankles, folks. Nathan himself is charismatic and clearly loves being part of the contest but the song is weak. If the dry ice machine is turned up any higher, he’ll disappear completely.

Visually interesting with strong singing and a doinky backing track. Here it helpfully breaks up the ballads.

This Dutch trio could put the rest of the competition to shame with their tight harmonies, which lift what could be quite a mediocre track. I was one of apparently hundreds on Twitter during their semi-final to comment on the similarity between their sound and 1990s Beach Boys/Mamas and the Papas offspring mash-up Wilson Phillips.

One of the most fun songs and performances in the show, marking the Eurovision return of Epic Sax Guy (and his Sunstroke Project bandmates). Get that leg wiggle on.

Time for that classic Eurovision folk music moment – and, fittingly, in Hungarian rather than English. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

Yes, there’s a man in a gorilla suit doing a dance routine. We get it. Very clever. This was the early favourite (thanks to the gorilla) but it remains to be seen how it will come across with the revisions they’ve made to the staging since it won the Italian national selection. Performed in Italian with plenty of energy, the song itself isn’t bad but it’s by no means my favourite in the competition.

We pop briefly back into English for Anja’s Where I Am, which seems to have got stronger with each performance. It’s one of the better of the night’s ballads, especially when it kicks up a gear towards the end.

Salvador performs from the small satellite stage, giving this a low key, intimate feel that matches the song and the singer. It’s a piano bar ballad with a timeless elegance that defies you to dislike it even though you won’t understand the words (unless you speak Portguese, obviously). It could be twee as hell but it’s genuinely endearing and a return to the final for Portgual after six years of failing to qualify. If it makes the top five – which is likely – it will be their best result ever, and it could even be their first win.

This is in danger of geting lost given the songs on either side. It includes a man with a horse’s head standing on a stepladder, but this might feel like a cop out after a dancing gorilla.

I find myself irrationally annoyed by this one. Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. I expect the juries to score it highly.

Another bed blocker. Shouldn’t be in the final. Take a toilet break during this one.

This feels like it’s improved over the course of the week but I’m afraid we’re now in the weakest section of the show. A pair from Men’s Health casting performing a cheesy dance routine do little to make this more interesting.

Spain are the second of the Big Five in the final and boy are they lucky to qualify automatically. This is embarrassingly bad. You will be in no danger of forgetting the title – your man sings it about 200 times in the space of three minutes. As My Lovely Horse as this year gets.

For those counting, it’s another white shirt, although set off by an ill-advised hat. It looks like it’s going to be awful but it’s actually a good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus. None of it’s innovative but if there’s a weakness it’s likely to be the performance. Probably won’t stand out from the crowd.

United Kingdom
This is a juicy spot in the running order for Lucie Jones and rightly so: Never Give Up On You is the UK’s best entry in donkeys’ years. I didn’t even like it much among the various bland options the BBC gave us to choose from but it’s been reworked into something terrific. Add to that a great vocal performance (touch wood) and some absolutely stunning staging and this deserves to do really well. The juries will like it but will the phone voters? I’m set to see it rising up the table and then come crashing down when the televotes are added – but there’s still a part of me that thinks it could win. It’s certainly our best chance of the 2010s so far by miles.

Now that I’ve seen this in place with the video backdrops, the choreography makes much more sense. The track jumped out at me when I first listened to this year’s Eurovision album and I still like it. It’s upbeat and catchy with a good bridge. Probably competing for votes with Israel.

Strap yourself in for the classic Eurovision event of the night. Yodelling and rapping come together at last in what I believe is referred to as “a hot mess”. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child all make it stand out – and that’s even without the glittery cannons that are tragically forbidden from firing glitter. It’s dreadful but in all the ways UK audiences love.

“Oh, hi, Germany here. We just thought we’d saunter in at the end and drop a female soloist with an upbeat pop number on you when you were least expecting it.” I like this and Levina has an interesting voice, not hindered at all by plenty of support from unseen backing vocalists.

There’s not much danger of Ukraine hosting the contest again in 2018. That said, Time is the only guitar rock number of the show so it could attract its own section of televoters. Switzerland in 2015 might be wanting their “time to shine” lyric back, please.

Blanche has a gloriously deep voice but it’s still unclear whether her stage presence is selling vulnerability or incredible discomfort. A tough result to call.

Robin Bengtsson has been performing this for months but he and his team of Debenhams stylists have continued to polish I Can’t Go On since arriving in Kyiv. It’s a catchy song that no longer has the f-word in the chorus (replaced by “freakin'”) and five treadmills. Great for fans of Waterloo Underground station or City boys who like to spend three minutes on cardio between important meetings.

Danger, Will Robinson! The dark horse of the second semi-final has got a prime place penultimate in the running order. I had this down as just “OK” and I’m still not a fan but I can see the appeal and a flagging audience could be won over. Sofia 2018 is not out of the question.

It’s a pleasant closer to the show from France (in French with a smattering of English). The video screen graphics are almost too engaging: a found my attention almost constantly drawn to them rather than to Alma and her song.

So that’s 26 countries and 26 songs. Plenty of contenders, a few potential surprise successes and some crowd pleasing silliness to keep things light. Portugal, Italy and Bulgaria still seem the most likely winners, but the UK definitely deserve a top 5 finish.

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Hello, Kyiv! May 13

A man in a hamster wheel

Ukraine have been in Eurovision since 2003 and have reached the final every year, save 2015 where they weren’t able to take part in the contest because *cough* reasons.

In that time, they’ve won the contest twice and have also been responsible for some of the most memorable staging of the last 20 years.

In honour of their hosting this year’s contest, here are my top 5 entries from Ukraine.

5. Ani Lorak – Shady Lady

This is what Ukraine entries have excelled at over the years: three-minute power pop brought alive on stage. Ani Lorak came second with her gaggle of energetic dancers and light-up fridges – and this is only number five.

4. Verka Serduchka – Dancing Lasha Tumbai

Verka’s 2007 entry is a load of nonsense but it’s also unashamedly fun and pretty unforgettable. The tin foil Timmy Mallett lost out to Serbia’s Molitva but remains an enduring fan favourite.

3. Ruslana – Wild Dances

This was the country’s second time in the competition and they only went and won! Ruslana subsequently spent a year as an MP in the Ukrainian parliament and continues to be politically, supporting ties between Ukraine and the EU and campaigning on human rights. The song’s good, too.

2. Maria Yaremchuk – Tick-Tock

The man in a hamster wheel in Love, Love, Peace, Peace? This is where that’s from. It’s a simple idea that works brilliantly and fits the song perfectly. Mariya came sixth in the 2014 final.

1. Svetlana Loboda – Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)

It might have been the least successful of the five, coming 12th in 2009, but this is my winner. What a first glance look like hamster wheels rotate outwards for Svetlana and her dancers, who are dressed like a Barbarella version of Roman centurions – someone in Ukraine really likes silver. The backing track is funky, Svetlana bangs the drums in the bridge, and the song has the best chorus of the lot. And then there’s the dance move at 1m40s. Anti-crisis BOM.

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Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 2 May 11

Do you like white outfits? Do you love male-female duets? Do you crave male-female duets where they’re both dressed in white? Then semi-final two has been made for you!

After some upsets on Tuesday – Finland being the biggest expected qualifier knocked out – tonight it’s the second set of songs vying for places in Saturday’s final. And they are these.

If the opening part of this song seems strangely familiar, I reckon it’s because it’s the Sugababes’ About You Now. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as that. There’s a white dress, a shirtless dancer doing a cool/weird backwards routine and a good button at the very end of the number, but it’s not enough.

Nathan Trent sports the second white outfit of the night. And too-short trousers with no socks. Seriously, people, this has to stop. Nathan is a charismatic performer which will help (as long as he doesn’t disappear completely into dry ice) but the song is bland up until the finale, which is pretty overblown.

Can we stop with the performers’ own faces on the video wall please? There were a couple of act in this year’s Melodifestivalen that did this and it’s weird if not downright egotistical. The song itself is fine but nothing special and destined for mid-table obscurity.

A white dress? Great idea! This is an elegant Eurovision ballad with the best singing of the show so far but, like so many Eurovision ballads before it, the song doesn’t really go anywhere – including, potentially, the final.

Yodelling and rapping, together at last in the night’s first duet. I don’t even know if this is a pastiche but it’s a hot mess. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child make it memorable even if Alex doesn’t fall off his glittery canon (not a euphemism). It’s pretty dreadful, so in many ways the entry the UK audience has been waiting for.

Hello to the best harmonies in the competition. The staging and backing track are minimalist, focusing rightly on the three performers, who lift what could be quite a mediocre track. A final place surely awaits.

Missing the traditional eastern Europe folk song vibe? Fear not – Hungary deliver, although sadly not playing the kvinnaböske. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

This starts off middling and gets much stronger as it goes through, with some big notes adding interest. Look out for the golden shower at the end.

Yes, there’s a hot air balloon. No, I don’t know why. Dressed in white, of course, Brendan Murray does a perfectly good job and looks and sounds about 15 so I’m not going to be mean about his song. And therefore have nothing else to say.

San Marino
On her third appearance at Eurovision, I joked that San Marino is so small that Valentina Monetta is the only singer they have. Well, she’s back again. As if to disprove my point, she’s found a friend to duet with. As if to prove my point, he’s American. I actually really dislike the harmonies they’ve chosen but the song’s fun (if you can stomach hearing the phrase “spirit of the night” 300 times in three minutes) and sounds like it has not one, not two, but three key changes!

Get your face off the big screen! Jeez. So… Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. The song could stand on its own without the operatic parts.

For those counting, it’s another white shirt. At first glance I wasn’t expecting to like this but it’s a really good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus.

It’s an OK ballad with an OK chorus. There’s not much else to say other than the singer’s dress is twice as tall as she is.

It’s a duet. They’re dressed in white. Tick off your bingo squares and down your drinks. They seem to be having a lovely time, so that’s something.

This is OK when it eventually gets going. Maybe it could be a One Direction b-side? Are they still a thing?

I like the brassy backing track. The melody, if there is one in there somewhere, not so much. This is another one that starts going off towards the end, once you’ve already written it off. Still, brass.

Our final duet and our final singer in white (although Israel has some dancers in white still to come). It’s a long show and at this point I’m struggling to tell what they’re going for here. Is it a love song? Is it a song about regret? Is it advertising package holidays to Verona? For all that, the singers work well together and the overall effect is surprisingly endearing.

It’s another face on the big screen although at least this time it explodes. Imri Ziv closes the semi-final with an uptempo banger. Bookies might be offering odds on some of the high notes but their quality matters less in this number than in the big ballads.

Picking ten to put through the final was hard because I’m not sure I would put ten through. However, I’ll go for:
Romania (because I don’t want to deprive UK viewers of it)
San Marino (for the key changes)

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