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Sensemaker: Winner takes it all

Sensemaker: Winner takes it all

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Nurses in the UK announced plans for their first ever strikes next month.
  • Iran arrested a top footballer in a presumed warning to its World Cup team.
  • Europe’s space agency selected a British Paralympian to join its next generation of astronauts.

Winner takes it all

Eurovision has changed its voting rules. For the first time, the whole world will get a vote.

So what? As Russia tries to crush Ukraine and Qatar denies the existence of gay rights, Eurovision’s makeover is a surprisingly big deal. 

Eurovision is an annual music competition run by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an alliance of national broadcasters pitting 37 countries – mostly – in Europe against each other in a week-long spectacle culminating in a three-and-a-half-hour long grand final. 

To win: artists need to appeal to voters at home and juries of industry experts representing the participating countries. The catch: you can’t vote for your own country. 

How? By performing an original and catchy song not previously released elsewhere, ideally with extravagant choreography and pyrotechnics.

The prize: glory in the grand final and the chance for your country to host the competition the following year.

This year, that glory went to Ukraine’s folk-rock Kalush Orchestra for its song “Stefania”. However, because of the war, the UK (which came in second with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man”) has stepped up to host next year’s competition in Liverpool. 

The change. This week the EBU announced some of the most significant rule changes to the Eurovision voting system in its 67-year history:

  • Jury votes won’t count in the two semi-finals held earlier in the week. Instead, the public will decide via televote who should qualify for the final. 
  • The “rest of the world” – voters outside the EBU member countries – will be given the chance to vote for the first time in both the semis and the final. 

To note: Eurovision is distinctly European, but that’s not technically a condition for entry. The EBU is a commercial organisation with full discretion over who can be a member, which is how Israel (since 1973) and Australia (since 2019) have been allowed to compete, and why technically it’s the BBC hosting next year, not the UK government.

Why it matters

Democracy. The decision to remove jury votes from the semi-finals follows six countries’ juries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania and San Marino) being accused of “irregular voting patterns” this year – i.e. voting for each other. Dr Paul Jordan, also known as Dr Eurovision, says the jury vote “is a lot of power to put in the hands of five people” and it was “right and proper” that the EBU took action. 

The music. Critics may sneer but for a significant chunk of Europe, Eurovision is one of the few chances artists have to put their music in front of an international audience. Examples of success include Abba (1974), Celine Dion (1988), Loreen (2012) and more recently Måneskin (2021) and Sam Ryder. 

The money. The EBU is a non-profit organisation, but Eurovision doesn’t come cheap. It can cost between €10 million and €25 million to put on the competition. There is a contributory pot of around €6 million a year provided by the 40 or so competing nations but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent removal from the competition – which the EBU initially resisted – left a black hole in the financing. Giving the “rest of the world” a vote creates the potential for more income from digital platform rights, sponsorship and televoting. 

No joke. “For some countries, [Eurovision] isn’t a joke”, Dr Jordan insists. Like Ukraine:

  • In 2016 Ukraine’s act Jamala performed a song about her great-grandma’s experience as a Crimean Tatar being deported by the Soviet Union in the 1940’s.  
  • This year’s winners auctioned their trophy to raise money for the Ukrainian army. 
  • The final for Ukraine’s 2023 entry selection competition will be broadcast from a Kyiv bomb shelter. 

Eurovision is the world’s longest-running annual TV music competition; a survivor of European wars, the pandemic and unprecedented changes to the broadcast landscape, with a dedicated fan base that includes a thriving LGBT+ community. It must be getting something right – something Qatar is getting badly wrong. 


Hat’s off to the World Cup – or else

Paul Hayward

The story of former Welsh footballer Laura McAllister being ordered to remove her rainbow bucket hat in Qatar was the start of a new tailspin for this World Cup.


Cracks in the market

America’s department of agriculture says a record 50.5 million birds have been wiped out across 46 states by the worst outbreak of bird flu in the country’s history. The loss of poultry flocks led to a surge in turkey prices in the run up to yesterday’s Thanksgiving holiday. In the UK, a host of issues has led to empty egg shelves and rationing: in addition to the avian flu outbreak, farmers face rising chicken feed costs (up 90 per cent) and higher energy prices not matched by the price of eggs. Experts warn the current egg shortages could spread to other food staples as UK supermarkets’ “just-in-time” supply systems come under strain.


Chinese surveillance

The UK will no longer install Chinese-made surveillance systems on sites it considers sensitive after a security review. Oliver Dowden, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said the ban covers equipment made by companies subject to China’s National Intelligence Law, which compels firms to assist with state intelligence work. It comes a week after Rishi Sunak described China as a “systemic challenge” to the UK (other Conservative MPs want it officially categorised as a “threat”). The move is in step with other western governments – Chinese video-camera makers Hikvision and Dahua have been on a US trade blacklist since 2019. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Death to death

Alabama has joined California, Pennsylvania and Oregon on the list of US states with governor-imposed death penalty moratoriums. Unlike the other three, Alabama’s ban was imposed by a Republican governor, Kay Ivey. And also unlike the others, Ivey’s decision was precipitated by a series of three botched executions – two of which were eventually halted – in the past year. While this may sound like a mea culpa, it certainly is not. Ivey cleared up any confusion on Monday when announcing the temporary pause, by (bizarrely) blaming “legal tactics and criminals hijacking the system” for the unmistakable incompetence and cruelty of her state’s death penalty apparatus. In the same statement, Ivey also announced a complete review of the Alabama Department of Corrections’ execution protocol. The group conducting the review? The Alabama Department of Corrections.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Patience rewarded

Five days after the last ballot was cast, Malaysia finally has a new prime minister. Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the reformist coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), was sworn in after appointment by the king, after a decades-long wait to become leader that included years in prison. The hope is that it will be a stabilising result; Malaysia has seen three prime ministers in three years. The election also saw a surprise surge by the far-right Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). In 2018, PAS won 18 out of 222 seats – this it won 49. In the interim, party leaders have said those who won’t vote for them will “go to hell”, and they’ve publicly defended the Taliban. Perhaps not so stabilising.


Back in control 

If bringing immigration under control was a prime motive for Brexit, there’s a problem. Net inward migration to the UK reached a record 504,000 in the year to June – triple last year’s figure, 168,000 more than the pre-Brexit record (2014-15) and five times more than the 100,000 limit Suella Braverman, the reinstated home secretary, wants to reintroduce. But there are good reasons for the number. 45 per cent of the new arrivals are from Ukraine (170,000) and Hong Kong (76,000) on bespoke humanitarian schemes. 277,000 are students, able to travel again for the first time since Covid. The number of overseas students’ dependents joining them in the UK trebled, and the Times says students are going to be a focus of efforts to bring the total number down. The difficulty there is higher education is a major UK export. Shutting students out is as anti-growth as it gets.

Thanks for reading. Please tell your friends to sign up, send us ideas and tell us what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Phoebe Davis

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Sara Weissel, Jessica Winch and Katie Riley.

Photographs Getty Images

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