Rishi Sunak hosting the official Eurovision Reception at Downing Street, May 2023. Photo: Flickr/Simon Walker

Lindsey German on Eurovision and how the flames of war are fanned

First the coronation, then Eurovision. Politics and news coverage in Britain has been dominated in recent weeks by centrally organised and lavish spectacles, both of which have reinforced an ideology central to the ruling class.  The coronation promoted hereditary wealth and power, with flags adorning central London, fawning media coverage of the country’s number one dysfunctional family, supermarkets promoting coronation themed food. The attempts to protest in support of a democratic system of government led to an astonishing 64 arrests, including one royal supporter standing near Just Stop Oil demonstrators, and the leader of Republic, who was detained for 16 hours under draconian new laws rushed through parliament days before the event. He was held until all camera crews had packed up and gone home, and was never charged.

The links with the Ukraine war were never far away, with US first lady Jill Biden seated next to her Ukrainian counterpart in Westminster Abbey, and Biden and her granddaughter wearing respectively outfits of bright blue and yellow, representing the Ukrainian flag.

That flag was everywhere at the Eurovision contest, staged in Liverpool because it could not be held in Ukraine, last year’s winning country, due to the war. The event has gone from a tacky celebration of largely mediocre songs to an overtly political display where every button was pushed to back what is now clearly a proxy war between Nato powers, of which Britain is perhaps the most enthusiastic, and Russia.

The Ukrainian government lobbied for Ukraine’s president Zelensky to address the finals, a demand rejected by the Eurovision organisers but backed by Rishi Sunak, Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson, because they think this will help reinforce their militarism. The Princess of Wales played piano with last year’s Ukrainian winners. The Croatian and Swiss entries performed with missiles as part of their sets.

There is the view that both these events in their different ways are popular with large numbers of people and are harmless. I don’t agree. They are able to provide a ramp to right wing politics, and to reinforce the ideas that our rulers want us to accept. They strengthen nationalism, respect for authority, and for militarism. In the case of the coronation, it conveys the idea of a natural order of things, with the rich and powerful at its pinnacle. Protest against this is seen as somehow illegitimate or the prerogative of those outside the norm, to be banned or at least hidden from sight, as it was when the police built a wall across Trafalgar Square to keep the protestors away from the gilded procession.

The interesting question is how deeply this impacts on most people. It obviously has some effect, strengthening conservative and right-wing ideas in general. But it is clear from polling that monarchy is losing its shine, especially among the young, and the present incumbent is unlikely to reverse that. Similarly with the war in Ukraine. There is widespread support for the Ukrainian people, it seems to me, but a certain sort of war weariness is beginning to set in, as the conflict is well into its second year and has been in recent months very much a war of attrition. Nearly quarter questioned in a recent poll wanted a negotiated peace.

Certainly the politicians are very well aware of this, and very nervous about the much-vaunted counter offensive being launched this month. Leaked papers from the Pentagon earlier this year demonstrated US unease as to the prospects of success. This is why Zelensky is trying to get more weapons, and still demanding fighter aircraft – a call rejected by Nato so far because it would almost certainly mean direct conflict with Russia.

The British government has consistently been one of the most gung-ho in sending weapons. This week, just after the coronation and just before the Eurovision final, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that Cruise missiles will be sent to Ukraine. This is a dangerous escalation, giving Ukraine the ability to hit Russia directly. These missiles will certainly be deployed in the counter offensive.  While Ukraine has given assurances they will only target troops in Ukrainian territory, it’s hard to take this at face value. The missile attack on the Kremlin last week is denied by Ukraine, but there is much to suggest it was a Ukrainian operation.

Zelensky has been in Italy and Germany demanding more weapons, with the latter’s government now agreeing to another 2.7bn euros worth. The suggestion of peace negotiations is dismissed out of hand, but if this offensive is not, or only partially, successful, then it will be very much on the table. That’s why those most committed to Nato’s and Britain’s military involvement here are determined to use every opportunity to press their case now. We should resist them.

There is a connection between the spectacles we’ve seen and domestic politics. They are used to attack not just demonstrators but also strikers, as we’ve seen with rail unions being berated by the BBC for striking during Eurovision. They help to reinforce a hopelessly weak, corrupt and deeply divided Tory government. They allow Keir Starmer to wrap himself in the flag and profess undying loyalty to institutions which have only ever accepted Labour as a government of last resort when the Tories are so discredited they can no longer rule.

They also callously and casually assume that the vast sums of money spent on these events are acceptable and even necessary, whereas the most meagre sums spent on refugees or those on universal credit are not. I have thought more than once over the past few weeks how amazing it would be to have not just the millions of pounds spent on these events but also the thinking and organising and work that goes into making sure Prince Harry is placed suitably far away from his brother but not too far, or that Camilla’s dress has images of her rescue dogs embroidered into it, to be used instead to solving homelessness, or the dumping of sewage into rivers.

The cost of living crisis is still hitting hard, and the priorities of more military spending across Europe are in direct opposition to the needs of working class people. Every single Cruise missile costs around £2 million. Meanwhile nurses, teachers, rail workers and others are reballoting for more strike action because they are being offered pay cuts. 

We should remember these events are designed to make us accept our rulers’ priorities and to forget the great injustices meted out to working class people on a daily basis. Our task is to keep pointing them out and to ensure that those on the left fight imperialism in all its forms but most especially from its own ruling class. And that we do not allow the fight for pay, over housing, for decent public services, to become derailed because they want us to accept their priorities over those too, and they hope that the pomp and ceremony, the glitter and glamour, will make us forget the real enemy.   

This week: I’ve a lot of writing and reading to catch up on, but will be talking to people about the Rank and File conference, going to Coventry to speak for Stop the War, and hopefully joining the CND protest at Lakenheath on Saturday 20th. 

Before you go

If you liked this article, please consider getting involved. Counterfire is a revolutionary socialist organisation working to build the movements of resistance and socialist ideas. Please join us and help make change happen.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.