Sat Apr 12th, 2008 at 05:43:02 AM EST
While the foreign press has been rambling on about the latest stunt of Geert Wilders, the peroxide-dyed agitator from Limburg, a far more potent force on the right has emerged in the Netherlands.
Rita Verdonk, a former minister from the second Balkenende cabinet and deeply involved in the fall of that cabinet over the Ayaan Hirsi Ali citizenship controversy, has launched her 'political movement' Trots Op Nederland (proud of NL).
Verdonk and her Americophile campaign manager Kay van der Linde launched the "it's not a party, it's a movement!" in the bombastic style of a US party convention.
Promoted by Migeru
(some pictures from the Trots Op Nederland event on April 3rd interspersed)
Right now Verdonk is being given a cold shoulder by the international media. Google news only has 38 stories on her, whereas Wilders gets 3,607 for his crappy movie. That difference severely overestimates the impact Wilders can have on Dutch politics: he is not perceived as serious by the overwhelming majority of Dutch voters, and will never get more than the 6% of the vote he got in the last elections. Verdonk, on the other hand, is favourited by 20% (nl) to become the next Prime Minister, and would get at least 17% of the vote if the Parliamentary elections were held tomorrow.
Part of the reason for that difference, aside of his ridiculous hair and general wackiness, is that Wilders is a one-note politician who has built his party on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam platform. Verdonk is much smarter about her image, which she is styling as pro-Netherlands.
The next elections, however, will be in early 2011. That is, unless the Balkenende IV cabinet falls, as all of Balkenende's previous cabinets have. Previous to that, however, there will be elections for the European Parliament in 2009 and for the communal elections in 2010. As the Dutch daily NRC reports (nl), Verdonk's party has a strong pull on local branches of the traditional, large right-liberal VVD party. She should also have a strong pull on many of the localist parties that have sprung up across the Netherlands in the past decade. The anti-the Hague feeling of most of these parties is precisely what Verdonk now is appropriating. If she can find a new way to integrate these localists into her party - in a more loose and flexible manner than how the national parties organise their local parties - she would have a powerful machine.
The communal elections could be a harbinger of what happens in the general, as they were in 2002, when they boosted another movement: that of Pim Fortuyn.
Parallels between Verdonk and Fortuyn cannot be stressed enough. But it also has to be stressed that they mostly lie in the political. Fortuyn launched his personal movement on the basis of an originally localist, anti-the Hague movement. His financial backers were much the same crowd that is now backing Verdonk: real estate magnates and self-styled entrepreneurs. And Verdonk will have to define and mobilise the same electorate. As Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond called it in the day: two completely disparate groups of people, one for whom economical and social change is progressing too fast and one for whom the very same change is not progressing fast enough.
Kay van der Linde is noted as saying that you can either be a pro-establishment candidate or an anti-establishment candidate in the Netherlands. But that is too simple. What Fortuyn in a way symbolised and what Rita Verdonk symbolises even more is a struggle for political power between the political establishment and a commercial establishment. That commercial establishment has in part unweaved itself from the centrist Christian Democrats and right-liberal VVD during the 1990s and is also partially a new force, furthered by the commercialisation of television and, ironically, the third way policies crafted by the Hague in the nineties.
Verdonk so far has not offered much of a program. The main points right now are promising to eliminate (or strongly cut back) the provinces and reduce the number of seats in the Dutch parliament from 150 to 75. These are both somewhat reasonable proposals, though I'd prefer a parliament of 100 and merging provinces to eliminating them. The anti-liberal part of the platform starts with its calls for stronger punishment of minorities and minimum sentences. Special justice is a perversion of justice, as is intervening with a judge's ability to decide on the specifics of a case.
The platform of Verdonk, however, is not mainly about policy. It's about feelings, patriotism, and an anti-government, leave-us-alone sentiment that is broadly shared by the people of the Netherlands. This can only be counteracted by other parties if they manage to define Verdonk, and the next elections, on their terms.