The Dutch Decide

I feel some people may be getting a bit ahead of themselves regarding the election results in The Netherlands:

Dutch people rejected “the wrong kind of populism”, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said, as he celebrated victory in Wednesday’s election.

“The Netherlands said ‘Whoa!'” he declared after his centre-right VVD party’s lead positioned him for a third successive term as prime minister.

French President Francois Hollande said he had won a “clear victory against extremism”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed a “very pro-European result, a clear signal… and a good day for democracy” and her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, tweeted: “The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion!”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy praised Dutch voters for their “responsibility”

For sure, Geert Wilders didn’t win outright, and nor did his Freedom Party even come close to doing so, but they came second with a seat count of 20 up from 15, which is an increase of a third. The mistake I think people like Hollande and Merkel, and possibly even Rutte, are making is believing the policies of the Freedom Party have been overwhelmingly rejected and can safely be ignored from hereon.

They would do well to remember that the referendum on Brexit was brought about by a centre-right Conservative government which found itself under considerable pressure on the single issue of Europe by UKIP. In the previous UK general election, which took place in 2015, UKIP won a single seat on 12.7% of the vote (the third highest). The Tories trounced them on every measure, but were still concerned enough to promise a referendum on Europe. And we know how things went from there: despite nobody really voting for UKIP in massive numbers, plenty turned out to vote to leave the EU. And now it’s the Conservative’s job to pull Britain out, and nothing to do with UKIP or their erstwhile leader Nigel Farage.

Wilders’ Freedom Party has pulled in 13.1% of the vote, but that doesn’t tell the whole story: in order to limit the damage posed by Wilders, Rutte’s VVD party has had to lurch to the right in a similar way that the Tories in the UK had to agree to a referendum on the EU. True, Rutte could now backtrack on all his campaign rhetoric but – again as the Tories found out to their dismay – these are issues which don’t simply disappear because the head of a mainstream political party bullshitted his way through an election. There is a good chance that Wilders and his party could wither away, but that depends largely on how Rutte governs from hereon. And this is going to be interesting:

As parliamentary seats are allocated in exact proportion to a party’s vote share, the VVD will need to go into coalition with three other parties.

Mr Rutte has spoken of a “zero chance” of working with Mr Wilders’ PVV, and will look instead to the Christian Democrats and D66, which are both pro-EU.

So the Dutch political establishment is going to ignore a rather large and inconvenient chunk of the population who are het up about one or two rather key issues, and instead will attempt to continue with business as usual? Yeah, that’ll work out well.

We’ve seen this before, twice: the EU referendum was never supposed to happen, with all right-thinking political parties fully subscribed to the notion that membership of the EU was such an obvious benefit that it wasn’t even worth discussing. And then we had the referendum itself in which the entire political establishment voted one way while the population voted the other. Whoops.

Then there was the US Presidential Election which was supposed to be Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush arguing only over “approved” issues and utterly ignoring things like immigration, blue collar jobs, and abuse of government powers. Only things didn’t quite go according to plan, did they?

Just because the Netherlands avoided such an upset yesterday, that does not necessarily mean that the political establishment is not in its arrogance going to lay the very foundations for a populist revolt at some point in the future. Rutte and his pals may well ignore Wilders and his party, but they would do well to start listening to those who voted for him. I suspect I might be saying similar things about Marine Le Pen later on this year, too.