Comments on Dutch Local Elections

Podcast available here https://soundcloud.com/user-280580802/27-comments-on-dutch-local-elections

The Dutch local elections resulted in widespread losses for most political parties, including the governing center-right parties VVD, CDA, D66. Only the CU gained two seats. The left parties SP, PvdA also lost many seats. There are only two winners: the GL (GreenLeft), which doubled its local seats from 30 to 61, and the newly founded right-wing party FvD (Forum for Democracy), which promptly received 86 seats, which is more than all the other parties, including the traditionally ruling VVD. That is quite a huge success for the FvD and requires further elucidation.

The Dutch political system is shifting in ways that are similar to the political system in other countries in Europe. The party shift is characterized by the collapse of the center-left PvdA (Labour Party), which had consistently polled above 20% until 2010, and received 25% as late as 2012, but then collapsed to 5.7% in the 2017 national elections. They had ruled in a coalition government with the VVD from 2012 to 2017, and agreed to austerity, labor market deregulation and trade liberalization (Storm 2017), which led to their electoral failure. The shift in the local elections between 2015 and 2019 was a drop from 10 to 8%. The PvdA represented classic working class issues until in the 1990s they shifted to an open embrace of neoliberalism and privatization similar to other social-democratic parties in the continent.

Deindustrialization and deunionization ravaged the Dutch heartland, and the PvdA turned to classic neoliberal policies as the only game in town. Today it generates some support among the urban middle class, professionals, academics and civil servants, though it has to compete for that vote with the GreenLeft, which gained more votes in the provincial elections than the PvdA. The GreenLeft is running on a platform of reducing income inequality, environmental protection and pluralist stances on social issues (human rights, gay rights, women’s rights etc.). They are scooping up the urban and the educated vote similar to what is happening in Germany, though the GreenLeft has not held power before in the Dutch national government.

The center right consists of various Christian-Democratic and Liberal parties, the biggest of which is VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy). It has been frequently in government, but became the biggest party only in 2010 (before that the CDA was more important, but has now been demoted to junior partner of a coalition with VVD). The CDA tends to do well in the countryside and among elderly and religious voters, while VVD does well in the big cities, especially among the secular middle class, upper class voters and entrepreneurs. The current provincial elections show that both CDA and VVD are vulnerable to lose power, as they form part of the ruling government, which voters want to punish. There is a lot of perceived discontent in the Dutch public. A survey suggests that the biggest issues of concern to the voters are health and social security (44%), environment, climate and energy issues (41%) and immigration (27%) (Statista.com). The percentage of Dutch employees with a secure job declined from 56.8% in 2008 to 30.5%, and the rate of depression and use of drugs increased substantially (Storm 2017).

Traditionally, frustration with the government and especially with migration is expressed by voting for the PVV, the right-wing party of Geert Wilders, whose speeches are filled with anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. Given that the other parties marginalize the PVV, they are the natural protest party. But in the local elections, the PVV lost half of its votes and the number of seats went from 66 to 40. The anti-establishment mood now gets captured by the newly founded (since 2016) FvD. The FvD is led by the young, charismatic jurist and journalist Thierry Baudet. He represents the same kind of ant-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment (7.1% of the Dutch population), but given that he is very educated he does not frame his language as aggressively as Wilders.

Baudet frames his position as based on the enlightened and Christian identity of Dutch culture, which he thinks is worthwhile preserving. Baudet also campaigns on leaving the EU, re-introducing border controls, breaking up the political party cartel, staffing government with technocrats, abolishing taxes on gifts and inheritance, simplifying tax brackets (presumably to the benefit of more affluent earners), introducing teacher evaluations, increasing military spending, privatizing the public broadcasting organization. It is hard to imagine that people’s lives are going to be improved by it, because nationalism divides society, and having more negative economic ripple effects further drives the search for suitable scapegoats. The fact that Baudet has a PhD just makes him sound like a more respectable nationalist. But the more educated and cultivated tone will make more moderate voters shift to him, who would not have supported Wilders’ more extreme rhetoric (DiSanto 2019).

As elsewhere in Europe, most people in the poor countries of the world would envy the Dutch political and economic challenges, but for the Dutch people themselves they do deserve a more responsive government that can respond to job insecurity, involuntary part-time work, low labor participation (despite the low headline unemployment rate), in-work poverty, automation of jobs, government austerity in social services, and climate change.

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