Dutch Politics: Exchanging Neo-Liberalism for Social Conservatism

By Hylarides, Peter | Contemporary Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Dutch Politics: Exchanging Neo-Liberalism for Social Conservatism


Hylarides, Peter, Contemporary Review


A new government has been formed in the Netherlands after 76 days of negotiating between potential partners; not bad considering the longest ever formation period took 208 days. Three parties, CU (Christian Union), CDA (Christian Democrats) and PvdA (Labour) agreed to work together under the current Prime Minister Balkenende (CDA), who also led the three previous governments. A lot has changed since Jan Peter Balkenende took office in 2002 with VVD (Liberal Democrats) and the then new Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), whose leader was murdered in May that year. [1]

Voters seem to be very concerned and feel insecure about the future. Globalization, economic downturn (until recently), migration, the threat of terrorism and, according to some, a lack of common values have contributed greatly to these feelings. The outcome of the general elections in 2006 showed a completely different picture from those in 2003 or even 2002. The short-term career of Pim Fortuyn has had a long-term effect on the political situation in the Netherlands. In the almost five years that have passed since his murder, the electorate has become quite hybrid and sensitive. Traditional parties have gained and lost momentum in a manner not seen since the 1960s and 1970s. Polarisation in Dutch politics has returned with a vengeance.

After the murder of Pim Fortuyn, the maverick former Marxist and openly gay politician who wanted to invigorate democracy in the Netherlands, I wrote an article in Contemporary Review on the events leading up to his arrival on the political battlefield. [2] In the general election of May 15th, 2002, his party, the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), won an incredible 26 seats in Parliament out of a total number of 150. This should have given the new political movement the impetus to achieve their goal of 'giving politics back to voters'. It was not to be. The new government, consisting of Christian Democrats (CDA), Liberal Democrats (VVD) and LPF, would fall apart after barely four months of governing. Petty infighting between LPF-ministers caused the fall of the coalition in November 2002, opening the road to new elections. The then inexperienced Prime Minister J.P. Balkenende was hardly to blame. He had only entered Parliament (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal) in May 1998, having previously served as a city councillor and then as a researcher for his party and eventually teaching political thought at the Free University of Amsterdam. Balkenende bears a considerable likeness to the famous fictional creation of J K Rowling and a minor diplomatic storm was caused when the Belgian ambassador had to apologise for saying 'Balkenende is a mix of Harry Potter and a petty rigid bourgeois mentality'. A Dutch television news programme intended for young viewers caused a small commotion when it announced that the Prime Minister had agreed to play the role of Harry Potter's father in the forthcoming film. It was only when people recalled that the date was 1 April 2003, that they realised that this was an April Fools' joke.

The continuous quarrelling within the LPF made it impossible for the Prime Minister to continue. Despite sending a humorous picture postcard indicating all was well at the beginning of October, the plug was pulled after a very short government of only 68 days. [3]

The result of the elections in 2003 seemed to indicate a return to normality. The party that had lost the most votes in 2002, the PvdA, returned to their 1998 level. The Christian Democrats gained slightly and retained their position as the biggest party. The Liberal Democrats also gained slightly, but not enough to continue governing with the Christian Democrats. The most dramatic loss was, obviously, incurred by the LPF. They went from 26 seats to 8. Voters punished the political party of the murdered Fortuyn for their incompetence and amateurish infighting. Issues like immigration and asylum, with which the LPF had enticed the electorate in 2002 were quickly incorporated in the manifestos of the traditional parties, albeit in somewhat milder language.

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