Dutch Election Reflections

So we’re a week on from the Dutch general election and… how bland it was. So bland in fact, that even my modest predictions for the performance of Wilders and his Amazing Fascist Freakshow under-performed rather hilariously. Seemingly, the Netherlands has stuck to its ‘liberal’ tradition and returned the status quo. But how much is this really a rejection of the ostensible global pattern of rising populism? And is it really that much of a surprise? To answer the latter, let’s have a review of my own predictions first.

In my (very rough) projection I pretty much just went with a simple average of the polls at the time. Let’s compare these with what actually happened:

Party                        I SAID:          THE DUTCH DECIDED:

PVV                           30        (+15)                  20  (+5)

VVD                           25        (-16)                   33 (-8)

CDA                            18  (+5)                           19 (+6)

D66                              17 (+5)                           19 (+7)

GL                               15 (+11)                           14 (+10)

SP                               12        (-3)                       14 (-1)

PvdA                          10         (-30)                    9 (-29)

50+                             7 (+5)                                  4 (+3)

CU                               6 (+1)                                 5 (0)

PvdA                          4 (+2)                                 5 (+3)

SGP                             3 (0)                                   3 (0)

Others                       3 (+3)                                 5 (+5)

This is really a vindication of the Dutch polling companies more so than it is my ability to calculate an average on an excel file.

In fact, the only personal tweak I did make was to inflate the VVD figures, due to the fear of under-representation in the polls Trump supporters in the UK and Conservative and Leave voters, have suffered (or benefited really, I suppose) in 2015 and 2016, repeating itself here.

Even with that, my proposed 5-party grand coalition looks superfluous; in fact only four parties are needed. The fact the PvdA were weakened so badly and slipped into singlee figures means that the PVV, CDA, D66 and GL are the only realistic candidates, and they have already been discussing what a potential coalition’s policy platform would look like (and that ain’t an easy afternoon’s work). In theory, those four parties could be the PVV, CDA, D66, and PvdA, and this would be to Rutte’s liking; back in government with his former bedfellows, but he is also keenly aware of the potential backlash that excluding what are now the main bearers of the red flag from government could be come the next election, likely after 2020. D66 are only on the soft left and will be easier won over on the two centre right’s stances on immigration, Europe, and asylum; GL will be the most difficult appetite to satiate policy-wise. The Socialists campaigned on a platform of not going into coalition with the VVD.

There are simply not enough seats on either side for a simple left or right coalition, however. The only alternative is an extremely narrow threshold majority of 76 between the PVV, CDA, D66, and CU. The CU’s failure to improve on their number of seats however means that this coalition would be defeated more often than not in parliament, especially given D66 would have most legislature sweetened to some degree to agree in the first place, and it only requires a single MP to rebel to lose the whole vote.

As such, I do think we will see an eventual deal between the PVV-CDA-D66-GL. And that means, well no change, really. At most, we will see a slight deceleration of the PVV’s austerity program, but public spending will probably not go up to anywhere near the amount the GL and even D66, would have wanted. In some ways, for the left, it is good to have new, exciting faces on the scene with bold new visions BUT on the other hand the complete decimation of the PvdA as the united front of the left and centre-left in government is troubling in terms of mainstream respectability and organisation. If the GL and D66 start arguing with each other, or are too stubborn with the two bigger centre-right parties, we could see at the next election (especially if it’s an early one following a breakdown of the coalition) a further resurgence of the right.

But for now that’s all speculation. While I think Wilder’s defeat is worth celebrating, it is not time to get ahead of oneself. The political dynamic in the Netherlands is very different to those in France and Germany, and we simply have to wait and see if those two bigger countries follow suit with the status quo. In the meantime, we at least have only one orange cartoon neo-fascist running things. And at the moment, I’ll take what I can get.

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