Netherlands- the rise of far right

 Liberal right has dominated the recent general elections

In the recently concluded Dutch general elections, the ruling VVD (People’s Party) has emerged as the largest party, giving Mark Rutte his fourth term as prime minister. The right wing parties have done better in the elections. The liberal right and far right has won nearly 120 seats out of 150.

The elections results have clearly indicated that Netherlands electorate is moving to the right. A rise in far right and extremist thinking has come to dominate political discourse over the past several decades.

Merijn Oudenampsen, a research fellow at the University of Amsterdam, has explained this right wing surge in his recent book The rise of the new Dutch right: An intellectual history of the rightward shift in Dutch politics.   
In his book, he observed how the Netherlands’ apolitical atmosphere fostered a sense of alienation and resentment, which rather than extinguishing history, reignited ideological conflict throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Despite the inevitable victory of Rutte’s centre right VVD party and its bland, business administration facade; this election may represent another creeping step in a rightward march long in the making.

 At the core of this idea, Oudenampsen says, is that far right groups like Geert Wilder’s PVV were born within the mainstream. ‘It’s often said that right wing populism came first and then the mainstream parties started accommodating their discourse,’ he says. ‘My argument is that in the beginning it was the other way around.

Not from the margins to the mainstream, as academics typically believe, but from the mainstream to the margins. Now, they continuously feed off of one another.’ The connection between conservative and radical right wing populist parties is so deeply entwined, he says, it is increasingly difficult to discern between them.

From neoliberalism to neo-conservatism

During the 1980s, a neoliberal reformation in Anglo American politics was seen under the leaderships of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, whereby government would intervene in economic affairs to promote free market values. Austerity measures, slashing public service spending, deregulation of the financial sector and privatisation of national institutions were the era’s infamous hallmarks.

In the Netherlands, however, these trends were less pronounced. This is because the 1980s government, a coalition of the Christian Democrats (CDA) and VVD, led by Ruud Lubbers, was more quietly implementing similar, though often more stringent reforms. Avoiding the public confrontation seen in Thatcher’s Britain, where widespread strikes, protests and riots were raging, the Lubbers cabinet carefully pacified its opposition by presenting policy shifts as technocratic, pragmatic adjustments.

While neoliberal economic reforms in the Netherlands were largely covert, hidden within the post political frame, they were also in many ways softer. The ‘polder model’ of consensus politics subdued many of the harsh free market turns seen in the UK and US, and the subsequent Lubbers cabinets pursued comparatively moderate stances. In particular, a lack of cultural conservatism– characteristic of their Anglo American counterparts – failed to fully materialise.
Neoconservatism failed to emerge in the 1980s in Netherlands because of the lack of polarised politics typical of the US and UK. ‘We never truly had this conservative counter revolution or these so called ‘culture wars’, which raised conflict over issues like abortion and drugs. In our country, liberal values were so advanced that when the New Right began to rise in the 80s and 90s they had to accept our progressive political culture,’ says Oudenampsen.

The rise of far right  

‘When Pim Fortuyn emerged and used the threat of Islamic ideas to promote anti-immigration reform, many progressive people agreed with his discourse. That overlap is still here. This form of exclusionary politics is very difficult to identify.’ Oudenampsen admits a failure too on the part of the left to properly tackle thorny issues relating to Islam and immigration stemming from the fear of being labeled racist. Criticism of religious ideas has often been conflated with bigotry against its adherents. ‘We need to be careful how we frame our criticism,’ he says. The Trumpian turn After Fortuyn’s murder by an animal rights activist in 2002, an explosion in solidarity with his party and its principles swept the country.

Geert Wilders, a VVD defector, and absorbed Fortuyn’s momentum his PVV party, founded in 2006, began advocating iron fist policies against Dutch Muslim communities. Banning the Koran and closing every Mosque in the country was proposed, and over the subsequent decade, the PVV rose to become the second largest party in an ever more fragmented parliament.

 The emergence of Thierry Baudet and his Forum voor Democratie (FvD) party brought a new alt-right angle to the right wing scene, the displacing traditional rhetoric of the New Right. His spreading of conspiracy theories over the coronavirus and casting doubt over the legitimacy of the elections come ‘straight from the Trump playbook’, Oudenampsen says.

Nevertheless, support for far right parties has never been much above 20%, and this time round, the PVV, FvD, newcomer JA1 are likely to poll below that figure when their support is combined. ‘What is now changing is that Islam is no longer the main issue in this election? For the first time, this is no longer a key issue in the election debates,’ says Oudenampsen.  ‘Coronavirus has displaced Islam in the election debates and it is still a key issue of national identity.

                                                             Khalid Bhatti    

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