October 16, 2002
The fall of the Dutch government

Now here is a perfect example of how to make complete fools of yourselves and miss an historic opportunity while doing so. That, in a nutshell is the story of the LPF, the List Pim Fortuyn. It had been spiraling into self-destruction for a while now, and before leaving for London I was thinking to myself that I should blog about it, but I never had the time. So barely after I get back (including a canceled flight from London City airport) the government finally falls. The immediate cause: two of the LPF ministers hated each other's guts and would not longer even talk to one another.

There's more background on the whole thing at the Visser View, and as he rightly points out, a complete chronology of the farce that the LPF had become would be impossible to blog, even on an increasingly verbose blog such as this. Still, here are some of the highlights. I never thought the LPF would last very long, as it was founded in a hurry following Pim Fortuyn's disagreements with his erstwhile political home, the party Leefbaar Nederland. Carrying his name, the party was mostly a vehicle for his ambitions and highly dependent on his. So after he was murdered, the LPF would sooner or later have had to come to terms with its post-Pim direction. But the haste of forming the party, and its huge electoral success, meant that the people representing it in parliament were completely untested and in many cases unvetted. This opened the door to a lot of, shall we say, colorful personalities to enter parliament on behalf of the LPF.

Once in a coalition government with the Christian Democrats (CDA) and somewhat-free-market Liberals (VVD), the LPF quickly started to tear itself apart on many levels. The parliamentary party sent its chairman, Matt Herben, packing after only a brief time at the helm. The ministers in government showed their inexperience. None of this would have been fatal, were it not for the ever increasing level of internecine warfare within the LPF. The members of parliament were at each other's throats pretty much continuously in the last few weeks. Splits and defections popped up regularly, and were sometimes mended. However, it became ever harder to take the LPF seriously.

What surprises me most is that the people in the LPF did not seem to have any instinct for self-preservation. Forget national interest. Forget responsibility. The LPF did not even seem to have an urge to prolong its own existence. Everybody could see the crash coming if they continued like this, and the opinion polls were looking ever more bleak. Precipitating the fall of the government meant for all LPFers the loss of their seats in parliament. It's amazing that this simple threat of political extinction did not impose more discipline on them. Instead, the egos of the parliamentarians asserted themselves, and if that meant sinking the party or the government, so be it. Still, the blindness is amazing. They should have known, as the rest of the country did, that their ego-trips would render them irrelevant after any new election.

And new elections are on the way. There is little hope of glueing the pieces back together again after all that has happened. The CDA and VVD quite rightly pulled the plug on this ongoing nonsense, and the LPF faces electoral oblivion. I don't think they're going to get any seats in parliament at all, and that is a big shame. The LPF, even without Pim Fortuyn, had the opportunity to reshape Dutch politics, and to inject much-needed new thinking into the political debate. There were instances where the influence of the LPF was refreshing in the new government, but they were completely overshadowed by the internal rivalries. And heirs of Pim Fortuyn's heritage squandered a big opportunity to shake things up.

The ossified political culture of the Netherlands was certainly the richer for Pim Fortuyn's cheerful, thoughtful and occasionally outrageous iconoclasm. What we got in the LPF was a stone-throwing mob without direction or purpose. Some of the LPF ministers would have done really well, but were never given the chance. So what's going to happen next? The elections are probably going to be held in December, and the LPF will be wiped out. Part of the former LPF voters seems to be shifting to the CDA, which is rather ironic as the CDA is the ultimate Respectable Establishment party. In terms of program, the LPF had more in common with the VVD, which also seems to be benefitting in the polls. But that still does not account for all the LPF's seats. It appears a large part of the LPF voters won't bother to show up to vote, leading to a scaling up of other parties' seats. The disenchanted part of the electorate which Pim Fortuyn managed to mobilized is going to withdraw out of politics again, which could lead to problems down the road.

At the heart of Fortuyn's program were several long-neglected but highly relevant issues. Not just the formerly-taboo issue of immigration, but the wider functioning of society such as transport policy, declining standards in health care and education and the increasing crime rate were all resonating with voters. The big danger now is that once the those arriviste troublemakers of the LPF are gone, the old established parties can return to their politics as usual. This is only storing up trouble for the future. In that sense, Pim Fortuyn's legacy will remain relevant to an extent, as the VVD and CDA won't entirely ignore the issues. But the big impetus, and above all, the impetus to look anew and think anew without the shackles of politics past will be gone.

In the shorter term, there are other problems too. The economy is stalling, and additional uncertainty about what a new government will be like, and what it will do is not going to help. Moreover, the European Union is due to decide on the expansion to the east, and this had become a bone of contention in the government too with the VVD taking a hard line on Polish entry. Scuppering EU expansion could be the biggest international fallout of the fall of the Dutch government.

But what's blogging without a prediction? The VVD and CDA will form the next government. Back to politics as usual after some lip-service to the LPF's hot issues.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Posted by qsi at October 16, 2002 07:42 PM | TrackBack (0)
Read More on Pim Fortuyn , The Netherlands

If there's one thing I don't like about the Parliamentary system, it's the Party Lists. It's probably a cultural bias, but I really love that you *can* vote for individuals in the US, and they can vote how they want, without breaking the system.

Posted by: Bob on October 21, 2002 02:39 AM
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