Dutch Anti-Wilders Could Face Dilemma After the Election

Jesse Klaver appeals to cosmopolitan, university-educated voters. His challenge will come after the election.

Dutch Green party leader Jesse Klaver makes a speech in Utrecht, November 20, 2016
Dutch Green party leader Jesse Klaver makes a speech in Utrecht, November 20, 2016 (GroenLinks)

The Guardian has a good story about the somewhat surprising rise of the Green party in the Netherlands.

The Greens had been up in the polls for a while, but their popularity usually falls when center-left voters defect to the Labor Party in the weeks leading up to an election.

That isn’t happening this year. The Greens are climbing while Labor is bracing for an historic defeat.

Connecting with “blue” voters

The reason the Greens are doing so well this year, argues The Guardian‘s Daniel Boffey, is that their new leader, Jesse Klaver, connects with university-educated voters.

We don’t have definitive polling to support this, but it does seem to be the case. It would support my thesis that the Greens have become one extreme in the Netherlands’ “blue-red” culture war. In that sense, Klaver is the anti-Wilders.

The Green party leader is passionate about European integration, multicultural, socially progressive, pro-refugee and — obviously — an environmentalist.

Geert Wilders, on the other hand, wants to take the Netherlands out of the EU, stop immigration from Muslim countries, shut down mosques and “give the Netherlands back to the Dutch”. His nativist Freedom Party doesn’t have green policies (insofar as it has policies at all).

Labor’s mistake

Labor, which competes with the Greens for the support of progressive college graduates, appears to have made a strategic mistake.

It argues for reform of the free movement of labor in Europe, calling the current system unfair to low-skilled workers in the Netherlands.

The party has also started sounding less accommodating on integration in an attempt to lure back working-class supporters.

But those traditional Labor voters aren’t prepared to bid Wilders farewell simply because the social democrats have had a change of heart while jettisoning pro-EU and immigrant-friendly policies has disappointed high-skilled, middle-class voters. Their experiences with the EU and with immigrants are largely positive and they have an alternative in Klaver’s Green party.

Messiah complex

Klaver’s challenge is managing the left’s high expectations that bedeviled Labor Party leaders in the past.

The Dutch left has a tendency to seek messiahs who will relieve them of right-wing government in a country that, like most, is center-right.

The Netherlands hasn’t had a left-wing government in forty years, but that doesn’t stop the left from dreaming — nor from decapitating leaders who fail to make the impossible a reality.

In the last election, it was Diederik Samsom who nearly made Labor the single-largest party only to disappoint left-wing voters by forming a government with the right.

One election earlier, it was the former mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, who raised hopes that the left might lead a government again only to place second and fizzle out.

Another election earlier, it was Wouter Bos, who — like Samsom — disappointed the left by taking Labor into government with the Christian right.

Klaver’s dilemma

Klaver is unlikely to be in a better position after the election next week.

The only way the right-wing liberals could be kept out of power is if the Christian Democrats and liberal Democrats in the center are willing to form a five-party coalition with the left. That seems improbable.

The Greens will more likely have to choose between joining a coalition with business-friendly parties or remaining, once again, in opposition.

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