Author Archives: Bernard Aris

“Once more into the breach, my friends!” D66 Delivers On Its Feminist Social-Liberal Tradition in the New Dutch Coalition

Part 2 (of 2): The people in the Dutch coalition: strong D66 women

For me the proudest D66 boast about the new Dutch coalition is that, where all four coalition parties said having more women in government is important, D66 with its social liberal feminist tradition dating from Aletta Jacobs and her British suffragist friends (see my earlier posting about her and Millicent Fawcett) actually delivered on this: with three female and one male Cabinet ministers, and with one male and one female minister, we have the highest proportion of women, and deliver the bulk of the female Cabinet ministers.

And they are not only there because of their gender; they’re quality persons, and we present the first lesbian vice prime minister in Dutch history (married, because D66 introduced gay marriage to the world). Let me give brief descriptions on their expertise and working past:

*) Kajsa Ollongren worked at the top in the Dutch prime minister’s department before becoming alderman and deputy mayor of Amsterdam. She put herself forward for parliament in 2006 when D66 went through an electoral nadir (after an unhappy time in a right-wing coalition), and in Amsterdam she got transnational platforms like Uber and AirBnB to respect the wishes of the local population and put limits on their operation. She is Home Secretary and vice prime minister. In her departmental days she and prime minister Rutte got along famously.

*) Sigrid Kaag who evolved from a British-educated (universities of Exeter and Oxford, and Cairo) Dutch top diplomat to a high-flying UN manager, negotiator and mediator, leading the UN chemical disarmament operation around the Syrian Assad dictatorship. She is Cabinet minister for Development Aid and International Trade, combining the humanitarian D66 instincts with hard-nosed practical experience.

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“Once more into the breach, my friends!” D66 delivers on its Environmental, Education and Feminist Social-Liberal Tradition in the New Dutch Coalition

Part 1 (of 2): The coalition agreement: many D66 issues, initiatives

Due to the fragmented party-political parliament which resulted from the Dutch general elections this spring, forming a coalition was always going to be a difficult process. Setting aside populist protest parties like Geert Wilders’ PVV, people expected the political center (from center-left to center-right) to play an active role in building a workable coalition. The only exception was about the PvdA (Dutch Labour party): because they lost disastrously after having been the junior party in a two-party government (led by Mark Rutte, leader of the VVD, and “Green-Right” ally of …

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Reflexions on the “how to exit Brexit” debate at the Autumn Conference

As always, I quite enjoyed attending the LibDem Autumn Conference and its fringe meetings. The only suggestion about fringe meetings I would like to make (as a member of D66, 27.000 members; we’ve always had one member one vote at our halfyearly conferences) is: if it is about the three issues Social Liberals care most about: Europe, Education and the Environment, having some fringe meetings in the plenary sessions hall (or a secondary big hall, like at the back of Bournemouths BIC, where the Prospect interview with Clegg was moved to) so that every interested member gets a change of …

Posted in Europe Referendum and Op-eds | Tagged and | 14 Comments

My reply to Paddy’s essay: “Learn from history and prepare on multiple fronts”

Dutchmen are often called blunt, uncouth because of their direct way of expressing themselves, so I don’t mind Paddy’s warning that as an ex-commando he “doesn’t do subtlety”.

As an activist since 1976 in a coalition politics country, I fully support his plea to work pragmatically with like-minded people of other parties (non-tribalism), and/or people who don’t want to affiliate permanently or at all. And having witnessed many local political deals by D66 with leftist Dutch parties (in their peak days, the 1970’s/’80’s), I also agree that a progressive, ameliorating, modernizing perspective/aim is key, not clubbing together for the sake of “being progressive”. Red, green or blue feathers don’t make a progressive political peacock more useful, or worth being, having.

But where Paddy compares our post-coalition revival with the rich programmatic harvest of “radical”, taboo-smashing ideas of the Liberals in the Grimond and Orpington days, he is being somewhat one-sided. Remember: Grimond became leader in 1956, but the avalanche of radical ideas only really started after the 1959 elections: the “New Directions” brochures of 1960-’67 (see: Arthur Cyr, Liberal Party Politics of Britain, Calder, London, 1977, p. 115-24,147-9; R. Ingham & D. Brack, Peace, Reform & Liberation, Biteback, London, 2011, p. 241-3, 245-’56). Grimond started by losing Carmarthen to Lloyd Georges deserting daughter, 1957; other high-profile Liberals defected; and we held our Bolton and Wade seats (40% of 5 seats) by deals with Tories.

But we were right on Suez (jitters about Boltons deal notwithstanding)and joining EEC; Grimond’s phrases were “polite yet devastating”, like Cable’s about Gordon Brown; and in the 1959 election, a trio of ITV television journalists (Robin Day, Ludovic Kennedy, Jeremy Thorpe) were among our candidates. Grimond himself proving to be better on TV than Macmillan and Gaitskell, made people start reading his articles, pamphlets and books. The Liberals were better TV-age pioneer politicians; Thorpe and our 1958 Torrington hero Mark Bonham Carter (at Collins publishing) were leading our publishing strategy, profiling; and Thorpe started targeting seats. But after Orpington, the Liberal surge petered out despite us continuing to put out radical ideas; so all that wasn’t enough to keep us surging.  

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Dutch support for a Millicent Fawcett Statue in Parliament Square

For Dutch Social Liberals, being a party activist and being a feminist have always been strongly (90%) overlapping aspects of our social behavior and social activism. Whereas Dutch Social Democracy until 1934 neglected the women’s emancipation struggle because the emancipation of all proletarians came first, we are proud that from the beginning, Dutch social-liberal parties (Radikale Bond/RB, 1892-1901, VDB, 1901-’46, D66) have always had feminist spokespersons in their parliamentary parties. Aletta Jacobs, our most famous late 19th century feminist, was a RB founder/activist, and it was a VDB bill which gave Dutch women the vote. And the 1966 founders of D66 were strongly involved in the Second Feminist Wave (raising male consciousness about issues like equal pay, equal family law rights, childcare and family planning), and proudly conscious of the RB and VDB feminist tradition.

And British feminists, Millicent Garrett Fawcett (and her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson) in particular, played an indispensable role in getting that Dutch feminist tradition going.

In 1870-’76 a young Dutch liberal, Victor Gerritsen, lived in London where he immersed himself in the Radical and Liberal scene around John Stuart Mill and the Garrett sisters. In those years (thanks to permission by liberal prime minister Thorbecke), Aletta Jacobs was able to study medicine including her Ph. D. promotion. On his return here, Gerritsen heard about this, and that Jacobs wanted to study medical practices in London. Gerritsen wrote her, giving her useful contact addresses, and telling about the advent of British female medical doctors (this proved the start of their love- and later marriage relationship).

According to the authoritative biography of Jacobs, she visited London in March-September 1879. Via the brothers George and Charles Robert Drysdale (women’s doctors and pioneers in Neo-Malthusianism) she met Elizabeth Garrett (Britain’s first female doctor meeting the first Dutch one), and worked with her in the London Medical School of Women, New Hospital for Women, and in Garrett’s “St. Mary’s Dispensary” aimed at mothers and children. Via Elizabeth, Jacobs also met Millicent Garrett and her husband, the Cambridge economist/suffragist Henry Fawcett (their mutual supportive, loving relationship was to be copied by Jacobs and Gerritsen), who were more involved in the women’s voting right movement. Gerritsen already subscribed to the suffragist “Englishwomen’s Review”, and had his British friends send him new Liberal, feminist and radical publications; when the Dutch feminist movement got started in the 1880’s, his substantial library was used by everybody in Dutch social liberalism and feminism.

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Trump’s equivocating over Charlottesville Nazis embarrasses May and hurts new US Dutch Ambassador

It was interesting to read the free daily “Worldview” newsletter put out by the Washington Post yesterday.

Talking about the unprecedented spectacle of an American President equivocating about how evil heavily armed, swastikas and KKK regalia-wearing racists and neo-Nazis are, the WP draws our attention to how these scary shenanigans embarrass the foreign allies and friends of the USA, especially those who (out of national interests, seldom out of personal sympathy) so far tried to get into Trump’s “good allies” book. The WP takes Theresa May as its case in point in this aspect.

They remind us of the spectacle of May visiting Trump’s White House in January, holding his hand and trumpeting that the “Special Relationship” was well and continuing.

The WP thinks this show of support was a contributing factor when May, a wooden campaigner anyway, held her snap election in June, losing her majority and seeing her ministers returned with lesser majorities. Trump surely didn’t help, attacking London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The WP only quotes May seeing “no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them”, saying she didn’t mention Trump by name, and her then going on about Big Ben being silenced. WP concludes she is still too cautious to explicitly condemn Trump, contrasting her overall treatment of Trump with the more distance-keeping approach of Merkel and Macron. The WP mentions Tory criticism of Trump from for example minister Sajid Javid MP.

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Cable, not Corbyn, is right on Venezuela

The most famous example is in the 1960’s: the Cuba of Fidel Castro turned dictatorial after he let the Soviet Union take over training domestic policing and his secret service (in exchange for buying up his sugar an most of Cuban cigars; see Tad Szulcs biography of Fidel).

But also in the 1980’s the regime of Robert Mugabe over Zimbabwe appeared to start out in 1980 as a better alternative to South African Apartheid, but there the instant imposition and eternal prolongation of the State of Emergency, the role of the North Korean (guaranteed Stalinist) military training mission, their Zimbabwean Fifth Brigade pupils and their Gukurahundi 1983-7 offensive  suppressing Nkomo’s democratic opposition, disillusioned many supporters very fast. When in 1987 the presidency got real executive powers and Nkomo’s party was absorbed in Mugabe’s regime, things turned sour “for keeps”, resulting in misrule, murderous peasant evictions, clobbering opposition leaders to a pulp, and hyperinflation.

The 1979 Sandinista revolt in Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega kept on the democratic, progressive path during the 1980’s, but after losing the 1990’s election Ortega forced social democratic party veterans like Ernesto Cardenal and novelist Sergio Ramírez out, becoming  more autocratic. Ortega and his clique in 1990 kept the nationalized enterprises as their property, and after returning to government in 2006, Ortega was illegally re-elected president in 2011. Ortega, having fought the Roman Catholic hierarchy up to 1990, co-operated with the orthodox wing of that church (archbishop Obando) after returning to government in 2006, banning abortion in all circumstances (his main campaign issue and that of the “liberals”. Human Rights Watch since reported that bleeding pregnant women don’t get treated for fear of breaking that ban, and the Health Ministry ignores complaints about pre- and postnatal care.

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