Author Archives: Bernard Aris

Part 2: Rutte, from Cameron buddy to May’s stern advocate

The liberal Dutch parties VVD and D66 have two distinct identities and historical predecessors. The VVD is more a car-loving, classical-liberal party with, since 1990’s leader Bolkestein, anti-federalist EU instincts, and has less of an environmental record than D66, who premièred gay marriage and are electoral reformers, very similar to the Lib Dems.

Contacts between the Lib Dems and D66 (both social-liberal) are warmer and broader than the VVD-Lib Dems. In Chris Bowers’ biography of Clegg, VVD figures once (p. 104), whereas D66 & Lousewies Vander Laan are on pages  102-3, 104 and 266-7 as Clegg supporters, also in the Coalition.

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May gets blunt Brexit warning from old Dutch ally & EU statesman Rutte: Part I

With the “Bercow Bombshell” (BB), his statement to the house on March 18th, quoting Erskine May’s 1844 anthology of Commons’ customary laws and Standing Orders, that Theresa May can’t have an eternal Groundhog Day rotation resubmitting her Brexit Deal, it has become impossible for May to offer anything new to the EU summit of March 21st.

According to Laura Kuensberg (late BBC evening news, March 18th), that means the EU has no reason to grant May a short prolonging of article 50, making it inevitable that the EU leaders will propose a long prolongation; which would result in a much softer Brexit (the UK having to remain subject to more EU directives, procedures and institutions than under the May deal).

To predict the mood of that EU summit, one can quote the French journalist in Newsnight (March 18th), who indicated that Le Monde, on March 15th, lost hope of May rescuing her deal, saying “let’s get cracking, let’s make a do-able (prolongation) arrangement”. Earlier, Macron said on March 13th that “the solution lies entirely in London”, which must offer a reason for prolongation to make him consider that. The French mood looks unwilling to tolerate any more British “one more heave” pleas for a prolongation; and to start asking concessions.

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May should follow her kindergarten logic

For the past half year (if not longer), Prime Minister Theresa May has, everytime she appeared at the Despatch Box to talk about Brexit (often postponing votes and talking platitudes), told the broad mass of MP’s anxious about getting a No Deal Brexit cliff-jump: “The best way of avoiding a No Deal situation is voting for the deal I’m putting on the table; there is no alternative”.

For the past weeks, she’s been forced by her own party to see if, in the case of the Backstop (which became necessary because of May’s own “red lines”), there could be a slight …

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“No dogs allowed” is back

On the 14th of February, the Dutch Foreign minister was driven to distraction by a big blue Brexit muppet on his desk, impeding him to get anything done (see:https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/14/project-fur-brexit-is-a-big-blue-monster-say-the-dutch ). Only him being bold already, saved him from pulling out his hair. Today, Monday 25th, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was all over British news media, desperately pleading with the British government to get a Brexit deal through parliament, and thereby avoiding a No Deal Brexit. A no deal Brexit will not only disrupt, nay destroy the British economy, its international traffic of people, medicines and foodstuffs, but will also hit their oldest trans-Channel ally and trading partner: the Netherlands, like a ton of bricks (equaling Napoleons “Continental System”, 1806-13; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_System ).

The reasons the Dutch government (fully representing the fears and feelings of its 17 million citizens) makes such a show of its disturbance, annoyance, and grief about the impending chaos Brexit, especially the No Deal variant Rees-Mogg and Boris insist on, will bring, are to be seen from two severe warnings which were also covered by Dutch media today.

On the commercial radio station “Business News Radio” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BNR_Newsradio ), an affiliate of our Financial Times-like daily, chairman Anton Valk of the Dutch-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC; see http://www.nbcc.co.uk/about-the-nbcc/organisation ) was urging all Dutch enterprises importing anything from Britain, from British companies to urgently look elsewhere for sources of what they’re importing, warning them those imports can be blocked or held up in a No Deal Brexit situation now looming large on the horizon. Needless to say, if the substitute source (in most cases: from inside the EU) proves to be better, its logistics more trustworthy, the British company who was the source, seriously risks losing that contract forever. The eventual delaying of the Brexit Day from 29th of March until say this summer or next year doesn’t diminish the relevance of those warnings one bit; the enduring uncertainty is instead likely to encourage continental importers to seek certainty with EU substitutes to former UK trading partners.

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The Shamima Begum Case: As with Brexit, the Dutch are better prepared for what is coming anyway

As has become a tradition over the past decades, the LibDems and Dutch sister party D66 sing from exactly the same hymn sheet on the subject of taking back “ISIS jihad brides” and their children from the Syrian-Kurdish YPG/SDF prisoner camps they’re housed in at the moment.

And just as usual, the ALDE right wing (in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD) is fervently opposed to taking back anybody who has moved to the ISIS Caliphate since 2014, thus bending liberal, judicial and humanist principles to populist kneejerk reactions.

In the Netherlands, Rutte and the VVD know they stand alone (among non-populist, centrist, normal thinking parties) in refusing re-entry; and they know they’re ignoring a special article in the Dutch Constitution. The country of Grotius declares in article 90 of our constitution:

The government stimulates the development of the international rule of law and juridical order.

Scrupulous care for human rights, and the welcome (and where necessary judgment) to “lost sons”, are thus part of what Dutch governments and prime ministers must stand for. And D66 has a traditional attitude of caring about such aspects especially.

In a TV election debate in 2015, VVD leader and (then also) Prime Minister Rutte shocked everybody present by agreeing to the statement: “people travelling to the ISIS Caliphate are better off dying there and shouldn’t be allowed to return”.

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Dutch health & pharmacy sector scrambles:  delivery of 50 vitally crucial medicines and appliances threatened by a No Deal Brexit

People who know about the world market for medical supplies and medicines, basic human necessities in any civilized society, can only agree with Donald Tusk  that many bullhorning Brexiteers never did have a clue how to safely execute Brexit in all its aspects and consequences. 

In her article of 31st January, Caron Lindsay pointed to the growing insecurity around the delivery to British patients and the NHS generally of medicines etcetera imported from the continental EU. But it also disrupts patient security on the continent, and in the Netherlands in a life-threatening way.

On Wednesday 6th February, the Dutch parliament received the second alarming letter in a month from the relevant health minister, Bruno Bruins  about the supply of medicines and appliances like pacemakers certified (for EU use) in the UK. I’m using news items from NOS, our BBC, because it is the headline in all public radio and tv news bulletins today.

A month ago Mr Bruins wrote to parliament, saying that the Netherlands imports around a third (value: 2 billion euros/year from a total of 6,6 billion/year) of all its medicines and appliances from or via the UK; part of those imports are re-exported onwards. NOS quotes him writing that British medical imports are 2700 products (UK being a very big international player) and that Dutch doctors and hospitals use intermediaries and not always are sure where those products come from. He’s asked everybody in the Dutch health system to check where every product comes from and where it was certified for the EU market. If possible, UK producers or providers should be asked to transfer CE certification to the continent, Mr. Bruins wrote to buyers in the Dutch medical sector.

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The ignored nuclear aspects of Brexit

Apart from the power plants, everybody ignored the (trucks with) medical isotopes.

This another two-piece article.

In the first article I talk about the Euratom aspect of the EU, totally ignored in 99% of Brexit campaigns and in present Brexit debates. The aspect of transporting nuclear material for medicinal purposes brings these atomic aspects of the EU very close to everybody’s private lives: the survival of cancer patients

In the second article, I follow on by pointing out that the UK turns out to be the international transport and EU certification hub in the international trade of medicines, medical supplies and appliances. That has a massive impact on the Dutch (and possibly French and German) health system as a whole when a No Deal Brexit occurs.

 As we all know by now, Brexit means a total resetting, readjusting, if not disruption of European-UK ties and supply chains build up in centuries, but especially since Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher (but NOT duplicitous Wilson and NOT Corbyn) led the way in making Britain a member of the EEC and Euratom. 

For example: I give a bottle of champagne to anybody who can point to a substantial (part of a) Brexiteers speech about maintaining (and paying only from the British budget) a safe and secure, that is: Euratom-like safety regime around the British civilian nuclear infrastructure (both the existing power plants and reactors, and those presently being build and/or abandoned by their foreign sponsors). 

But another ignored aspect deals with  the just-in-time transport of nuclear items for medicinal purposes. 

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Dutch ambassador flabbergasted by antique ICT used by HM Customs during Brexit

A recent interview with the Dutch ambassador in London shows precisely why the Dutch, usually a sober, very anglophile people, watch the London political scene(s) with horror, astonishment, and deep pity for the ordinary people who end up holding the bag of Brexit. Rich public schoolboys like Rees-Mogg and Boris won’t suffer from their overseas investments (NOT in Britain!), but neither do they seem to really care about the millions of people in rust belt and abandoned regions of the UK who voted for Brexit as a desperate cry for help, more than out of national pride, or Johnsons ideological hatred of Brussels. The action group “Led by donkeys” (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jan/16/billboard-campaign-reminds-voters-of-mps-brexit-promises ) with its Twitter-poster campaign confirms the worst fears of Dutch Brexit watchers of who is leading the Brexit charge of the light brigade, with scant facts supporting their empty, false promises up to this day.

In an  interview in the national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algemeen_Dagblad ), of Monday 4th of February,  the Dutch ambassador in London, Mr Simon Smits, told about the voyage aboard a Dutch freight truck from Schiphol (Amsterdam) airport to Heathrow, and a working visit to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), he’d recently made to see for himself how prepared Dutch and British truckers, their customs, authorities and others involved in keeping transport rolling are in these Brexit times (see: https://www.ad.nl/politiek/onze-enige-zekerheid-is-onzekerheid~affc3a40/ ). Today, with Britain in the EU, the trip went as smoothly as could be expected, but ambassador Smits was flabbergasted that HMRC still runs the MS-DOS software in its computers. The only advantage ambassador Smits could see was that present-day hackers would be flummoxed by this antediluvian software from the 1980s/’90s, but this badly needs an update before Brexit is upon us. As I remember it, you need to insert first a start-up floppy disc, then a “system” floppy, and finally the “text” floppy in a computer to work that system; very time consuming with thousands of trucks, containers or passengers awaiting handling. Moreover, if it breaks down the recovery takes more time too. It reminded me of the outcry when the newest British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elisabeth was shown to run the somewhat more recent Windows XP software (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/27/hms-queen-elizabeth-running-outdated-windows-xp-software-raising/ ). A centuries-old trading nation running this outdated, vulnerable software in a strategic border (and state income) service in the 21st century… unbelievable.

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Part 2: Present consumer price hikes and the environmental cleanup.

There are similarities between what happened in 2016-’19 in Britain and the Netherlands both in economics and politics and in the people’s perception and polling reaction.

In 2016-’17 the EMU (including us Dutch) was crawling out of the banking and Euro crisis, and Britain was relieved that the Kladderadatsch announced during the EU referendum campaign didn’t materialise substantially. But while the economy recovered (Holland) or stayed even (Britain), people saw that their buying power flatlining, while trusted big high street store chains (V&D here, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%26D, dozens in Britain) collapsed, and while big problems in health care (caring at home …

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Part 1 (of 2): The “Dunkirk” myth, and Andrew Marr’s facts about that

This is a two-article set; the first looking at the real “Dunkirk” mentality in 1940-’45 up to 1954; the second at Dutch and British present-day politics.

My first point is: no-one can use opinion polls in proving that the “Dunkirk Spirit” about “surviving without flinching” structural shortages, even: rationing, of daily necessities like fresh “fruit and veg”, medicine, etcetera, was as widespread or as solid in 1940-’44 as the postwar legend has it. Opinion polls were a new thing; the first big Gallup polls in British politics and society only started being conducted from 1944-’45 onwards (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_poll ). Moreover, …

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Dutch Parliamentary Brexit-watchers roundly condemn flippancy towards British people

As everybody reading the excellent study of history since Caesar’s times of the North Sea trade by Oxford historian and former BBC journalist Michael Pye, “The Edge of the World: How the North Sea made us what we are” can attest, the trade relations between the British/English and the Dutch (Frisians) Celtic tribes was the beginning of 20 centuries of close economic and ethnic ties. The DNA of inhabitants of areas from Kent to York is indistinguishable from that of people living in Friesland and Holland in the Netherlands; and Frisian is halfway the English and Dutch language. Migration and trade in wool, cloth, grain, herring, etc., been going on, even when Napoleon didn’t want it to (1803-1813); John Locke wrote important (Liberal) books seeking shelter here.

Ever since the 4th Anglo-Dutch war (1780-’84), the Dutch have recognised the British as their senior and vital partner in those economic and cultural relations; and the Dutch pressed general De Gaulle to admit England in the EEC for those same reasons.

But one aspect of how the Dutch see the British people and British politics has been fundamentally changed by the way the UK has been handling the Brexit problem, from the Referendum campaign in spring 2016 to the present day. That can be concluded by what 3 of the 4 official “Brexit Watching delegates” of the Dutch parliament said on Dutch public radio on Wednesday, 14th of January 2019; coincidentally those 3 were from parties of the present Dutch government coalition, so important advisors of both parliament and government.

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Desperate Brexiteers try to pick and choose

According to The Independent, during the second instalment of the Brexit ‘Meaningful vote’ debate, Downing Street has agreed to let the Commons pick and choose around the crucial Backstop articles in the agreement Theresa May and Brussels reached. The agreement is legally binding, an official agreement or treaty between London and the EU.

On the Institute of Government website last December, former IoG expert Simon Hogarth said such an option could mean Downing Street violating its international obligations it freely entered into. That’s what the Hugo Swire Amendment is proposing.

If the Brexiteers in Downing Street or the Commons think this is going to wash in international politics, they are completely bonkers and political ignoramuses.

The Dutch know from bitter experience how swift, tough and compelling the international reaction will be if any country, Great Britain or small Netherlands, tries to opportunistically tinker with such a legally binding international agreement.

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Love, actually

A message to Theresa May & all Britons on Brexit

Here is a video column from the D66 (Dutch Social-Liberal, pro-European sister party), featuring Kees Verhoeven, our MP for European Affairs.

Hope you enjoy!

https://twitter.com/D66/status/1072408573475463168

#makelovedontBrexit

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Party Leadership change at D66: Veteran Pechtold hands over to young talent Jetten

The coalition government has always been difficult for Dutch social liberals; but that never discouraged us from taking responsibility in the national interest. Both the VDB of the years 1901-1946 and my party D66 (founded 1966) have suffered electoral losses because they participated in coalition governments (and Dutch politics always have those), limiting their ability to build profiles on all possible subjects.

Another similarity is that the VDB was the first in the 1930’s to attack principle the pro-Nazi party NSB, and under the party leadership of Alexander Pechtold (2006-2018; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Pechtold ) we were and are the first, and the most insistent and principal attacker of both islamophobe Geert Wilders and Jared Taylor-racism adept Thierry Baudet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thierry_Baudet ).

In 2003-’06 we suffered in a coalition with VVD and CDA (they used opposition Populist MP’s to press rightist measures) resulting in significant losses (locally and nationally) in 2006. Former cabinet minister Pechtold became party leader and re-energised and professionalised our party organisation. He attacked Wilders and tried to get necessary but unpopular measures (raising the state pension age; environmentalism; Europeanism) through parliament. These activities resulted in a spectacular resurrection of D66 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democrats_66 ) from then on.

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Steve Bannon builds “Dad’s Army”-brigade for Farage-type Europhobes

The ever-valiant editors of Liberator magazine, who make the Lib Dem glee club sing from the same sheet, have just published a guide to discern all the opinionmakers, leaders and groups in the Brexiteer and Europhobe bubble. And according to the European edition of Politico Magazine, Steve Bannon, the beast from Breitbart, is assembling what could be called the “Dad’s Army” of Eurosceptics and Europhobes discarded by their own groups, or whose sell-by date has long expired.

Using Breitbart as his platform, Bannon had (in the years 2012-16) assembled an assortment of rightwing, libertarian, neonazi and other extremist splinters, and used frequent interviews with tycoon Donald Trump to attract Trumpian voters to get them in touch with those ideas, to solidify their prejudices and their hate of mainstream, fact-loving media. 

Now that Trump has fired him, and Robert  Mercer has banned him from Breitbart , Bannon is trying to repeat what he did to rightwing fringe America; but according to Politico he isn’t having as much luck as he had with Trump.

Like most political currents, Populism and Euroscepticism have to go through an initial phase of competing opinionmakers, theorists and loudmouth demagogues; but the jingoism and preference for “strongman politics” (a leader, statesman able to make sweeping structural changes in a national political culture an – debate), means that the phase of competing schools inside Populism and Euroscepticism endures longer. Populists in one country prefer homegrown leaders, not from neighboring countries, let alone the US.

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Two young Dutch politicians: one substantial, alert to the times, the other unadulterated narcissism

Even with Trump handling his twitter account each morning, there isn’t much happening in politics this summer. As usual, that makes appearances and utterances by politicians stand out more; and two of those in the Netherlands symbolize the contrast in western politics nowadays.

 I’m talking about what two blackhaired young Dutch politicians published recently. The flamboyant conservative-populist Thierry Baudet  published a remarkable photo on Instagram; while the Oxford-educated Churchill biographer and convinced European Felix Klos, presently speechwriter for D66 party leader Alexander Pechtold  emphatically launched his candidacy for D66 top candidate for the European Parliament.

 The Dutch public has grown accustomed to the Milo Yiannopoulos-like  stunts and utterances of Baudet, who led his rightwing populist “Forum voor Democracy”  with 2 out of 150 seats into Dutch parliament in 2017, but his summer surprise raised a few eyebrows, even in his rightwing populist clique and claque. From an unknown holiday resort, he put a photo of himself on Instagram  lying down stark naked near some water, one hand covering his private parts, with just the words “release and reload” as subtext. This unleashed a storm of parodies on twitter; someone inserted Baudet as the body (of an executed killer) in the painting “Anatomy lesson of Dr. Tulp” by Rembrandt.  But even the rightwing populist weblog “Dagelijkse Standaard” (dayly standard) commented that they hoped Baudet would stop publishing this sort of thing and return to real politics.

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Pro-Jewish demonstrators harassed at Dutch Labour event hosting Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn was the main speaker at a “Fair Tax Event” organised by PvdA (the Dutch Labour Party) in The Hague on Thursday 6th of July, the last day before the Dutch parliament went into its summer recess.

The event was a clear attempt by PvdA to regain some leftist credentials and kudos, after most Labour voters and supported have concluded that PvdA, in its “two big parties” coalition (2012-’17) with Mark Rutte’s VVD (NatLib; car-owner liberals), had abandoned those credentials and all its anti-VVD election rhetoric, in order to overcome the EMU Greek crisis and the EU migration crisis …

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The D66 version of Priestley’s “An Inspector Calls” in Brexit Days

Today, Dutch VVD (NatLib; car driver-liberal) prime minister Mark Rutte, the only statesman who while visiting Donald Trump in his Oval Office dared interrupt a Trump rant against the EU during the press & photo-op moment, is receiving British Prime Minister Theresa May in the garden of the Catshuis, the The Hague meeting point and residence of Dutch coalition cabinets.

At the same time, D66, the Dutch version of the Lib Dem Social Liberals, is publishing a Facebook video of the visit Kees Verhoeven MP, our EU/Brexit and ICT/Privacy parliamentary spokesman, recently made to the doorstep of Downing Street 10; another coalition residence (since 2010 and 2017…).

Like a famous Bob Dylan video, Kees has a stack of large pieces of paper in his hands, which while he peels away one paper at a time, form a clear message from Dutch Remain supporters of al hues (but most of all: us D66 activists) to Mrs May, her squabbling Cabinet (including Heathrow Commons vote deserters), and Brexiteers everywhere, including those being investigated by the FBI Special Counsel for illegal Putin-Trump connections and Cambridge Analytica Fake News manipulation.

Like the bookseller said to Saint Augustine: “Tolle, Lege”; read and take on board, take with you as you continue on your way…

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What a start of a new coalition! D66 both the biggest (Dutch) progressive and the biggest Liberal party

In my previous postings about the D66 contribution on entering the new Dutch coalition government (here and here), I noted that D66 surprised everybody in Dutch politics by being able to have some profiling, and indubitably progressive programmatic points in the coalition agreement. Also, D66 was the main provider of women (cabinet) ministers; and they are highly qualified women politicians!

A brief “tableau de la troupe” of the new Dutch government…

It consists of two Liberal parties: the progressive, pro-European D66 and the more eurosceptical, car-owner oriented VVD (with prime minister Mark Rutte); and two Christian Democrat …

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“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 …

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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.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments

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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Trump Inc. fleeces US Government to keep nuclear button in-house

Embed from Getty Images

In a move unheard of in any democratic country regarding its head of state (both personal and as an institution) and his/her official trappings, the Trump government has:

1. moved the presidential bodyguard local co-ordination centre out of Trump tower to a trailer on the New York sidewalk, 50 floors below, and
2. made the presidential military staff, keepers of the famous “football” containing the infamous nuclear button, accept an extortionate lease price to keep it located inside Trump Tower.

At least, that is what the Washington Post has discovered.

In US politics, it is quite usual that the essential entourage of a president, as president and commander-in-chief, has premises on all locations and in all buildings a president resides in or which he (when will it be a she?) owns. With the Kennedy’s and George Bush senior these included their family summer residences in Massachusetts and Maine.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 6 Comments

Brexiteers Bearing Broken Promises should not underestimate the iceberg threatening their Titanic

I know British media and voters are less used to coupling the behavior of European Parliament grandees and domestic, Westminster Parliamentary Parties but it is high time they did.

At least the Dutch media pay close attention to how the group(s) of MEP(s) from each Dutch political party behave and vote in Brussels and Strasbourg. If they diverge from the line their national parliamentarians behave and vote (or the other way around), a big stink can follow, embarrassing national party leaders. In France the link is even stronger. Their MPs from the Assemblee and even national party leaders like Marine Le Pen sit in the European Parliament as well, and thus are obliged to vote similarly in both assemblies.

So it was very unwise, uninformed, very egocentric (in short: very Brexiteerish) for the May government to pooh-pooh the opinion piece by a number of prominent MEP’s in The Guardian last week. In it, they warn that between 67 and 77% of MEP’s would block any Brexit overall deal if EU citizens in the UK continue to be pestered  by Home Office shenanigans, and if the UK maintains the unsettled “settled” status that  EU Brexit Negotiator Barnier complaints can be scrapped at will by any British parliament after Brexit.

As I quoted in my earlier post, this uncertainty is helping to sour EU expats’ views of Britain, its government,  encouraged by the attitude of the ever so moderate, always respectful British tabloids of “Up Y**** Delors” fame .

Posted in News | 15 Comments

Dutch UK correspondents warn that the mood among EU expats has really soured

 

In his Sky interview on Sunday (quoted by Caron Lindsay in her earlier post), Sir Vince Cable warned that the Wimbledon tournament is hit by a serious strawberry crisis. British strawberry fields will (forever?) remain unattended because the people (EU workers) needed to pick the fruit have scampered home, afraid of the uncertainties of staying in the UK where both May and Corbyn keep pursuing a hard Brexit, never mind May’s sweet-talking at the recent Brussels summit (which was roundly dismissed, if not disbelieved by Juncker, Tusk and German prime minister Merkel).

In the Dutch liberal quality newspaper NRC Handelsblad of Saturday 1st July, the anthropologist and journalist Joris Luyendijk (famous for his Guardian blogs and international bestseller “Swimming with sharks” about the worrying ways of thinking and operating in the City of London banking sector) gives an assessment of the mood among well-educated, professional EU citizens that should alarm any Briton who wants the British economy to flourish.

And in the biggest Dutch daily, de Telegraaf of 23d June, Dutch expat and former Telegraaf UK correspondent Arnoud Breitbarth (now working in the British musical industry) voices frustration (“we’re treated like second class citizens from the moment the Brexit Referendum was announced”) and despair at possibly having to leave the UK where they’ve lived for decades.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 34 Comments

May’s Brexit setup denies remaining EU states what she wants to recover for Britain: sovereignty over their nation(als)

As the Brexiteers slogan “take back control” clearly shows, the taking back of government control not only over your own territory, but also over the whole of your population, nation, (in short: “national sovereignty”)  is a central plank in the whole, over-ambitious and under-estimated, undertaking that is Brexit.

But in Theresa May’s proposed treatment of EU citizens in the UK, she in two ways denies the governments of the continental states who, very sensibly, choose to remain in the EU (and, conversely, some British citizens) what she herself wants to “take back from Brussels’ clutches”: national sovereignty.

She does that first by insisting that the fate of EU inhabitants of the UK will exclusively be decided by British courts (and authorities), and that London will (negotiating with  Brussels) co-decide the cutoff date of the 5 year term you need to get a “settled status” in the UK.

And, because she and Brussels agree that it will be a mirror image operation, the fate of UK citizens in continental EU states is thus left to their respective national courts. Well, the courts in Poland and Hungary are being transformed into the servants of regimes that have heavy prejudices against fundamental West European and British values like the Trias Politica of separate powers, liberal democratic values, western education (George Soros’s university) and women’s rights (work beside family life, abortion). The less agents, carriers of western ideals and freedoms living in Poland and Hungary, the better, is the way Orban and Kaczyński think about guarding what they call the sacred “National Identity” of their “embattled” nations. See the way they marginalized liberal opposition amongst their own citizens, and how Kaczynski’s people humiliated Tusk (and Orban the professors/students of Soros).

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 37 Comments
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