Dutch D66 starts fightback against Trumpish Populism

In the aftermath of the Trump victory in the American elections, D66, the direct Dutch equivalent of the Lib Dems, has started a fightback both against the rising, fact-free and people-insulting populism personified by Trump, and against the appeasement-like reaction of the Dutch government on Trumps election.

It started not only with the usual statement on the party website by party leader Alexander Pechtold MP, but with D66 publishing small advertisements (with a large party logo) in national Dutch newspapers, in which we stated that the age of staying passive in the face of rising populism had passed, it was time to join a party willing to fight back like D66.

On the Friday after Trump’s election, Pechtold was the only Dutch politician willing to join a couple of Dutch Trump supporters and enthusiasts around the table of the public broadcasting talkshow of Jeroen Pauw. The “Pauw” editors had selected those Trumpists from people expressing their support in emails after the “Pauw” show of Wednesday, discussing the Trump victory. Pechtold was also asked to attend because around the 2012 elections, he had published a book of his conversations with supporters of Geert Wilders, the islamophobic PVV party leader. During the Friday debate, some of the supporters aired their appreciation of his open-minded attitude towards them, not lecturing them but asking what was/is bothering them, and pointing out obvious failures and lies of “establishment politicians” like himself and by Wilders.

On Saturday, Pechtold had a page-long interview in a national morning newspaper, in which he explained his motives and values in starting the D66 fightback against populism. In this he criticized not only our Prime Minister Rutte (VVD; rightwing liberals), but also the bland reaction of our Foreign Minister Koenders (Labour) who dismissed Trump promises as “campaign rhetoric”; Pechtold: “a social-democrat ignoring women, invalids, latinos and gays being insulted is unheard-of”.

The culmination of the first week of this D66 fightback was an unprecedented debate with Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the weekly parliamentary question time on Tuesday. In the Dutch question time, any MP can ask a series of (around 5) questions to any government minister including the Prime Minister. Pechtold wanted Prime Minister Rutte to explain the bland communiqué Rutte had published on his Facebook page about the first telephone conversation he had had with president-elect Trump.

In Dutch parliamentary history, such a Q&A debate is totally unprecedented; even when controversial presidents like Reagan (or ditto vicepresidents like Dick Cheney) are elected, Dutch parliament has taken a “wait and see” attitude until after their inauguration.

Pechtold clearly embarrassed Prime Minister Rutte by asking why he, unlike German chancellor Merkel, had not invoked human rights and dignity as shared values in that phone conversation. Rutte replied that you first have to establish a good relationship; if Trump should start to misbehave after his inauguration, then that relationship should help the Dutch in expressing their sorrow and critique. Rutte said he had to defend national intersts first; Pechtold pointed out that Trump cancelling TTIP and the Paris Climate Agreement will harm vital Dutch national interests: trade and defense against rising sea levels.

Remarkably, Pechtold was joined in his criticism of Rutte’s blandness not only by the political leaders of the Greens, leftwing Socialists and the Protestants, but also by the Foreign Affairs spokesman of the Labour parliamentary (and coalition) party.

In his Saturday newspaper interview, Pechtold reported that already 200 people had become D66 party members; by question time the number was 500. At the meeting of the D66, The Hague constituency party on Tuesday night, everybody was relieved and energized by Pechtold taking the initiative in this Fightback.

D66 has had a tradition of joining the racist, Le Pen-like PVV in vigorous debate (at every opportunity) ever since Mr Wilders MP launched his party at the 2006 parliamentary elections.

Before that, we didn’t boycott Dutch populists like the late Pim Fortuyn as leftwing politicians wanted, but enjoyed debating him and pointing out that we shared some of his concerns, but rejected his simplistic solutions because they were patently wrong or ineffective against the problems raised.

The D66 anti-Trumpish fightback is continuing that party tradition, while continuing to point out the fallacies and discriminatory utterances of the PVV and likeminded splinters. We hope to get Lib Dem support, for example in the European Parliament. Tim Farron’s reaction to Trump’s win was in exact agreement with our reasons for starting a fightback campaign, which will continue to parliamentary elections day (15 March 2017) and continue after that.

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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14 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Nov '16 - 1:15pm

    As usual, common sense from Bernard , and Mark in response!

    I do believe the reactions are obviously blander when in office ,from leaders in office, almost predictably so, but there is bland , and then there is bland ! Rutte and May were too bland , May better in that she basically did not say one word about Trump in detail, just how important the special relationship is. Merkel got it right.

    The analogy with Reagan and Bush , and referring to them as both controversial, but in no way like Trump, is true , but I go further . Neither were particularly controversial as candidates, Reagan was radical , Bush less so, and were never offensive to individuals or groups of individuals. Indeed , as all who had personal or political dealings with them know , in private and public , they were decent , likeable , respectful men. Trump is a different sort!

    I believe his presidency shall not be as disastrous as his campaign . He has to change . Therein lies his hypocrisy. And proof he is , just the reverse of what his supporters and the man himself , thinks he is , not a typical politician . In this one thing he is:say anything to get elected !

  • Bernard Aris 17th Nov '16 - 1:19pm

    Because canvassing, British/American-style, just does not catch on in Dutch politics and society (people find such doorstep talks with party volunteers intrusive or inconvenient; or something like that), D66 has developed the second best thing: “Go out and meet the voters”-Saturdays.
    Groups of around 6 D66 people with buttons and/or party logo coats walk up and down shopping streets in city centers with blanco pieces of plastified paper and writing pens. They ask people they meet what bothers them in society or politics, and if they have suggestions what to do about those points. Then they ask to write those suggestions on such a piece of paper, and photograph the citizen with his placard. Those photo’s are collected and, when the citizen has given his/her consent, they are posted on the local D66 website.
    All photo’s are also collected on an internal webpage, and the content of their placards are evaluated for an analysis: what is a broadly held worry or wish?
    We publish in advance when we are going out to reach the voters via local media and our local website.

    This a campaigning method we use a couple of times in the months leading up to local of national elections.
    In view of our “fightback” campaign, we now have decided to use it more frequently, intensely. So anybody visiting a big Dutch city this Saturday may encounter D66 street crews collecting placard texts.

    The curious thing about Dutch campaigns is that those “elitist, armchair intellectuals” of D66 have been multiplying on the streets and putting D66 flyers through letterboxes, whereas just about every other party (even Socialists with their “Activist”-culture) have retreated, disappeared from the streets.
    We think intensifying our “Meet the voters” outreach campaign will press home that we really care about this Fightback, and thus about a fair democracy. We don’t expect other parties to be able to mount as big a “ground war” as we, who have been doing this just about every year since 2012 (the last time the past spring with the Dutch Referendum about the EU –Ukraine Association treaty); it takes some effort to get this started.

  • Peter Bancroft 17th Nov '16 - 3:10pm

    Useful post – the Lib Dems could learn a lot from D66. There’s an instinctive liberalism and belief in open society which unfortunately in the UK isn’t fully embedded in the way the party thinks and operates.

    D66 shows that if you stay true to a coherent set of ideals that you can move an entire country, even when you’re small.

  • Matt (Bristol) 17th Nov '16 - 5:23pm

    I think the main difference between us and D66 is that the Lib Dems – as we try to survive in an FPTP system – muddy the boundary over into the ‘classical liberalism’ of VVD, the other Dutch liberal party (and both are members of ALDE).

    Tim Farron is clearly a D66 ‘sort of person’ – Nick Clegg, on the other hand (not to mention David Laws) always strikes me as more of a VVD fan.

    Until we get a more reformed voting system that supports more than 2-and-a-half viable national parties, this sort of clarity of intellectual purpose may be tricky to combine with our historic tactics of triangulation and vote-squeezing.

    Don’t forget, our successors as the ‘third party’ in parliamentary and popular-vote terms, the SNP and UKIP, are both quite happy in their different ways about avoiding clarity for voters about whether they are left, right, or centre.

    The British system thrives on this fuzziness. Until we get a different system it will be difficult to decisively achieve a less fuzzy party.

  • Noorderling 17th Nov '16 - 6:28pm

    Funnily enough this desciption of Pechtold’s television appearance does not fit the review I read in today’s Algemeen Dagblad, which was a lot less complimentary, calling him condecending.

  • Simon Freeman 17th Nov '16 - 9:23pm

    Liberal Democrats having newspaper adverts, street stalls in shopping centre, handing out summaries of the party position on key area-europe, nhs, environment, education, housing, constitutional reform membership forms would be a good idea. Keep thinking should I rejoin after 20 odd years supporting Labour?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Nov '16 - 10:16pm

    Matt

    I think narrow need not be better. Actually D66 are still at times to the right of some on our left ,certainly less social democrat, more definitely liberal, that party does also contain different strands of thought and wings of the party, and , also, the other centre right Liberals , VVD , are to the right of Nick Clegg and David Laws on many things , though all are liberals too .

    If you look at the Democrats in the US , and now the party of Matteo Renzi in Italy, modelled on them to some extent, recently formed , both are broad , the Democrats of Renzi, enough to take in ex Christian Democrats like Renzi , Liberals and Social Democrats , officially ,in one party. A bit like our merger, but more so. Indeed the Democrats in Italy , sit in the Progressive Alliance , internationally,and yet have an element within their party, called Liberal Democrats , who , in the form of the Italian Liberal Group , are members of Liberal International.

    I do not accept this argument ,often put, that pr means we must have smaller more ideologically uniform parties. We could but need not . Nor does any electoral system mean that should be so.

    The US Democrats are one party I know more about than , probably, any other, than in Britain’s party system . They are often said to be so to the right . Nonsense to a very great extent ! They span , in my view ,the left wing of the Tories, certainly the likes of Sir John Major , Anna Soubry , Ken Clarke , would fit with them today at least , via ninety – nine per cent of our party , all the way to Diane Abbot in Labour , I would say , especially with the Bernie bros ! Admittedly , the US do not have pr , as we have just seen alas ! But the Italians do.

    It is true though , many countries manage to have more than one Liberal party . But do we want that ? What a shame it would be , and those of us who are with the centre left on some issues , the radical centre on many , would maybe not know where to be in some countries like , Germany, all three of whose parties , called Democrats, Social , Christian and Free, resemble elements of this party , our party !

  • Richard Easter 18th Nov '16 - 12:23pm

    Trump cancelling TTIP. Well at least one thing good has happened from his election then.

  • Matt (Bristol) 18th Nov '16 - 4:18pm

    Lorenzo – I should have more overtly recognised that not all systems have developed a plurality of small parties (and Ireland is the clincher on this point), but I would argue that all more proportional systems build-in more potential for this than FPTP.

    Please also note that the word I used was ‘clarity of purpose’, not ‘narrow’. I would argue that it is possible for a party to be clear and honest about it’s purposes but still build a broad coalition of support around those central purposes.

    However, I feel the UK system offers particular rewards for parties that deliberately obfuscate their purposes and seek to make differing promises to differing audiences, because it keeps voters locked away from each other in small constituencies.

  • To Simon Freeman above …. come back and rejoin us 🙂 🙂 you will enjoy the experience 🙂 IF you are near Richmond come and join the super Lib Dem campaign 🙂

  • John Littler 19th Nov '16 - 2:43pm

    D66 shows how the LibDems could be more combative.

    Public discourse has become more robust and to be heard, the LibDems will have to be more bold in style and more radical in policy to capture the mood.

  • ‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you’.

  • Bernard Aris 20th Nov '16 - 4:28pm

    @ Matt from Bristol:

    Nick Clegg is (through his Dutch family) well acquainted with Dutch party-political profiles and has visited the D66 parliamentary party a couple of time during his leadership. I Always got the impression (but I admit to some bias) that went more smoothly than when he visited the VVD with their extremely (Tory-like) restrictiveness abnout immigrants and asylum seekers (they opposed a Childrens Asylum pardon). And VVD leader Rutte has been joined at the hip (since their opposition days in 2009) with David Cameron in something they call “Green Right”. Cameron almost announced his Brexit Referendum initiative in 2013 in Amsterdam! And the VVD is markedly less Euro-enthusiastic than D66 or the LibDems.

    As for Mr. Laws, we at D66 liked his consequent behaviour over his parliamentary expenses misdemeanour (or: over-discretion), and fully understood when he made a return to the coalition government later. D66’ers are sticklers for compliance with laws and institutional rules (but on the other hand, we prefer a humanistic, non-technocratic approach which looks at the concrete situation).

    And as far as D66 had “drifted to the center-right”, that has been jolted back to center-left with our latest Election Platform for the 2017 General Elections; and both D66 parliamentary parties (in our Commons and our Senate) enthusiastically supported and support that move. The VVD has stuck to the line: “we like the way we govern…”, so did not budge, and never were committed environmentalists, to give an example.

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