Social Liberals: winning against Populism because we have “street force”

First of all, on behalf of the tens of thousands D66 party members (over 25.000; and we’re gaining members every week for the past year,  our heartfelt congratulations to the Lib Dems on passing the 100.000 members threshold. And you’re not done yet, I know.

If we look to our Spanish and French social-liberal, pro-EU sister parties, Ciudadános and Macrons movement “En Marche”, they too are booking spectacular results in gaining members, and getting members active on the street. According to the French Wikipedia and the Economist, En Marche (EM) claimed 88.000 members in October 2016, and  250.000 now.  The Economist reports about EM-activists canvassing the British way in Strassbourg streets (and elsewhere).

That is the big difference I noticed in the Dutch European elections (2014) and our recent General Elections (March 2017):

  • whereas D66 activists were visible on the (high) streets and at train station entrances handing out leaflets months before (and until) election day,
  • other progressive parties (PvdA/Labour, GreenLeft, and old-style Socialists\SP) were strangely absent, where they dominated the scene until about ten years ago,
  • the center-right parties (VVD/NatLibs and CDA/Christian Democrats) and PVV never were very active in that way.

D66 has also started canvassing the British way in “friendly” neighbourhoods, talking to people on the doorstep; but we seldom hear that from other Dutch parties. Only PvdA/Labour appears to do that, and the Socialists/SP say they do it.

D66 sees itself as the decent, rational answer to Geert Wilders’ PVV populists, and the left-populist Socialists/SP; from the moment in 2006  PVV got parliamentary seats our leader Alexander Pechtold MP, and all our parliamentary parties (Commons, Senate and Europarliament, but also on local and provincial level), have answered back when populists use alternative facts or racial slurs in their debate contributions or policy proposals.

Whereas the European social democrats stumble from one identity crisis to another, failing to find the way(s) to counter Populism, we remain staunchly (but not uncritically) pro-EU, internationalist, and multiculturalist. By having a massive “street presence” at every election campaign, we, and not the leftist parties, are the physically approachable politicians, open to remarks from citizens. We’re also very active online; we pride ourselves on our “webcare” (responding to email inquiries, and putting out our standpoints on Twitter, Facebook, etcetera) being prompt and up to date. Dutch journalists and NGO’s measuring our webcare (in comparison to other parties) are very positive.

I think that using both old-style (“street force”)  and new-style (webcare) types of being approachable to citizens is a special strong point of Social Liberals, and exemplifies the parties that brought universal (including female) suffrage to western democracies.

D66 gained 7 seats (now: 19 of 150) that way last March, the third  gain in a row; Macron flattened the hapless Socialists and Républicains; so good luck to the Lib Dems!

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • There is a revolt against populism brewing. There is a large number of people who favour globalisation, favour open borders, favour pro-corporate economic policies, and favour socially liberal policies.

    Populism appeals to those who are unable to accept their own failings in life, and want to rebel against immigrants, bankers, corporations and those who take what globalisation offers. We must be aggressively pro globalisation and tell the disaffected hard left and UKIP voters that they have no choice but to accept it, and become the hard nosed party of reality. We do not want a society where railway workers or black cabbies can threaten the very fabric of society with their evil protectionism.

  • Matt (Bristol) 26th Apr '17 - 12:36pm

    Stimpson, if you hadn’t invented yourself, anyone might think that someone had made you up.

    “A revolt against populism’. If you can write that without any sense of irony, I really worry.

    “they have no choice but to accept it, and become the hard nosed party of reality” … “We do not want a society where railway workers or black cabbies can threaten the very fabric of society with their evil protectionism.”

    My-way-and-nothing-else is not liberalism — failure to recognise the history and needs that give rise to the desire for collective bargaining, is not liberalism – even if trade unionism might have become warped and manipulated.

    Hysterical authoritarian rhetoric of this nature does nothing to advance the party and is not liberalism.

  • I’ve often thought Stimpson is a satirist.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Apr '17 - 3:35pm

    Apart from the comedy value in the above responses , and , as a result of the style and even substance of Stimpsons comments there is much such value to be found, Bernard, as is his way, makes intelligent and useful contributions herein.

    I like the way Bernard is positive about the Spanish political development of liberals, some on here are not, and, more so, the advance of the obviously liberal Macron, again, more left wing LDV contributors are not !

    I think , Bernard, and all of us with a particular interest in international politics as well as national or local, need to enlist En March soon in ALDE and Liberal International!Unlike Beppe Grillo s 5*, movement, Macron and his, are true Liberal Democrats. It is silly that Bayrou and his Democratic Movement are only allied,a good man and our genuine friend and colleague , as he is himself aligned with Macron, it would be more daft even if we do not engage with the only obvious liberal to be potentially a president in Europe now!

    Any who doubt his credentials, like Tim on some issues, need to delve, the En Marche site is full of decent , moderate , liberal policy.

  • Bernard Aris 26th Apr '17 - 9:08pm

    The emergence of new Social Liberal partries in countries where they previously were absent, or only temporarily present:
    *) Austria: NeOs (successors to Liberales Forum; see both names in the German Wikipedia);
    Spain: Ciudadános, inheritor of the CDS of national hero Adolfo Suarez and his CDS;
    *) and now France, where the strong liberal presence in the Third Republic weakened in the Fourth Republic (1946-’58) to disaapear in the Fifth Republic,
    and the re-emergence of Populism all over Europe and in the US,

    points to a transnational re-alignment of party politics in the 21st century.

    According to an exetensive article in the French (leftist) montly Le Monde Diplomatique (March 2017), Macron is very well-connected with influential French economists, thinkers and top burocrats, especially the “Attali Committee” around Jacquest Attali, who issued an influential report about how to modernise and reorganize the French economy.
    I totally asgree that ALDE should snap Macron up. Just look at the incidents this morning around the Whirlpool factory in Nantes: Le Pen issuing false promises; Macron only saying: “I’ll do my beswt for you workers”. See BBC News website foreign news.

  • The problem is really that some policies are just unpopular and banging on about the evils of populism does nothing to disguise it. Mass immigration is one of those areas.

  • I would be very careful about welcoming Macron and En Marche to the liberal democratic fold. Stop to think for a few moments and behind the obvious but superficial appeal, there are some troubling questions.

    My initial take on him was that it all seemed to be too good to be true (which often means it IS too good to be true) with the air of a product professionally and beautifully packaged but of very dubious intrinsic value.

    The BBC offers a (mostly) admiring profile but somehow manages to leave out much about his rise apart from the tabloid-interest bits.

    For comments on his rise see the following post by Michael Krieger, once a denizen of Wall Street himself, who offers a very different view.

    Which is more nearly correct?

    For myself, I fear that the public has lost faith in the political establishment in France as elsewhere and is desperate for a sensible lead making them susceptible to snake-oil salesmen of all types.

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