Deluded! The EU's smug elites claim the Far Right's failure to win the Dutch election proves anti-migration populism is in decline. They couldn't be more wrong, writes ROBERT HARDMAN
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte won the election and celebrated on Wednesday
He spent Thursday morning teaching civic lessons at a high school in The Hague
Populist Geert Wilders was less successful than expected and lost the election
By Robert Hardman for the Daily Mail
17 March 2017
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, the EU's Executive Branch
The morning after a hard-fought, historic election win, one might have expected Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to permit himself a brief lie-in. It usually takes Holland about 90 days to form a coalition government and this time the maths is more complicated than usual.
But Mr Rutte did no such thing. The dour 50-year-old bachelor, who could pass for actor Benedict Cumberbatch's geeky older brother, spent yesterday morning, as he does every Thursday, teaching 'civic' lessons at a high school in The Hague.
Meanwhile, his main challenger, the elaborately coiffed, Islam-bashing xenophobe Geert Wilders, left his high-security safehouse in his rocket-proof car to travel to the Dutch parliament and proclaim a victory of sorts, too.
Dutch politics could hardly be more different from the British model. And that is why those commentators gleefully painting Mr Rutte's re-election as a victory for the liberal status quo are missing the point.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the VVD Liberal Party appears before his supporters in The Hague on Wednesday
Yesterday morning, Mr Rutte's phone was jammed with fellow EU leaders ringing to congratulate him on reversing the tide of Brexit, Trump and December's Italian referendum, which cost former prime minister Matteo Renzi his job. He himself saluted voters for 'saying 'whoa!' to the wrong kind of populism'.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, applauded the Netherlands for voting 'overwhelmingly for the values Europe stands for'. But if EU leaders take this as their cue to resume federalism as usual, they'll be making a grave mistake.
For, just as Ukip transformed the political landscape in Britain by forcing last year's referendum while failing dismally to make inroads at Westminster, so there were strong echoes of that in the Netherlands. But instead of membership of the EU, the campaign has been utterly dominated by questions of national identity in a country where 20 per cent of the 17 million population is immigrants or the children of immigrants.
That rises to almost 50 per cent in Rotterdam, where Mr Wilders's PVV party did particularly well, winning a high share of the vote.
That immigration was the focus of this election was entirely down to Mr Wilders — as was the presence of a huge contingent of the world's media to cover an election that would usually be of little interest. We had all come to see how Mr Wilders would fare in the first of this year's three landmark European elections.
Next stop: France, where Marine Le Pen's National Front is likely to be in the final round of April's presidential election; then Germany in September, where the hard-Right AFD will seek to make inroads at the expense of Chancellor Merkel's centre-Right CDU.
In both cases there is much alarmist hype about the challengers' chances of victory. In both cases, especially Germany, that is most unlikely. But, like Mr Wilders, they are a symptom of the depth of popular resentment towards mainstream modern politics.
Right-wing populist Geert Wilders (pictured) was less successful than expected and lost the election
Wilders's odious blend of populism, nationalism and downright racism — including a threat to 'ban' the Koran and his insistence that Islam is incompatible with liberty — failed to win in a country often seen as the most socially liberal in the world. But nor was it defeated.
Compared with Britain's verdict in last year's EU referendum, this election is indeed Double Dutch.
In the early hours of yesterday, most of the 28 parties chasing 150 parliamentary seats were holding some sort of victory rally. But the truth is, Mr Rutte has actually seen a fall in his share of parliamentary seats — from 41 to 33 — while Mr Wilders and his far-Right PVV are expected to have 20, a modest rise of five (though final figures have yet to be confirmed).
It was the worst night in history for the Dutch Labour Party, all but obliterated (Jeremy Corbyn, take note), but a dazzling one for a young outfit called the Green Left, which suddenly has 14 seats.
'We have Rutte and sections of the media saying the Dutch have 'stopped populism', but this is problematic because Wilders did not lose,' says Matthijs Rooduijn, political analyst and lecturer at the University of Utrecht.
'He still leads the second party in the Netherlands and, most importantly, all the Right-wing parties have incorporated elements of his campaign. It has all been about the national identity.'
He points to the open letter that Mr Rutte wrote during the campaign, implicitly aimed at immigrants. In it, he warned those who criticise Dutch values to 'behave normally or go', and concluded: 'If you don't like it here, leave the country.'
Not to be outdone, Mr Rutte's centre-Right rivals, the Christian Alliance, included a manifesto pledge to make all Dutch children start the school day by standing and singing the national anthem. Even the centre-Left parties have been campaigning on a ticket of 'progressive patriotism'.
Mr Rutte (pictured) spoke during the election night in The Hague on Wednesday March 15
If this stuff had been peddled by Mr Trump, there would have been howls of liberal anguish from the usual quarters. But it is now part of mainstream Dutch discourse.
By common consensus, Mr Rutte would have lost more seats had it not been for an issue that has enhanced his nationalist credentials in recent days. When two Turkish ministers arrived to rally expatriate Netherlands-based Turks to vote in a Turkish referendum that would extend President Erdogan's powers, Mr Rutte sent them packing.
Mr Erdogan responded by comparing the Dutch to the Nazis — a particularly toxic charge against a nation that suffered horribly under German occupation.
Previously, the donnish Mr Rutte might have been tempted to ignore the insults. Instead, the former personnel manager accused Mr Erdogan of being 'increasingly hysterical' and refused to yield an inch. The more Turkey stamped its feet, barring Dutch diplomats — along with a consignment of Dutch cows — and formally 'untwinning' Istanbul from Rotterdam, the more the Dutch public applauded their leader.
With violent scenes as Dutch police fought Turkish protesters on the streets of Rotterdam, the issue should have played well for Mr Wilders. Instead, it enhanced the standing of Mr Rutte.
So what next for Mr Wilders? According to Wouter de Winther, political editor of Dutch daily De Telegraaf, he is not going anywhere: 'He likes to be completely in charge of his party and he does all the talking. In a way, he is happier without lots of MPs to manage as it's all about him anyway.'
By common consent, Mr Wilders ran a lacklustre campaign, boycotting most of the debates and preferring to communicate, Donald Trump-style, via Twitter.
This was, in part, down to security fears. He leads a peculiar nomadic life thanks to the various fatwas and death threats on his unmissable peroxide head.
Forced to move between safehouses, he sees his wife only once a week. Most of his days are spent in his office in the securest corner of the Dutch parliament building.
Worried that this existence is having an effect on his waistline, he has apparently taken to sitting at his raised desk while riding an exercise bike beneath a portrait of his hero, Sir Winston Churchill.
Earlier this week, I watched him surface in public to cast his vote at a primary school in a new-build suburb of The Hague. A posse of four sharp-suited, crop-haired, armed police clung to him like limpets while teams of uniformed police politely corralled the Press and onlookers using their bicycles. All very Dutch.
PVV leader Geert Wilders spoke to the press on election night in The Hague, on March 15, 2017
The Dutch parliament building in The Hague
A small crowd of school parents had gathered to watch him. One or two voiced concerns that the country's top terrorist target should be at their children's school.
What was most interesting, however, was the number of people happy to voice open support for Mr Wilders and his policy.
'I voted for him, more as a protest vote than anything else,' said crane operator Rob Vreman, 37. 'I don't agree with what he says about Muslims. But it's time politicians started keeping their word.'
A trip around The Hague neatly illustrates the polar divisions within Dutch society. A 20-minute walk from the city centre takes you to Schilderswijk, once a poor white area, now almost entirely Moroccan. Mohammed, 40, is happy to chat at Arkoubi's fish shop.
The Hague, the political capital of the Netherlands
He deplores Mr Wilders' views on Islam but concurs on the subject of Europe. 'He is right about all the immigration coming from Eastern Europe and I would like to see us out of the euro,' he says.
His Dutch-born assistant, Karim, 25, agrees.
'Not all Dutch people are like Wilders,' he says. 'But I admire what Britain has done with Brexit. I'd like to see us do the same.'
Across town, the seaside district of Duindorp is very white and very pro-Wilders. 'I'm not sure I'd want him running the country but I voted for him to shake things up,' says pharmacy worker Fabiena, 26.
The place feels like Clacton, home to Ukip's solitary MP, Douglas Carswell. An elderly crowd is sitting outside a cafe. Who do they favour? 'Wilders!' they cry in unison. Why? 'Immigration.'
These issues are not going away following yesterday's outcome. Anyone who sees the Dutch result as a ringing endorsement of the same old EU is deluding themselves. Rather, the direction of travel is slowly shifting — and it is shifting away from the status quo.
Expect more of the same as the 2017 election triathlon continues.
Read more: Elite say it proves anti-migration populism is in decline | Daily Mail Online
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