Wouter Bos: I will let you in on my plans beforehand (for a change)

Former finance minister Wouter Bos has turned columnist for the Volkskrant. In his first effort he explains why.


When I told Ronald Plasterk (former education minister, DN) I was going to follow in his columnist footsteps at the Volkskrant, he immediately had these encouraging words to say: ‘this is an impressive career development. It could make you education minister. Or even a candidate for the party leadership!’
Maybe I should put paid to the whispers here and now: this is not the first step on my way to a come-back. For the last two years I have enjoyed life outside of politics. And it has taught my ego a healthy lesson too. The last time I was recognised and spoken to by a member of the public was at a playground picnic table when a kind lady asked if I worked in the local real estate office. And before that, someone yelled from across the street wanting to know when I was going to show my face again on Voetbal International and if Johan Derksen and René van der Gijp were weirdos in real life too.
Ok, I admit it, every once in a while, in a dark corner of the super market, someone would tell me they missed me as a politician. I treasure those moments because, after the De Wit report, no one will ever tell me again. And before you think the Volkskrant wanted to compensate me for their handling of the report in general and my role in the crisis in particular it by making me a columnist, you would be wrong. The editor in chief and I had an agreement before the de Wit committee shared its pearls of wisdom with the populace.
So why do I want to be a columnist? I will reveal all here and now, in the spirit of De Wit. My therapist thought this would be an excellent way of kicking the political habit: I can air my opinions but from the relative safety of the sidelines. Exactly like those columnists who plagued me throughout my political life. The ones who had no idea what they were talking about and saw conspiracies everywhere, and who – and they told me so to my face – weren’t in the business of reporting and so didn’t have to bother with minor details like checking the facts. The ones who were never held to account when the line between irony, sarcasm and serious analyses became precariously thin.
Having said that, these and other aspects of the relationship between the media and politics have always fascinated me. Here we have two worlds that sometimes bring out the worst in each other. I know, I was a party to it many a time. It’s a subject I shall enjoy writing about, and I will not spare this paper.
But it won’t be my only subject. I want to write about how Alexander Pechtold was a much better leader of the opposition during the last cabinet than he is now, how to combat populism, why the Olympic Games shouldn’t come to the Netherlands, what is was that Ruth Peetoom said to Maxime Verhagen when he left the Catshuis, how Mark Rutte one rainy afternoon whispered a winning opposition strategy into Ivo Opstelten’s ear and why Sarkozy will be the first government leader who won’t be voted off for a policy of cutbacks.
And I will give you the lowdown on how negotiations for tv debates are conducted, which are the classic mistakes during interviews, how to campaign, why images supersede facts, what is happening in the international social-democratic movement and how the centre parties may recover. And perhaps I will also write about market forces in healthcare, and who should be to blame for the bonus culture, the significance of Pim Fortuyn, the trouble with the CPB figures and why François Hollande will beat Sarkozy after all. And yes, I will also write about the PvdA. And no, I didn’t sign a statement saying I would tow the party line.
Maybe I should explain once more why I’ll be commenting from the sidelines every fortnight. The Volkskrant is my kind of paper. Many of its readers are people who have the same outlook on life as I have. They are progressive, open-minded, willing to look over borders and have a healthy interest in the views of the opposition. Having to read Marcel van Dam every single Thursday might prove a bit too much, even for them. Being able to reduce that frequency by 50% decided it for me.
Wouter Bos (48) is a partner at professional services firm KPMG where he is responsible for healthcare. He was political leader of the PvdA and finance minister and deputy prime minister under Jan Peter Balkenende from 2007 to 2010.
This column was published earlier by the Volkskrant


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