The election results show a massive shift to the centre. Not a radical centre but a rational one. It’s also a new centre albeit made up of two old parties, writes Paul Schnabel.
Together the VVD and Labour have won a large majority in parliament. It’s so large that neither party can form a majority cabinet with other parties of similar persuasion. This turns a comfortable majority into a decidedly uncomfortable one because it means the two have no choice but to get into bed together. A forced marriage is seldom a happy one.
But some good may come of it if both partners accept the fact it was the voters who played matchmaker.
In such a marriage of convenience, love may blossom eventually but the basis is still a sound, business-like agreement. Royal couples have known this for centuries. Yesterday’s results don’t leave room for manoeuvre. The Dutch didn’t follow their emotions or an ideology. They voted strategically albeit within the margins of their political leanings – a bit more to the left, a bit more to the right – but did not necessarily go for the party they felt most at home with ideologically or personally.
The net result is that we now have two comparatively big parties in parliament, each flanked by one or more radical variants who can have very little hope of ever besting their more moderate neighbour. This gives VVD and Labour an opportunity to concentrate on each other and move much further towards the political middle ground than either ever wanted, or dared.
The Socialist party and the PVV can be counted on to act as political gadflies. They may sting but if it means the partners will stick it out for the next four years it’s a small price to pay.
The old political centre has ceased to be. The departure from denomination-led politics has now reached the CDA faithful as well. Politics based on religion has turned into protestant conviction politics, with the number of voters about equal to the number of churchgoers. The CDA has been halved and the party has definitely had to relinquish its role of play-maker, benignly choosing a partner, now from the left, now from the right.
It may still be useful as a buffer between the still uneasy partnership of the VVD and Labour if either of these parties should feel the need. D66 is almost in a similar position. Neither party is necessary for a majority but their presence could make things run a little more smoothly.
The Dutch democracy is alive and lively. Voters are no longer faithful to one party but are casting a very critical eye on politics and politicians. They are more interested in politics than ever before. During the last five years of crisis and after five governments in ten years, they have come to realise that it’s stability, continuity and an effective administration that we need.
Cabinets and parliaments should be able to work together for four years. The fall of a cabinet means policy-making will be on hold for nearly a year. This has been happening too often and in very quick succession over the last years. The weeks and months that were needed on each occasion to come up with a coalition agreement are nothing compared to its execution. Moreover, after a year in government the last cabinet had to come to the conclusion that the 2010 coalition agreement would not be feasible in light of the developments in Europe.
Ideally, a new coalition agreement should contain nothing more than the intention to get the state’s finances back on the rails and the euro out of intensive care.
The Netherlands can be proud of these election results.
Paul Schnabel is head of the government social policy unit SCP
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