Wouter Bos: CDA and populism don’t go together

Things aren’t going very well for the CDA, writes Wouter Bos. The Christian Democrats would do well to reconsider their populist opposition strategy.  


For a red-blooded Feyenoord fan things couldn’t be better at the moment. And some fervent Ajax fans even think we’ve earned it. ‘I’m really happy Feyenoord is doing so well, I hope they’ll get to second place,’ was one slightly disingenuous comment.

Nevertheless, when Ajax nosedived I was quite worried. Dutch football benefits from a broad top with well-functioning grassroots clubs able to attract and coach local talent. Even if it does come from Amsterdam.

Something similar is happening to Dutch politics. PvdA, CDA and VVD – the grassroots parties of Dutch politics – all want to win but in general they don’t like to see their competitors being marginalised long-term.

It’s time we talked about the CDA. It is not doing well. And I’m not happy about it, especially since its downward slide is accompanied by a thinning out of the political middle and a strengthening of the uncompromising flanks. I think this does not bode well for the governability of the country.


The Christian Democrats can hardly be happy about it themselves. Of the 36 seats this coalition has lost according to the last Maurice de Hond poll, only two went to the CDA.

You’d think therefore that the party would reconsider its chosen opposition strategy. It is very populist, in the first place because the party is emphatically oppositional and unwilling to be counted on for support by Labour and the VVD, either in parliament or the senate. Secondly, they have rejected all the major reforms, from housing to healthcare. And finally, the Christian Democrats have chosen to replace the financial robustness they campaigned so hard for with criticism of the budgetary decisions of the government without coming up with alternatives.

The hole that has formed by rejecting the housing accord, the AWBZ cutbacks and other measures is now between €5bn and €10bn. I can’t wait to see the CDA’s counter budget in September.


The CDA’s populist strategy took many by surprise. The VVD especially had expected the Christian Democrats to position themselves to its right, and, as the guardians of right-wing values – including financial robustness – see to it these wouldn’t be compromised during the negotiations with those pesky socialists. But they didn’t. The political middle was left to D66.

Is this strategy going to work? I don’t think so. Here are three reasons why.

One: others, like the SP, PVV and 50Plus, do populist better. Two: populism and Sybrand van Haersma Buma don’t go together. You can say what you like about Jan Peter Balkenende but not that he didn’t match his message of robustness, norms and values and don’t rock the boat. Buma and populism just isn’t a match. Three: a party can change and innovate only so much without losing its credibility. There is a small margin for reform but step outside it and you will create unrest and lose seats.

I experienced as much when I put the fiscalisation of the state pension on the agenda. Jolande Sap, then leader of GroenLinks, exerienced it when she became too Kunduz-friendly and Emile Roemer of the Socialists when he decided the pension age hike wasn’t a problem after all.

The CDA with their lack of interest in governability, responsibility and financial robustness, is running the same risk, not least because if they are elected they would have to make another u-turn to return to the ‘old’ Christian Democrat views.

I hope the CDA will make a speedy recovery. But I’m not holding my breath.

Wouter Bos is a columnist and political scientist.

This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant

Thank you for donating to DutchNews.nl.

We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.

Make a donation