Debate 1 March

Yesterday the leaders of CDA, PvdA, VVD, PVV, SP, and D66 debated each other on TV, and continued on the Internet. I watched both so you don’t have to.


Officially this debate was about the local elections, but in practice it wasn’t, although most participants mumbled something about local issues from time to time.

And once again Wilders has succeeded in drawing the debate to his topic: immigration. Not entirely; there was room for other topics, but without a doubt the thing most people will remember is Wilders ranting on about how the Moroccans are destroying Dutch society and how Islam is evil etc. etc.

These debates usually have curious formats, and this one was no exception. Three topics were chosen (immigration as well as two others that nobody remembers now), and two politicians debated one topic before opening it up to the rest of the floor.

On immigration, Bos (PvdA) was chosen to battle Wilders. He did as good a job as one could expect when drawn into the enemy’s lines of reasoning on the battlefield of the enemy’s choice. Still, in the end Wilders was better, not because of his technique but because he owns the immigration topic.

In fact, D66 leader Pechtold drew some useful conclusions. He objected to the whole presentation of the immigration topic, including a tendentious little film with creepy Moroccans and all that, and besides he pushed most for CDA and VVD to declare themselves when it comes to Wilders. He also reiterated that Wilders’s ideas are a danger to Dutch society; and not the immigrants.

SP leader Kant went one step further and denounced Wilders personally. Understandable, but counter-productive. Bos immediately moved to stop Kant: the problem was not Wilders’s person, but his ideas. And in the end Bos is right. If you denounce Wilders as a person you’re doing the same he does.

In any case, the left’s strategy should be clear now:

  1. Talking about immigration only helps Wilders. Change the subject. A bit of immigration is probably unavoidable in a debate (some voters do care about these issues) but put it first on the list, let Wilders make his point, get it over with, and then change the subject permanently.
  2. There’s an economic crisis going on, for instance. Why not talk about that for a while? Wilders is pretty lousy when he speaks about anything outside his comfort zone. In the Internet part he replied to an education question, and he was mumbling even more nonsense than the CDA. He just doesn’t know anything about economics in the broadest sense of the word.
  3. The left should attack not Wilders but his most likely allies. Ask CDA and VVD time and again whether they want to govern with Wilders. They won’t reply (either Yes or No would cause them to lose some voters), but that makes them look untrustworthy.

Van Geel’s lie

To me as a history buff the most curious aspect of the debate was a blatant, unnecessary lie of CDA parliamentary leader Van Geel (catholic).

The question was whether a christian could support Wilders. Since the CDA never excludes any party from coalitions ever, Van Geel had to spare Wilders. He properly replied that a christian’s vote is something between him and his conscience. If he’d left it at that, it would have been fine.

Instead, Van Geel added that (my praraphrase) “we never told anyone what to vote, not even in the fifties.” He later repeated that line for good measure. It was completely unnecessary: nobody was worrying about the fifties; everybody was talking about the present state of things.

Besides, it’s a lie. A blatant, bald-faced, deliberate lie.

In 1954 the Dutch bishops issued a so-called “Mandement” that forbade all catholics from becoming members of any socialist organisation, or to vote socialist. Politically, the catholic KVP wanted to keep its left wing from defecting to the PvdA.

The backlash was severe. Not only socialists, but also protestants and liberals protested the bishops’ interference with the political process. In the 1956 elections the PvdA became larger than the KVP for the first time. (But guess whom the PvdA had to form a coalition with?)

In any case, I do not understand for the life of me why Van Geel added the fifties remark when it was both uncalled for and a lie. This does not matter in the large scheme of things, but it makes me wonder.

It also forces me to conclude that neither politicians nor political journalists know anything about Dutch political history. But that’s nothing new.

<— Party profile — VVD | Small fry; 2 March —>

This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.


Comments (closed)

1 Posted by Hal Incandenza on 5 March 2010 | Permalink

Van Geel didn't lie, because he said: "We shouldn't have done it in the fifties". And something like: "it was the wrong thing to do then and it would wrong now."

I don't particulary like van Geel, but he was right on this one, because he said the opposite of what you heard.

2 Posted by ppk on 5 March 2010 | Permalink

OK, I may have misheard. I should now go back to the debate and listen to Van Geel's remark again, but I don't have the time.

So let's say I misheard (although I'm sure that I thought of the Mandement as soon as Van Geel made his remark).

3 Posted by Urbe Politicus on 14 March 2010 | Permalink

What general positions do the CDA and VVD hold on immigration?

What about GL, D66, SP?

I have some ideas but would like to hear from one familiar with the Dutch political scene.

4 Posted by ppk on 14 March 2010 | Permalink

CDA and VVD talk a lot about tough punishments for foreigners who break the law, and demand that immigrants learn Dutch and behave with respect. They're not nearly as extreme as Wilders, though.

The left-wing parties say the same, but with more emphasis on the fact that the country is and should be one society.

One of the problems Fortuyn and Wilders created is that every single party has shifted from multiculturalism to a tough stand. There is little debate on these issues, although an astounding amount of ink is spilled to keep up the appearance of a public debate.

But for now Wilders owns the immigration topic and can call it from the wings whenever he wants to. That has to stop before we can have a mature discussion.