Four weeks ago, on 6 May, it was fifteen years ago that Pim Fortuyn, the communist-turned-catholic, openly gay, flamboyant and luxury-loving elite newbie politician who essentially invented right-wing populism, was murdered a week before the 2002 elections. (His party went on to win 26 seats, but quickly fell apart without the leadership Fortuyn himself was supposed to bring. Wilders picked up the pieces in 2006.)
That meant retrospectives in the newspapers, and interviews with Fortuyn backers from fifteen years ago, especially in his home base Rotterdam.
One very interesting trend surfaced in these interviews: when asked who best represented Fortuyn’s ideas nowadays, the consensus was that Thierry Baudet of the FvD did. Geert Wilders was hardly mentioned. “Thierry is the new Pim.”
It appears as if in the media Baudet is quoted more often than Wilders now. That’s partly because he’s a new face in politics, and that always scores well. Also, the press is still annoyed at Wilders for essentially refusing to talk to them during the campaign. This was a serious strategic mistake of Wilders.
Yes, some populist voters agreed, Thierry is part of the reviled elite (house on the Amsterdam canals, plays classical music on his piano, fond of Latin quotes (which he butchers)), but he still understands what common people feel. This is reflected in the polls: Baudet’s FvD has clearly gone up since the elections, while the PVV has stalled.
Baudet fits the mould of Fortuyn better in the sense that both are of the elite, something that Wilders isn’t. Canny and experienced politician, sure. Tribune of the people, no doubt. But Wilders is not and will not ever be part of the elite.
Apparently the right-wing populists want to be represented by an elite figure. See also Trump in the US and Farage in the UK. (I’m not sure if Le Pen counts here; she comes from a political dynasty but neither she nor her father were ever part of France’s inner circle, or even looked as if they were.)
I will leave the trend-spotting to others, but will note here that this is a completely new situation for Wilders. From 2006 until the last elections he had the monopoly on right-wing populism, but that has been shattered now by a politician that is very unlike him. Currently Wilders isn’t saying much (or, if he does, the press is tired of reporting it), but eventually he will have to attack Baudet. Also, he will not want to enter a coalition without Baudet, since that would sully Wilders’s populist principles while keeping Baudet’s hands clean.
We can expect both Wilders and Baudet to be weakened by this internal strife in the populist camp, and it will be interesting to see if they’ll remain close to their current 22 seats combined.
One more data point to ponder.
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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.
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