Party profiles — FvD

There will be general elections next March, and the dozen-plus-a-few Dutch parties are preparing for them. It’s time for another series of party profiles. We’ll go in order from small to large according to the August 2020 polls.

Today we’ll continue with alt-right-ish FvD, which is becoming Wilders’s most serious electoral competitor. This will be the longest 2020 profile because FvD is the most important new party vying in the upcoming elections.

Full name
Forum voor Democratie
Forum for Democracy
Party leader
Thierry Baudet, since 2016
In parliament since
Protest party
Current seats
Polls (August 2020)

With the rise of FvD, sometimes called Forum, the Netherlands now have not one but two proto-fascist parties. I consider this quite a good idea, since it will divide the mouth-frothing angry right vote, and I can recommend it to the rest of the world.

Founded as a think tank in 2015, FvD’s original focus was the Ukraine referendum of 2016, where Dutch voters were asked to judge the fiendishly complicated association treaty between the EU and Ukraine. Calling this referendum was basically an act of right-wing vandalism, and the attempt was led by Thierry Baudet. It resulted in a rejection of the treaty (surprise! angry voters will vote against anything they don’t understand!), but the EU wisely decided to ignore these proceedings.

Still, Baudet’s name was made. Together with organiser Henk Otten he founded the FvD party in 2016 and participated in the 2017 elections. Rather to everyone’s surprise he won two seats. In the 2018 municipal elections FvD only ran in Amsterdam, and won 3 out of 45 seats. This was considered a disappoinment; the party thought it could win many more. But despite appearances Amsterdam and FvD are not a good match.

Early successes

FvD’s big win came with the 2019 provincial elections, where it became the largest party, narrowly ousting the VVD. Since the provincial States elect the Senate, FvD also became the largest party there. It expected to do as well in the European elections of the same year, but by that time internal troubles had become apparent, and the PvdA, headed by European commissionar and Europe-wide centre-left Spitzenkandidat Timmermans, became the largest party. Even worse, FvD was relegated to fourth place, after traditional parties PvdA, VVD, and CDA. This was a major disappointment. Still, Forum kept Wilders down to 0 seats. In fact, in all elections except for the 2017 national ones FvD won many more votes than the PVV.

As is to be expected in a right-wing new party, FvD had internal troubles from the outset. These mostly focused on party chairman Otten. In 2017 a group of more-or-less-well-known members complained about Otten’s dictatorial style of management (a common problem in such parties) and the lack of internal party democracy, and left FvD. More seriously, in 2019 Otten himself complained about Baudet’s dictatorial style and his infatuation with alt-right. This led to his split-off from the party, which was all the more painful since he was the party leader in the Senate. He took two other senators with him; read the sordid details.

Where after the provincial elections FvD soared to 15 seats in the polls, it is now gradually shedding them, and its current score is a still-respectable 11. Whether FvD will become larger than the PVV in 2021 is uncertain. The polls flat-out say No, and despite FvD’s earlier successes, voters consider national elections much more important than any other ones. Where FvD can gather quite a few protest votes in provincial, municipal or European elections, it is less likely to do so in the 2021 national elections.

The real question is how many seats the populist parties will win together. The magic number here is 28, the score the populists amassed in 2002. To this day this remains their high-water mark, and right now the polls don’t indicate a massive swing that will bring them well above 28.

Then again, the rally-round-the-flag effect of the Corona crisis netted the VVD about 10 extra seats, half of which came from the populists. It is possible they’ll revert back to them in the elections. And maybe FvD will attract new voters to populism — voters who until now supported one of the mainstream parties, most likely the VVD.

Even if the polls do indicate a swing, though, they should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s easy for a voter to tell a pollster he’ll vote populist this time, but once actual elections loom near many of them change their minds and go for a moderate party after all. Thus the polls may show an inflated seat count for the populists up until about two months before the elections.

Baudet and Hiddema

Like Wilders, Baudet is the undisputed leader of his movement. He affects an upper-class style that might seem at odds with his populist stance, but I personally believe that many populist voters are looking not for someone like themselves, but for a disgruntled aristocrat to lead them (see also Trump, D., and Johnson, B.) Baudet tries to fit that profile.

Baudet lives in a house on the Amsterdam canals, likes to play classical music on his piano, dresses well, with even a hint of snobbishness, and occasionally attempts to speak Latin: his maiden speech in parliament started in the ancient tongue. See this small fry edition, final point in the first list, and this one, second to last point, for a take-down by Cambridge don Mary Beard. I’m not sure what kind of point Baudet is trying to make, but I do know I’d enjoy an actual classically schooled politician taking him on in Latin.

Still, Baudet does come across as someone who desperately wants to belong to the inner circle of the upper class, but doesn’t actually have what it takes. He is sometimes too eager to prove his intellectual bona fides.

FvD’s second seat in parliament is taken by Theo Hiddema, a well-known lawyer whose father was a Nazi — as in, an actual card-carrying member of the pre-war National Socialist Movement NSB. Theo was born at the end of the war, and was left-wing in his youth. Still, one of his most-publicised cases as a lawyer was his 1986 defense of the Black Widow, Florrie Rost van Tonningen, the widow of an NSB bigwig who received a parliamentary pension because her husband had been MP from 1937 to 1940, and used it to school the new generations in nazi ideology and reminisce about Hitler, Himmler, and other high nazis she’d actually known in her youth. Hiddema won the trial.

Culturally, Hiddema and Baudet are a match, with Hiddema holding office on the Amsterdam canals, dressing well, and projecting an upper-class image — without the slight strain that characterises Baudet.

In any case, this is quite a different set of people than the ones that populate the PVV.

Differences between PVV and FvD

That brings us to the differences between FvD and PVV. See also this Foreign Policy article and this Quora page.

FvD is a real political party, in the sense that people can become members and can vote in internal elections and platform proposals. In contrast, the PVV remains a party with only two members: Geert Wilders and the Geert Wilders Foundation.

Still, despite the 'democracy' bit in its name, it’s unclear how democratic FvD is internally. First party chairman Otten, and then leader Baudet were accused of dictatorial behaviour, and it’s likely these allegations are true. FvD was described here as an oligarchy, and that seems to be on the mark.

Oligarchy, or outright dictatorship, is common in right-wing and in new parties, and even in established parties the leadership sometimes pushes through some sort of compromise over the objections of the rank and file. We will find out if the 'democracy' part holds any truth, though I guess Baudet should get half a point for at least paying lip service to the idea.

Where 'democracy' might be in question, the 'forum' part is undeniably true. Baudet and the others get ample forums for their ideas. Where the national media used to hang onto every crumb of wisdom Wilders dropped from his lips, they’ve now switched their attention to Baudet.

In addition, Baudet is somewhat more circumspect in his utterances. Where Wilders calls for closing mosques and banning the Qoran, both of which are impossible, Baudet doesn’t. He tries to keep the party decent, and is distinctly less mouth-frothing angry than Wilders. Despite being influenced by the alt-right much more than Wilders, he talks less about Islam (though everyone know what he means when he talks about people who hate their homeland: the reviled Left that brought in the migrants). Instead, climate scepsis is more his thing, and he’s too clever to just start shouting about it.

This change of tone might make him more acceptable to upper-middle class voters who reject Wilders’s low-born populism out of hand. On the whole, this, I believe, points to the biggest difference between FvD and PVV: Wilders is a man of the (right-wing) people, talks like it, and is supported by them. Baudet, on the other hand, cultivates an intellectual aura that is helped by the fact that FvD candidates and bigwigs are usually quite well educated, in contrast to their PVV counterparts.

Thus, FvD has an upper-bourgeois aura of respectability that the PVV lacks. Not only does that help Forum break into the higher stata of society, it also makes it less of a periphery party and more of a western one, at home in the big cities and small towns of the west, while Wilders gets relatively more votes in the periphery.

Finally, it’s Wilders, and not Baudet, who talks most often about gay and women emancipation. Not that it’s a huge topic for him, but he uses the distinct lack of emancipation in conservative muslim circles as a stick to hit them with, and besides he still considers himself the true heir of the founder of Dutch populism, Pim Fortuyn, who was openly, flamboyantly gay and knew troublesome Moroccan boys mostly from between the sheets (haw haw funny; but this is something Fortuyn actually said).

Baudet, in keeping with his reactionary outlook, stays mum about these topics because they may go against the interests of the mediocre white men who form his electorate. Well, gay emancipation not so much, but women’s emancipation...

Wilders is much more at home in parliament than Baudet is. Wilders is the third-longest-sitting MP (after SGP leader Van der Staaij and speaker Arib (PvdA)), knows parliamentary procedure inside-out, and is able to score points with that knowledge. Baudet doesn’t appear to be much interested in working in parliament, and mainly uses it as a forum to give a high-sounding but actually confused speech about this or that topic.

At the risk of overusing stereotypes, let’s say that the typical PVV voter is a white medium-to-low-educated worker on a lousy contract, living in the periphery and pining for the good old days where the welfare state made sure working-class people could earn a decent living, while the typical FvD voter is a well-educated upper-middle-class mediocre white man from a western town or city, who is afraid that recent changes in society will deny him the plum jobs he feels entitled to. The question is which of these groups is larger. The polls indicate that the PVV still holds the upper hand.

Interestingly, it turns out that in 2019 47% of Wilders voters were women against only 39% of Baudet voters. Entitled white men anyone?

I hope this thumbnail sketch gives you an idea of the differences between FvD and PVV, and why they appeal to different sections of populist voters. Again, the polls peg the PVV as somewhat larger than FvD, but we’ll see what happens in the elections.

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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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