This morming Lodewijk Asscher resigned as PvdA leader due to the evolving childcare benefit scandal. It is as yet unclear who will succeed him. The (online) PvdA party congress, slated for Thursday and Friday, has been postponed.
I have mostly ignored the childcare benefit scandal because I am not 100% certain of the details, and I thought everyone would forgive one another and it wouldn’t have a lasting impact. That turns out to be incorrect.
Briefly, poorer parents are entitled to certain childcare benefit payments, which are dispensed by the tax service. It turns out that countless parents have been wrongly marked as fraudsters and had to pay back their benefits, which they usually were unable to do. Meanwhile civil servants at the tax service and politicians looked the other way, until parliament, notably CDA member (and former party leadership candidate) Omtzigt, got hold of the affair. Recently parliament conducted an inquiry that resulted in a scathing report.
The scandal spans this government and the preceding one, which means just about all senior politicians of the broad centre are involved. In the current government VVD, CDA, and D66 ministers were responsible, and in the previous Rutte II government VVD and PvdA ministers were repsonsible, among which then-social affairs minister Asscher.
In the last week or so the question if government would resign over this scandal has become quite a talking point. It would mostly be a cosmetic resignation; regular elections will be held in March, and the current government would continue its job, just as a demissionary government that isn’t allowed to take senstive decisions. Of course, the ongoing Corona crisis requires sensitive decisions, and Rutte already said that if he would resign and continue as demissionary prime minister, he would continue to do what was necessary in the Corona crisis.
The argument that a government resignation in the midst of a pandemic is a bad idea appeared to carry the day. Until today, that is.
Now Asscher has taken his responsibility. In the past week he was attacked within the PvdA; some members held that his credibility as a social-democratic leader had been annihilated. They have a point, and the PvdA dropped in the most recent polls, indicating that its remaining voters agreed. Thus Asscher decided to quit.
By quitting now Asscher is doing his party a service, not only by making way for a less controversial leader, but also by holding up a mirror to government. Asscher has taken his responsibility, when will Rutte? Pressure on Rutte has just gone up sky high. The other coalition parties CDA, D66, and CU were already said to be in favour of resignation; they calculate that it would hurt the VVD a lot more than it would hurt them. And with the VVD appearing unassailable in the polls they can use some help in bringing it down. I expect them to double down on resignation.
Note that if government actually resigns it will have little impact on day to day affairs, especially the Corona crisis. Still, it would damage Rutte, and that’s what this exercise is all about.
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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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