RELIEF at the failure of Geert Wilders’s racist Freedom Party to win power in the Netherlands should not blind us to the real lessons of the election.
European leaders rushed to salute a “victory against extremism” (France’s President Francois Hollande), “a very pro-European result” (Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel) and the “responsibility” of the Dutch (Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy).
Defeat for the Freedom Party is certainly worth celebrating.
A party set on shutting mosques and banning the Koran has no place in civilised politics. In government it would intensify the harassment and persecution of Muslims and other minorities, and risk sparking the kind of ethnic and sectarian race war that the far right — from the English Defence League to Isis — dream of.
But Wilders’s defeat is relative. The Freedom Party still gained seats, ending up with 20 where it previously had 15.
Victorious Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s right-wing VVD outfit lost seats and vote share, down from 41 to 33 and 27 per cent to 21.
More ominously, its “victory” came after an unseemly contest to outdo Wilders’s racist populism. Rutte ran adverts warning immigrants to “be normal or be gone” and said in newspaper interviews that foreigners who had trouble with Dutch customs should “get out — you don’t have to be here.”
The whole performance was rounded off by a pathetic attempt to pose as the insurgent despite being the sitting prime minister, railing against a supposedly pro-immigrant court ruling on Facebook and declaring it was “precisely why I and many other people are rebelling.”
It’s all depressingly reminiscent of the situation in this country, where Ukip’s welcome inability to make any headway politically is offset by the adoption of its xenophobic policies by the party of government.
We all share a responsibility to stop this happening, which is why a massive attendance at tomorrow’s Stand Up to Racism marches in London, Cardiff and Glasgow is vital.
The dismal fate of Rutte’s coalition partners in the Dutch Labour Party, left with just nine seats in a wipeout reminiscent of the Lib Dems in 2015, shows the price paid by social democratic parties when they act as accomplices to the free-market fanatics of the right in implementing spending cuts and privatisation.
It also illustrates that jumping on the anti-immigrant bandwagon, which Dutch Labour did, is not a vote-winner for the left, merely serving to legitimise the poison and boost the vote for right-wing parties.
There are too many minor parties in Dutch politics for a blow-by-blow account of the electoral fortunes of each, but the message of this week’s vote is a familiar one.
Parties associated with the status quo were punished. In a parliament of 150 members, what had been the ruling coalition lost 37 seats. The working class is hardest hit by the cuts and sell-offs being implemented across Europe as the EU seeks to boost corporate profits by inviting private companies to exploit public services and by driving down wages.
Supposedly socialist parties which connive at austerity lose more votes than parties of the traditional right, precisely because it is they who are hurting their core supporters by dancing to the tune of big business. So Dutch Labour lost 29 seats, while the VVD lost just eight.
Parties which promise a break with the system are rewarded — and the Green Left, more than tripling its number of seats, was this time a bigger beneficiary than the far right.
The left should take heed, in Britain and across Europe. People are clamouring for change. We will not start winning until we are radical enough to deserve it. Now is no time to be a moderate.