‘Fit in or get out’

Glen Newey

In the week the Netherlands goes to the polls, the irruption of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan into the Dutch election has wrenched the campaign out of its somnolence. At the weekend, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and the family minister, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, came to campaign among Netherlands-based Turks for next month’s plebiscite over extending President Erdoğan’s powers. The Dutch government banned Çavuşoğlu from entering the country and, after stopping Kaya entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, kicked her out into Germany. Turkey has had a long-standing friendship with the Netherlands since Atatürk’s day. ‘Security’, that trusty standby for squelching political inconvenience, is cited as the reason for banning the ministers and their Rotterdam rally. Early on Sunday, police dispersed demonstrators with dogs and water cannon. Erdoğan has accused the Dutch government of Nazism.

Populist movements, until a charismatic demagogue comes along to coax inchoate silliness into full-throated idiocy, often start life as headless chickens. The Dutch far-right Partij Voor Vrijheid or Party for Freedom (PVV) is more like a chickenless head. Geert Wilders is its only member. With his perma-peroxided bouffant – maybe a 7.3 on the Trump trichological scale – Wilders cuts a faintly ludicrous if distinctive figure. Covering almost a whole side of A4, the PVV’s programme for freedom includes banning the Koran and banning Muslim women from wearing headscarves; as usual when people bang on about freedom, the question is whose freedom. These positions, and Wilders’s recent conviction for whipping up a mob of supporters (‘Do you want more or fewer Moroccans?’ – ‘Fewer!’ – ‘Then we’ll take care of that’) have led some parties, though not all, to reject working with the PVV after the election.

It is said that Wilders and his followers are a band of ‘weglopers’, a term that translates as ‘walkers-away’ but might be rendered by Thatcher’s old playground insult: ‘frit’. Suspicion grows that Wilders strikes these policy poses not despite their torpedoing of the possibility of coalition with other parties, but because of it. So far the PVV has run candidates in only a few of the 388 municipalities. When enough PVV-ers were elected to enter into coalition negotiations in Almere and The Hague, they managed to snatch opposition from the jaws of power by insisting on a headscarf ban for council workers, well aware that other parties wouldn’t swallow it.

Dutch electoral politics is a game designed so that no one can win. Elections for the Second Chamber treat the country as one super-sized PR constituency, and there is no minimum vote threshold, so minor parties can reckon on bagging one or two seats. The result is a fruit salad of single-issue parties, pressure groups, religious fanatics and self-promoters; the only question is how much banana you’ll get. When, as always, no single party gets a majority, mainstream party leaders have to haggle with the likes of the Fifty-Plussers, the Animals’ Party and the Pirate Party. Coalitions usually need at least three parties to get over the 76-seat majority threshold.

Foreign coverage has focused on Wilders’s chance of becoming prime minister. This is the square root of not much. In campaign polls, the PVV has alternated in the lead with the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD), led by the incumbent prime minister, Mark Rutte. Each has been in the early twenties in the polls, which will translate into about 25 seats each. Wilders won't have enough seats or coalition partners to govern. If the PVV is running the ‘wegloper’ strategy, what game is it playing? Polls suggest its supporters overwhelmingly want the PVV to be in government rather than outside it. Doubtless it’s more fun to piss into the tent than be stuck inside, unable to relieve oneself. Wilders also knows that his lease on popularity rests on opposing the establishment rather than joining it. He aims to pull other parties rightwards without having to ‘dilute the wine’, as the Dutch saying goes.

The ructions with Turkey suggest this strategy is working. News video of upset Muslims waving Turkish flags in Rotterdam are electoral gold for Wilders, as for Erdoğan, and precisely what Rutte wanted to avoid. In January, Rutte – a mild-mannered conservative in the John Major mould – placed newspaper ads with a stark message aimed at Muslims: ‘Doe normaal of ga weg.’ An obvious shift to stanch the outflow of VVD votes to the PVV, the slogan effectively says ‘Fit in or get out’ – fit in, that is, with Dutch values such as 'tolerance'. Rutte’s expulsion of the Turkish ministers and cancelling of their rally is in keeping with this, to show voters flirting with the PVV how much more democratic than Turkey the Netherlands is.


  • 13 March 2017 at 1:02pm
    Michael Schuller says:
    Convieniently omitted from Newey's summary (and quite a lot of other coverage of this and the cancelled German campaign events) is the Turkish ministers' refusal to obtain the proper permission from either Germany or the Netherlands to hold political rallies in their countries. In Germany, for example, the rallies were organized under false pretence, and the actual purpose -- campaigning for the Turkish referrendum -- only given a few days in advance. In the case of the Netherlands, the ministers were denied entry in advance, but tried to come anyway, obviously hoping to create political ammunition from the snafu that followed (and rather succeeding).

    The political fig-leaf of "security" is indeed overused, and I'm not arguing for any sympathy with Rutte's "fit in or get out" slogan (unpleasant memories of May's "Go home or face arrest" adverts come to mind). But it isn't as if Erdoğan's ministers were being picked on or dragged into a game of political football unwittingly.

    • 13 March 2017 at 3:33pm
      IPFreely says: @ Michael Schuller
      Agreed. The main purpose is to stir up a bit of bother in both countries and then have it reported at home: how these 'so-called democracies' stop our brave leaders from speaking to our fellow citizens. There is a law in Turkey that is supposed to forbid electioneering in other states.

  • 14 March 2017 at 1:37pm
    fbkun says:
    A few comments :
    - For all its faults, the Dutch electoral system is far more democratic than most other systems, starting with the dreadful "first past the post" British system.
    - Mr Newey fails to mention several recent incidents that have fueled Dutch irritation towards Erdogan's regime. They include the arrest, for several weeks, of a Dutch-Turkish journalist because she had supposedly "insulted" Erdogan in one of her articles ; the threats directed in the Netherlands at tens of thousands of Dutch-Turks after the alleged coup against Erdogan, with lists of "traitors" published online, physical violences, etc. --- all of this evidently organized by the AKP or its Trojan horses in the Netherlands, including the DENK party.

    • 15 March 2017 at 1:04pm
      hag says: @ fbkun
      Is it a case of extremists across Europe having at last hit on a way to co-operate in order to boost their noxious profiles - by shouting at each other, rather than their liberal competitors? Or is the press only just noticing?

  • 14 March 2017 at 1:58pm
    greensladem says:
    Dutch society is being asymmetrically outflanked from within & without by startlingly similar adversaries.

  • 14 March 2017 at 6:12pm
    twlldynpobsais says:
    Covering almost a whole side of A4, the PVV’s programme for freedom includes banning the Koran and banning Muslim women from wearing headscarves;

    Looks like the European Court of Justice does not find "faintly ludicrous" the banning of Muslim headscarves from the workplace.

  • 14 March 2017 at 9:11pm
    kooijman says:
    You'll get no argument from me in your evaluation of Geert Wilders and his "party of one." But unfortunately the author jumps to a number of unwarranted conclusions as to the relationship between the electoral positions of Wilders and Rutte, and the recent diplomatic brouhaha between the Netherlands and Turkey. Others have already commented that the Turkish ministers were not simply trying to exercise their Human Rights as Erdogan would have it. They were not just electioneering abroad (contrary to Turkish election law) but actually trying to engineer a fracas between the supporters of Erdogan's AK party in the Netherlands, and his opponents, primarily the "Gulenists" (who are positively persecuted by the Turkish Consul in the Netherlands and his henchmen) and the more left-wing secularists, who support the old "Kemalist" order in Turkey (Incidentally, all these people are dual citizens, with both Dutch and Turkish nationality). Such a fracas would have been a threat to the public peace, which the Muslim mayor of Rotterdam, Achmed Abolutaleb (indeed, a Dutchman of Moroccan descent) was sworn to protect. Aboutaleb therefore had sufficient cause for his "emergency order" to vacate the neighborhood of the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, where the rally of the AK party was to take place. And the Turkish minister of Family Affairs, who had illegally entered the country (Turkey is not a Schengen country, after all) with her motorcade of heavily-armed bodyguards, violated this order and was therefore lawfully expelled as an "undesirable alien". This was not a violation of the Vienna Convention, as the Turks allege, nor a violation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (cf. artt. 51 and 52 of the Charter). I think British authorities would not have acted differently in similar circumstances. In any case, I think the link with the anti-immigrant policies Mr. Wilders is promoting is spurious in this case, let alone an "Islamophobic animus" on the part of the Dutch government. Maybe an anti-fascist animus though, as the Dutch are very worried about the fascistoid tendencies in Erdogan's Turkey, which remain unmentioned in the article.

  • 14 March 2017 at 9:14pm
    streetsj says:
    Is irruption the right word? Isn't that something bursting in on itself? Invasion might be better...

  • 14 March 2017 at 9:56pm
    hag says:
    "Dutch electoral politics is a game designed so that no one can win."
    Is democracy about winning, then, rather than representation?
    Game metaphors aside: It will be interesting to see if PR finds a way to guard against mob rule; we have already seen that first-past-the-post is unable to.

    • 16 March 2017 at 9:08am
      Joshua K says: @ hag
      "mob rule": aka, when I don't get the result I want

    • 21 March 2017 at 3:58pm
      hag says: @ Joshua K
      Being a self-doubting, effete liberal I thought so, too, but then I read up on it, and it seems 'mob rule' is a startlingly accurate description of UK politics right now.
      Who would have thunk it? John Major had a point....

  • 15 March 2017 at 3:59am
    Henry Barth says:
    Immigration without assimilation is invasion.

    • 15 March 2017 at 10:04am
      Joe Morison says: @ Henry Barth
      How very Borg of you - resistance is futile.

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