A month on, it’s still not clear just who won the Dutch election. Was it the sitting Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, of the centre-right Liberals, who finished in first place and gained ten seats? Was it his centre-left opponent, Diederik Samson, who went from a battle for survival to within touching distance of survival? Was it an endorsement of Europe or a rout for the political extreme?
Despite the hopes of some amongst the left-leaning commentariat of a government of the broad left (Samson’s Labour Party, the ecologically-minded GroenLinks, and the far-left Socialist Party), the Labour leadership favours a two-party coalition with their traditional opponents, the Liberals, even going so far as to publically state a preference for a two-party government over a return
to the multi-party ‘purple’ coalitions that Labour favoured under Wim Kok.
While Samson and Rutte might not have appeared in a rose garden together just yet, they’ve already agreed an early budget resolution – a combination of deficit reduction and fiscal stimulus – which means that the next few weeks are really about haggling for position. Barring a sudden bust-up between the two, the next Dutch government will be comprised of both Liberals and Labour. This isn’t like a Lib-Lab coalition in 2015; this is Ed Miliband playing the role of Nick Clegg.
The policy benefits are clear. For the Liberals, it ends a period of dangerous reliance upon the far-right Freedom Party and the eccentric whims of their leader, Geert Wilders. But the last coalition with the right almost destroyed the Dutch Labour Party; why do it again?
In part, it’s because, for all the closeness between some of the Labour Party’s left flank and the Socialist Party’s reformist tendency, watching the Liberals struggle to contain the Freedom Party has dampened the enthusiasm for a coalition of centre-left with hard left. But it’s also a matter of numbers: a coalition of the Left would struggle in the upper house, and would rely only on precedent and the goodwill of the right to pass measures. The Thorning-Schmidt precedent, where the Danish Social Democrats have struggled to manage their diverse coalition, is preying on the minds of Labour thinkers.
Labour strategists, however, might have cause to regret this latest round. Barring a fantastic debate performance from Samson – and an implosion from the Socialist leader Roemer – Labour would have finished third or possibly even fourth. Rightly or wrongly, the Labour Party struggled to fend off the suggestion that they were little different from the Liberals; that will be even harder at the next election.
It might yet, however, be the salvation of Labour. They had precious little option – an alliance with the unreliable Socialists could have ended just as badly – and a two-party coalition should serve out a full term, when Labour could benefit from a Europe-wide recovery. But, just like the Liberals here, Labour is betting the farm on the economy. If it goes wrong, they could end up where they were just a few months ago: staring into the abyss.
This Week’s European Talking Points
- Oh, Silvio, say it isn’t so. Mired in scandal and beset by bad polling, the three-time former Prime Minister has ruled out another tilt at the top job, and suggested that Mario Monti, the technocratic Prime Minister, might be the best man to deliver a right-wing government.
- Oh, Monsier Normal! Francois Hollande and Valerie Trierwaller are involved in another scandal, as a new book alleges that Mme Trierwaller was sleeping with both the President and a minister in the Sarkozy government at the same time.
-If you think Scottish Labour’s got problems, talk to the Socialist Party of Catalonia. Like Scottish Labour, they face a pro-independence party with a charismatic frontman – and a month from the regional elections, they face a drubbing.