With just a couple of weeks to go before the general election on June 9, finally, it seems, the campaign is heating up, writes Robin Pascoe.
The long, hot holiday weekend was dominated by two pre-election debates. All but Geert Wilders on Nos radio on Friday evening, the top four contenders on RTL on Sunday night.
And there is more to come in a sold-out debate at the Carré in Amsterdam. With tickets a whopping €50 each, the public’s appetite for political debate is obviously on the up.
But if you actually watch the debates, you have to ask what they actually achieve? Headlines about Wilders tearing in to Labour leader Job Cohen dominate the web page headlines the day after – not that Wilders or Cohen were able to make coherent, well-argued points to win over voters.
And internet polls immediately declare that X or Y is the winner – but what criteria does that depend on?
With so many parties you end up with so many leaders sharing the stage – all competing to get the best sound bite – that there is no debate, just an emphatic restatement of existing positions and trying to make your rivals look foolish.
In fact, the most interesting aspect of the Dutch election campaign so far is not the debates but how the different parties are shaping up to form coalitions.
Some – like D66 and GroenLinks – have made their positions plain. Others have dithered or hinted at who they would not like to share a platform with – such as the VVD’s Mark Rutte who now says an alliance with Labour would be extremely unlikely.
Does that mean Rutte will actually join up the Christian Democrats – whose support is down 15% – and Geert Wilders’ PVV to form a majority? All three parties don’t want to make any changes to mortgage tax relief so there is agreement there.
But Wilders has said keeping the pension age at 65 is essential for him to join any coalition and the other two parties both strongly support reform. Bye bye the right wing option.
So will Wilders give in? Or will Rutte join up with Labour after all? They both agree on increasing the pension age after all. And Labour has very wishy washy plans to moderate mortgage tax relief.
And this is what makes all the posturing on tv and radio shows so hollow. In the end, once the people have had their say and the dust has settled, the process of forming a coalition government begins – and all the manifesto promises go out the window. And new ideas come in.
After all, none of the parties in the previous coalition government – the CDA, Labour and ChristenUnie – had included a pledge to introduce a tax on motoring in their manifestos, nor did any of them plan to increase the state pension age. Yet these were two of the biggest political hot potatoes of the past few years.
What we need is to know how the parties really see the future; who they would like to link up with, what policies they have in common and where the conflicts are likely to be.
Only then can the voter make a well-reasoned choice about who to support and get something approaching the government he or she actually voted for.
Perhaps during the next televised debate, the moderator could put all of the parties on the spot on this one. That would generate headlines worth reading.
Robin Pascoe works for slamservice.info
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