Wilders made gains, up 3 per cent in the vote and 5 additional seats. But the 13 per cent total was about half of his long-standing opinion poll ratings. More significantly, many of the mainstream parties echoed the Freedom Party’s racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric, including the People’s Party of Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of Mark Rutte. Although VVD lost 8 seats and 5.4 per cent of votes, it remains the largest party and will be central to forming any new coalition government and its leader Mark Rutte is widely expected to become Prime Minister once more.
Rutte’s verdict was that ‘good populism has won’, emphasising his differences with Wilders were more of tone than substance. The major casualty of the elections was the Dutch Labour Party, which is more or less a Blairite current and had been in coalition with Rutte. Pursuing a right-wing line on both the economy and on racism, it lost almost 4 out of 5 of its voters from 2012, down 19.1 percent in the vote share and losing 29 seats. By contrast, the big party winners were the Green Left, which gained 6.8 per cent and 10 seats by opposing islamophobia.
Dutch politics has shifted to the right in these elections, even if Wilders made no breakthrough. The Labour Party’s rout shows that social democratic parties commit political suicide when they ape the right and the far right. The only principled and successful strategy is to oppose the racists, as the Green Left’s success shows.
In the current period these are important lessons for the left in Europe in general, including in Britain.