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Thesis first draft


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Thesis first draft

  1. 1. Success and Failure on the Populist Right: The Case of Wilders and Verdonk First draft Matthijs van Tuijl 0850845 Master Thesis Political Behaviour and Communication Leiden University 06-05-2011 Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Galen Irwin Second reader: Dr. H. Pelikaan Word count: 20.321
  2. 2. „I want to be Prime-Minister‟1 was Rita Verdonk‟s claim on October 18 2007, whenshe founded her movement Trots op Nederland (ToN, Proud of the Netherlands). At thatpoint in time that was not an unrealistic claim, with the opinion polls having her at 25 seats.2Geert Wilders with his Partij Voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Freedom Party), lost half of his supportin the polls to Verdonk when she announced her new party.3 However, on June 9 2010, theday of the Dutch General election, Wilders managed to secure 24 seats and Verdonk wasvoted out completely by the people.4 How is it possible that Rita Verdonk could not win anyseats in the end and that Geert Wilders showed a significant growth? That there was a potential for Verdonk to be successful was clear prior to the generalelection in 2006, when she was involved in a fierce battle for the leadership of the Liberalparty (VVD) with now Prime-Minister Mark Rutte. She just lost the leadership, but didmanage to get more votes at the parliamentary election than Rutte. With 620,555 votes, shereceived almost 100,000 votes more than her party leader.5 Verdonk was forced to leave theVVD after an internal dispute, with the leadership contest, in practice, still going on after theelections. When she left, as figure 1 shows, she remained popular and was therefore for awhile seen as a serious force within Dutch politics. Geert Wilders, himself also a former VVDMP, having left the party a few years earlier, enjoyed growing support after the elections untilVerdonk founded her new movement. At that point in time there were two new right wingparties looking for the favour of the Dutch voter, only one was capable of claiming victory inthe end. Verdonk and Wilders have often been called populists, due to their approach topolitics (Lucardie, 2007; Vossen, 2010). While the reasons behind the political success ofpopulist parties have been studied in detail, focusing on elements as political leadership,protest voting and issue preferences (Eatwell, 2005; Van der Brug and Mughan, 2007), thereis still no definite answer on how they manage to succeed and what elements are mostimportant. Further while there are many examples in Western Europe of populist partieseffectively claiming an influential position within their countries‟ politics, the parties that donot make it have received less attention. What is interesting about the movements of Rita Verdonk and Geert Wilders, as figure1 shows, is that it was not just success or only failure. There were many ups and downs in1 ‘Verdonk wil in Torentje; ‘Trots op Nederland’ moet Fortuyn evenaren’ , De Telegraaf, October 18, 20072 Nieuw Haags Peil, November 4, 20073 Nieuw Haags Peil, October 21, 20074 ‘Tweede Kamer 2010’, Kiesraad, June 9, 20105 ‘Proces-verbaal Tweede Kamer 2006’ , Kiesraad, November 27, 2006 2
  3. 3. popularity in the years between elections. What happened during these years? Why didVerdonk not make it in the end while Wilders did will therefore be the puzzle of this thesis.The findings of this study could contribute to a better understanding of the development ofpopulist parties in general. What explains the differences in electoral outcome for them? Itleads to the research question of this study.What explains the success of the PVV and the failure of Trots op Nederland in the period2006-2010? Figure 1. Parliamentary opinion polls 2006-2010 35 30 25 Number of Seats 20 PVV 15 TON 10 5 Source: 0 22-11-2006 22-11-2007 22-11-2008 22-11-20091. Theory In order to find an answer to the research question it is first necessary to look at whatthese parties or movements actually are. It is claimed that Wilders and Verdonk are populists,but what that is still remains somewhat ambiguous. Even though it is not the focus of thisstudy to define populism, it is important to know what we are actually dealing with. Whenthat definition is more clear, characteristics of the PVV and TON can be compared to that tosee if they fit the picture. If they can be qualified as populist parties, there is a possibility tolook at explanations for success and failure of populist parties and test these for Verdonk andWilders. 3
  4. 4. 1.1. Populism In Europe there has been a growing number of right wing populist parties entering thearena and successfully claiming a position in national parliaments. According to some, the de-alignment process that has taken place across Europe, has led to the rise of these new parties,focusing more on party leaders and less on a fixed ideology (Dalton et al., 2002: 22, 31-32).The FPÖ in Austria and the Danish People‟s Party are just two examples of parties that evenmanaged to participate, in some form, in their countries‟ government. Populism is a concept that is not that easy to define. It is a concept that has many featuresand is has developed over time. In his study on populism, Paul Taggart (2000) describes thisprocess and defines modern populism as the New Populism, which has its roots in WesternEurope. He sees it as a movement of multiple parties across countries with some definingcharacteristics. First of all, it is a reaction to bureaucratised welfare states and corruptionwithin the existing political parties. Secondly these parties reconstruct politics around a keyissue, either taxation, immigration and nationalism or regionalism. Thirdly, they organisethemselves differently from existing parties, as a result of distrust of political institutions.Party membership is only active and direct in the form of elected officials and personalisedleadership is prevalent. Fourth, they like to establish a link between the people and themselvesand place themselves outside the centre of the political spectrum (Taggart, 2000: 75). Canovan explains this link to the people more clearly by distinguishing between threedifferent types: the united people (as in a nation), our people (in an ethnic sense) and theordinary people (against the privileged) (Canovan, 1999: 5). These separate types make thefaces of populism more clear. It can focus on a certain ethnic group and be an excludingfactor or it can rebel against the elite and be the voice of the common man. The elite is seen ascorrupt and going against the general will. Cas Mudde considers that to be the centre piece ofpopulism, the restoration of the will of the people in a country. In that way, populism is a verymoralistic „ideology‟ (Mudde, 2004: 543-544). In this view, the common man is no longer inpower, the elite is and that is de facto a bad thing. Populist parties are there to restore popularcontrol over a nation. The important thing to realise from the New Populism of Taggart is that these parties areeffectively trying to find a niche in politics based on dissatisfaction with modern politics.They see politics as no longer representing the people and try to re-establish that link withthem by focusing on issues that appeal to certain groups in society. As Taggart explains, thepeople are here portrayed as a unity within a heartland. That heartland can best be seen as animaginary place that emphasises all the good and virtuous aspects of life. It is however not all 4
  5. 5. inclusive. It is to a large extent based on nationalism of an „organic community‟, excludingcertain groups in society (Taggart, 2000: 95, 97). Related to this is the creation of conspiracytheories. The elite conspires together, no longer protects the heartland and something shouldbe done about it. This is argued to be a major factor to mobilise support (Ibid.: 105). Leadership is also a defining feature of populist parties. With populist parties there canbe two types of leadership. The more common is the type based on charisma, centred aroundleaders with a large popular appeal. When, however, this is not present, it is argued that in thatcase it tends to be authoritarian (Ibid.: 103). The result of this leadership is the creation of apopulist mood. The idea is that something needs to change fundamentally and the countryneeds to be reshaped. This mood has the power to encourage otherwise non active citizens toparticipate in politics and to get out and vote (Canovan, 1999: 6). Interesting points are raised by Mudde in clarifying some basic elements of populism,related to democracy and leadership. As he argues, when it comes to democracy, populistparties want responsive government not necessarily direct democracy. They want the outcometo be representative of the will of the people, but those people do not have to participatedirectly, as long as they are heard. On the point of leadership, he says that the people wanttheir leaders to be in touch, but not be one of them (Mudde, 2004: 558-559). This marks someinteresting aspects of populist parties and can explain the apparent paradox of authoritarianleadership and listening to the will of the people. That will needs to be represented by thepolitical leaders, but the people should not take over from them. Other scholars present asomewhat different picture and argue that populist parties will demand more directdemocracy. Democracy should in that view be seen as an ideal that includes „referenda,popular consultation and direct elections of office- holders (Keman and Krouwel, 2007: 25).1.2. Wilders and Verdonk as populists In order to analyse the success and failure of populist parties in the case of Wilders andVerdonk, it is important to establish what kind of characteristics they share with this populistimage just sketched. If they are populist leaders, then it becomes possible to test explanationsof success and failure of populism for them. If they differ from the ideal populist picture, thenthis can be taken in account when conducting this study. Koen Vossen, comparing Wilders and Verdonk in terms of populist tendencies, hasdistinguished seven features of populism comparable to the points mentioned above (see table1) . Some of them, the „folksy style‟ and „voluntarist approach‟ are somewhat similar to otherpoints. The folksy style more or less relates to how politicians act, being one of the people, 5
  6. 6. speaking the same language. The voluntarist approach relates to politics not having to be ascomplex, the peoples‟ qualities are enough to govern (Vossen, 2010: 25). These two pointsclearly focus on the incompetent elite in comparison to the people. It again stresses the factthat the political organisation has become filled with an unnecessary bureaucracy that needs tobe fixed. The voluntarist approach also moves away from a politician as a professional. Thecommon man should be represented and therefore there is no need for professionals.Table 1. Seven features of populism Wilders VerdonkBasic ingredients: 1. Denunciation of the Elite + + 2. Glorification of the people +/- +Flavour enhancers: 3. Inclination towards conspiracy theory ++ + 4. Folksy style +/- + 5. Voluntarist approach + + 6. Preference for direct democracy +/- + 7. Charismatic leadership (+/-) (+) (Vossen, 2010: 34)Wilders As shown in table 1, Vossen has some doubts about the basic idea of Geert Wilders asa populist in the traditional sense. He calls Wilders a half-hearted populist, mainly because heis a professional politician and he does not glorify the people to the extent that a true populistwould do. Instead Wilders also criticizes the people on occasions (Vossen, 2010: 30). Theinteresting thing about this is that Wilders is a former MP for the VVD, as is Rita Verdonk,but in contrast to her, he spent quite some more time in the political circle. He had been activefor the parliamentary party since 1990, working as a policy advisor. Known as a hard worker,Wilders lived politics. This is illustrated by the fact that when he was forced to leaveparliament after the 2002 elections, he was devastated, having no alternative for politicswhatsoever (Fennema, 2010: 66). Wilders can therefore with reason be called a professionalpolitician and not so much a „common man‟. He does, however, not refrain completely from populist rhetoric. When he presentedhis candidates for the 2011 elections for the provinces he emphasised the importance of thecitizens in contrast to the elite. He claimed he wanted to return Limburg to the people ofLimburg. According to him, politics in the Netherlands focuses too much on the elite in the 6
  7. 7. Hague, which needs to change.6 This phrase was later repeated by Prime Minister Mark Rutte,whose government relies on the support of the PVV. A leading opposition MP then accusedthe PM of using „PVV rhetoric‟.7 This example shows that Wilders indeed from time to timeuses this populist feature and can even be argued to successfully influence the governmentwith it. What Wilders more clearly emphasises is his fight against the elite. He has managedto create a link between progressive politics and the anti-establishment idea of populism. Hehas created an image of the Dutch elite as a leftist elite with an inclination for cultural andmoral relativism (Vossen, 2010: 27 ). It might be this explicit definition of the elite thatexplains being a professional politician on the one hand but mixing that with some form ofpopulism on the other. It is just a certain part of the political spectrum that is completely onthe wrong path. Wilders wrote a „declaration of independence‟, his starting point for hismovement. In it he explicitly mentions that the elite let „this‟ happen and now throw theirhands in the air and say there is nothing they can do about it anymore (Fennema, 2010: 103). This also shows his focus on the progressive elite, conspiring against society. He madea distinction between the Labour party of Wouter Bos, which he thought to be pampering, andthe VVD. The people who did not want it to go completely wrong should vote VVD (Ibid.,105). The exponent of this focus on the cultural and moral relativism of the Dutch elite, is hisown conspiracy theory about Islam taking over Europe (Eurabia). As Vossen shows, Wildersactively spreads this image of islamification, referring to many experts in the field. With thishe is trying to give weight to his claims and focus his campaign on the issue of immigration ofMoslim immigrants (Vossen, 2010: 27). Vossen gives no definite answer on whether Wilders is a charismatic leader, calling itdifficult to measure in his case because of the closed nature of the party. However, the style ofleadership is more important in his case. Wilders maintains control over the party by havingno members other than himself (Ibid.:28). This relates to the points made by Taggart onauthoritarian leadership. Wilders, whether charismatic or not, should then more be seen as anauthoritarian leader. Paul Lucardie also shows the special position Wilders has put himself in. He qualifiesWilders as a right-wing, semi- hearted liberal nationalist and populist (Lucardie, 2007: 181).As Vossen, he acknowledges that the behaviour of Wilders is not one of standard populism.Wilders focuses on freedom, but it is limited and very inconsistent with respect to (Islamic)6 ‘PVV: Limburg terug naar Limburgers’, RTL Nieuws, December 10, 20107 ‘Rutte gebruikt PVV retoriek’, Trouw, March 5, 2011 7
  8. 8. religion. This populism, although by some seen as limited is according to Lucardie clearlynoticeable in his reference to the people and the corrupt elite (Ibid.: 179-180). Geert Wilders, although not being the ideal type, can therefore be characterised as apopulist politician. His anti-elite politics and the focus on Islam as the key issue aroundimmigration are clear indicators. Wilders is a professional politician and in that way linked tothe establishment, but still manages to create an image of being a person that wants todistance himself from „the politics in the Hague‟. Claiming to return the country to the peopleis a good example of that. The leadership elements can also be found, although maybe not inthe classic charismatic way. Half-hearted or not, Wilders still scores very high on somedefining features.Verdonk Where Wilders is a somewhat more complicated story in terms of populism, Verdonkseems all the more to fulfil the standard definition of a populist. As can be seen in table 1, shescores positively on all the criteria. Research on her speeches and interviews shows a cleardistinction between the corrupt elite and the people as the virtuous element in society. Thereis a distrust of the people caused by the elite (Vossen, 2010: 30). Note here that Verdonk doesnot care whether the elite is left or right wing, it is just the elite. Unlike Wilders she tries totake on the entire establishment and does not even leave out her own former party. Shementioned Mark Rutte as being too left wing and therefore also being out of touch with thepeople. When founding her movement she did not want to take sides or think in the old wayof how the political spectrum was divided. She did not want to be labelled left or right, butwanted to think in old and new (Lucardie, 2007: 181). With this she cannot be seen as moredistinguishing herself from the establishment or elite and taking the side of the people. Fromher history it does make sense for her not just to criticise the left, since she was ousted by theVVD party leaders, but favoured by the people during the elections. In general we can seeVerdonk trying to frame that image of her party taking on politics in general. The other important point to qualify Verdonk as a populist is that she places emphasisvigorously on voluntarism and direct democracy. In her view the people should govern andwe do not really need politicians. This is best illustrated by the fact that she wanted citizens todiscuss with each other what the best solutions to certain problems are. The real knowledge ofordinary people would improve this country (Vossen, 2010: 31). What we see here is Verdonkmoving away from the politician as a professional in politics. Politicians should listen to thepeople and she goes to extremes to establish that link. She also did not present a real party 8
  9. 9. manifesto until very late. She presented her plans to the public just a couple of months beforethe elections. She then focused on taxation, subsidies and other public spending.8 The personality of Verdonk was therefore very important. As Vossen stresses, she mainlyhas relied on her own popularity and the image she had built during previous the years. Trotsop Nederland is very apolitical, in that way and more a feeling. (Vossen, 2010: 32-33).Because of that lack of content of what the party is really about, it is difficult to clearlyexplain what kind of party or movement it is. It could only somewhat be qualified as anationalist party. She does emphasize Dutch culture and the relevance of putting that up front,but not as extremely as does Wilders. She could therefore best be seen as a populist liberal-conservative (Lucardie 2007: 182). The clear difference here is that Wilders actually wants totackle the influence of Islam in society, whereas Verdonk does not see that danger. She sees itmore in terms of not letting the Dutch society fade away in general. By focusing on taxationand more power to the people, she fits very clearly in the classic image as depicted byTaggart.1.3. Success and failure With this outline of populism and Wilders and Verdonk as populist leaders it is nowpossible to look at the elements that explain success and failure. In general there are threereasons that can be defined why people vote for populist parties: 1) the protest vote, inreaction to other parties; 2) voting for the charisma or leadership; 3) voting for substance orpolicy preferences. The protest vote comes from what Immerfall sees as a neo-populist agenda. He focuseson what the emphasis of a populist party is and sees its appeal accordingly. He argues it to beimportant for such a party to hold together what he calls, a neo-populist coalition. This isaimed at exploiting country specific issues, mainly focused on the economic situation of thenation, in order to attract voters (Immerfall, 1998: 250). Populism here is seen as a reaction towhat is happening in a country and the reason of existence is an appeal to the people. Populistparties, by showing what is wrong, have a reason to exist. Voters then react to this by seeingthe establishment as incompetent, failing to take care of the nation, and vote for the party thatraised those questions (Ibid., 258). This explanation of the populist vote has nothing to dowith the appeal of leadership or what plans are presented to the people. It is the basic idea of8 ‘ToN richt pijlen op ambtenaren’ De Telegraaf, April 8 2010 9
  10. 10. framing the image of the corrupt elite that has let the people down and is not representing thegeneral will anymore. As Taggart explains, there are problems with the way populist parties behave or areorganised, especially in this way. One of these is the criticism of established parties. Populistparties want to distance themselves from established parties, but are forced, by the waypolitics is organised, to behave in a similar way. As a consequence, they have a large risk ofinternal conflicts or collapse (Taggart, 2000: 100). In practice it comes down to a very simplelogic. At first a populist party successfully explains why the old parties are not the rightchoice for the voter. With this they create momentum for them to grow in support. However,since this is not based on concrete plans or policy, they fall in the trap they have created forthemselves. Once the people notice that they are not capable of fulfilling their needs either,the image of a strong counter party disappears and the party collapses. Roger Eatwell sees the importance of charisma in leaders for explaining the success ofpopulist parties. Whereas it is a concept that cannot be defined very easily and can take onmany forms, he focuses on the personal presence of the leader. It is about being able to createthe right image on television and to catch the right sound bite and not so much about theattraction of the party leader. The focus of the publicity tends to be on the personality of theleader and this creates electoral appeal (Eatwell, 2005: 108). This approach takes away theidea of charisma just being about the leader and puts the emphasis on his actions. It stillremains a personalised attraction, but of a different nature. Taggart sees problems with charismatic leadership in the long run. He argues it to beunstable and unreliable. Politicians can never be certain how to effectively sustain theircharisma and it is therefore very unstable (Taggart, 2000: 102). As long as politicians are seento be charismatic and are capable of catching the public eye, they will continue to be popular.However relying on charisma alone seems to form a problem in the long run. A newcontender can come along and take away the support or people will start to see through thecharismatic mask. From their study, van der Brug and Mughan (2007) conclude that Dutch populist leadersdo not have a greater effect on the voting behaviour than their counterparts from theestablished parties. Even for Pim Fortuyn, arguably a very charismatic individual, nosignificant difference between his leadership appeal and that of other politicians was found(Van der Brug and Mughan, 2007: 44). This puts further pressure on the effectiveness, if any,of just the leader as a token to attract votes. Even though in a best case scenario it helps to 10
  11. 11. improve voting for the party, it seems to be the case that a populist party cannot rely on theleader alone. There is more to it and Mughan and Paxton (2006) try to explain this with a case study ofanti-immigrant feelings in Australia. What they find is that policy preference is highlysignificant as an explanation for the populist vote. Only when there is correspondencebetween what voters want and what parties offer them, they will vote for them (Mughan andPaxton, 2006: 354, 357). It seems that voters have an idea of what they want to happen in acountry and need parties to defend this or to bring this forward. It can effectively boost theclaim made by many populists that the old parties are not representing the will of the people.It could be the case that it is then more than a protest vote and basic rhetoric and gives achance for parties that can actually find a niche in politics to grow and become important. Ivarsflaten demonstrates the volatility of populist parties when it comes to issues andthereby also acknowledges the importance. She shows that the saliency of economic issues isin particular important (Ivarsflaten, 2005: 489). The populist voter does look at issues anddoes take the state of the nation into account and is not simply affected by rhetoric orleadership appeal. Van der Brug and Fennema (2003) firmly support this conclusion andconclude from their analysis of the development of anti-immigrant parties, that voters voteaccording to their issue preferences. They argue that voters for those parties vote for the samereasons as any other voter. Some evidence even hints that they are even more issue voters.(Van der Brug and Fennema, 2003: 66. 70-71). It seems that we should not underestimate thevoters for populist parties. There is evidence that they are not the simplistic voters somepeople hold them to be. The strength of a party does not just rely on the leadership or on aprotest vote. It depends heavily on which issues are salient and whether a party manages tobring them forward in an attractive way. There are therefore many ways for a populist party togo wrong and it depends on the context whether such a party is successful or not.1.4. Sub-questions/Expectations Based on the literature and the characterisation of both Wilders and Verdonk, it is possibleto formulate some sub questions to analyse the success and failure of their parties. As seenabove there are three main reasons for the success of populist parties; these will serve as aguide for explaining the differences between the two parties and finding an answer to theresearch question. From this it is possible to distinguish between the following sub questions. 11
  12. 12. Q1: What was the influence of the ‘protest vote’ for Wilders and Verdonk? It follows from the literature that the protest vote can be one of the reasons why peoplevote for populist parties. The protest vote is a result of the party emphasising the differencesbetween the old and the new. The establishment has failed the people and the new populistparty is there to re-establish the link between the people and the government. For the protestvote explanation to contribute as an important factor of success, we would expect to see thepopulist party rally against the old parties and their politics. Furthermore the emphasis wouldbe on the old elite that has failed the people and the importance of restoring that faith andgiving power back to the people. An important explanation for failure here is the inherentimplications of this strategy. When a party runs into problems itself, this will backfire and theprotest vote will no longer be of any use to the populist party. If they no longer have theimage of being the new that will get rid of the habits of the old, we will expect to see failure.Q2: What was the influence of leadership as an explanation for success and failure? A second explanation of success can be found in the leadership appeal orpersonification of politics. It works either through charisma or authoritarian leadership.Whereas charisma is not an easy concept to define, for the purpose of this study it will beoperationalised in a comprehensive way. Here it will just mean the personal appeal of a leaderto attract voters. For this to work out, we will expect to see little or no emphasis on issues orideas, but attention for the leader in general. It is expected that voter appeal will go up when alot of attention is given to the populist leader. The danger here is the unstable factor ofcharismatic leadership. It seems that emphasising just the personal appeal of the leader for toolong can pose a problem and an unstable basis for a party to continue to grow further or holdits position. Authoritarian leadership can be a further explanation for a populist party tomaintain a strong position. This type of leadership is expected to be very important forholding the party together and we can expect to see differences with regards to voterpreferences for parties.Q3: What was the influence of issue preferences and saliency? The final sub question relates somewhat to the second. What is more important, having aleader with a substantial charismatic appeal or talking about the issues and focusing onimproving specific things? For this question we would expect to see attention to issuesrelating to voter appeal. It is also expected that certain issues will result in more support ofvoters than others. When parties talk more about salient issues or create saliency for an issue 12
  13. 13. they are expected to increase their voting potential. Failing here could be the result of twodifferent things. First of all, it could mean that the specific party is unable to create anysubstance to link itself to. This could mean that the party focuses more on leadership potentialor has other reasons not to focus on the issues. The other explanation is that a partyemphasises an issue that apparently is not that salient to the general public or where, in theeyes of the public, they take a wrong stand.2. Methodology The three sub questions and subsequently the research question, will be answered bylooking at the period between 2006 and 2010. In this period, as seen in figure 1, someinteresting developments took place with respect to the voting potential of the twopoliticians/parties. Verdonk joined the race for the populist vote. Verdonk and Wilders bothhad their ups and downs in the polls, eventually resulting in Verdonk dropping to nothing andWilders reaching an all-time high. It can therefore be qualified as a period with many changesand different sides. This makes it an interesting period to analyse. The analysis will be divided into six periods where we see most of the change happen, asindicated in figure 1. The first period is the arrival of Verdonk. Here we see her rising to 25seats in the polls. At that point in time, the potential PVV vote dropped significantly. It can beseen as the most abrupt shift in the polls in these four years. The second period is the firstdrop of Verdonk and one of recovery for Wilders. This goes on until the start of the thirdperiod, early 2008. Here we see Verdonk reclaiming the position she originally held when shestarted her movement. The PVV again showed a decrease in vote potential. During the secondpart of this period this image somewhat returned to the previous status quo until the start ofthe fourth period. This marks the beginning of the end for Rita Verdonk. We can see a freefall to almost nothing during this period. The PVV retained its position for most of that time.The fifth period then is the staggering growth of the PVV to their all-time high of 32 seats inthe polls in early 2009. The final and sixth period that is interesting for analysis is the drop ofthe PVV in the polls just before the general election. These periods will be used to conduct content analysis by making a reconstruction to seewhat explains success and failure of these parties. The reconstruction itself will be on thebasis of a newspaper analysis of De Telegraaf.9 With a newspaper analysis it is possible to seewhat actually happened during these periods. It is possible to see what kind of attention and9 Due to the limited time available for this thesis it is not possible to use more newspapers or other media toconduct this analysis. 13
  14. 14. how much was given to the parties and what the focus of the attention was. If there aredifferences between articles on leadership appeal for Verdonk and Wilders or on certainissues, then this could be clear indicators of success and failure when linked to the relevantpolls. The search term „Rita Verdonk‟ for the period September 21 2007, the day before the2006 general election, to June 10 2010, the day after the 2010 general election, resulted in 649De Telegraaf hits. A similar search for „Wilders or PVV‟ resulted in 2378 hits. The articlespublished during the selected periods are important for this study. They will be divided byperiod and analysed. The reason to take De Telegraaf as the focus of this study is that this paper is wellknown for its right wing, often populist, sympathies. Among likely voters of the PVV andToN it is also the paper that is most read on a daily basis. As the table below indicates noother newspaper is this popular among likely voters. The long-time motto of the paper: „Dekrant van wakker Nederland‟, relating to the newspaper being there for the active Dutchpeople, is also a reference to this populist appeal. De Telegraaf, because of that, should be thepaper that follows the development of these populist parties closely. It will also be more likelyto portray a certain picture of the parties with respect to their potential of representing thepeople. By analysing newspaper content through Nexis Lexis, a reconstruction can be made ofthe periods selected. Note here that the aim of this research is not to establish causalitybetween media coverage and populist success. Rather the media coverage is used to create theessential narrative.Table 2. Newspaper reading on a daily basis among likely voters PVV ToNTelegraaf 44,1% (150) 35,4% (46)Volkskrant 2,6% (9) 0,8% (1)Trouw 1,5% (5) 2,3% (3)NRC Handelsblad 2,1% (7) 0% (0)NRC Next 1,2% (4) 11,5% (15)AD 15,3% (52) 14,6% (19)Metro 17,4% (59) 17,7% (23)Spits 15,9% (54) 17,7% (23)Total 100% (340) 100% (130) To answer the three sub question on the basis of this reconstruction and the relatedopinion polls, there are some features that will be looked for. For the first questionexpressions of the „protest vote‟ are important. The focus will be on whether the two populistparties try to create an image of the elite versus the people and the new party against theestablishment. Is it possible to see one party being better equipped to go against politics as 14
  15. 15. usual and show an anti-establishment agenda? Do they create an image of wanting to give thepower back to the people? If it is possible to link this protest vote idea to success and failurein the polls than it can be argued to be of influence. For the second question the focus will be on leadership. It could be the case that with themedia attention it is very much a picture of Verdonk and or Wilders and not so much the partyor the idea. The idea here is that there is negative or positive information about the leadersthat can be linked to success and failure in the polls. Related to this is what characteristics arementioned. Is it the case that a certain image is created of a leader concerning their leadershipqualities or their personality that leads to more or less support? The third sub question can be answered by looking at the issues. Here the story istwofold. Since the question is somewhat related to the second sub question the first part is: arethere any issues that are linked to the parties? If it is the case that the emphasis is onleadership and not on substance, then that is an important part of the puzzle. The second partis, when issues are present, what kind of issues and stands these parties are linked to. Canthese issues be linked to the success or failure of these parties? In short these will be theindicators to answer the sub questions. Each of them can have a separate influence on thepolls, but it is also important to keep in mind their combining effect on these parties‟ results. In addition to the media narrative of De Telegraaf, the Dutch National Election Study(NES) 2010 can also be used. Feeling thermometer scores for the parties, both ToN and thePVV, and for the party leaders, both Wilders and Verdonk, were included in this, providing uswith data on the importance of both. Next to that, the importance of issues can be analysed.This way the answer on the final sub question can be supported by data.3. Reconstruction3.1 Period 1: Verdonk’s arrival; 4 September 2007 - 4 November 2007 Figure 2 opinion polls 4-9-2007 - 4-11-2007 24 Number of seats PVV 19 ToN 14 Source: 9 2-9-2007 16-9-2007 30-9-2007 14-10-2007 28-10-2007 15
  16. 16. Verdonk This first period of the analysis is characterised by the appearance of Verdonk as anew movement in Dutch politics. It is one during which she was ousted by the VVD as a partymember on September 14 and gained massive support in the polls among the public. It was clear in the run-up to the conflict with party leader Mark Rutte, which led to herleaving the party, that Verdonk was out for a fight. The first of the 88 articles that mentionVerdonk already shows that. She wanted to support a motion of no confidence for thenminister Ella Vogelaar, while her party was against that. It was a personal matter for her, withVogelaar being her successor on the department of integration.10 In the days following shestarted to criticise the VVD heavily by stating that the liberals „are invisible when it comes tointegration‟, they had lost „the ball‟ to Geert Wilders.11 Although there was more to it thanjust this remark, it can be seen as the direct cause which made Rutte remove her from theparliamentary party. It was the day after this announcement that Wilders sought out Verdonkto join his party thinking that „both her voters as well as mine would expect that‟.12 Verdonk however did not accept the offer made by the PVV leader. Instead she startedthinking about starting her own movement (TON). Verdonk could „rightfully claim her seatand use it to start her own party‟,13 was a phrase not uncommon in this first period of analysis.The articles from that moment focused on the person Verdonk. Whereas the initial critique ofthe VVD had to do with an issue, she was not get linked to any issue in the remainder of thearticles. What does however get emphasised constantly is the number of votes she received atthe previous election, especially in comparison to Mark Rutte. In about 15% of the articlesthere is a reference to this accomplishment, presenting it in such a way to show that Verdonkhas a legitimate claim on her seat in parliament. She promotes her own person in a similarway by stating that „you cannot ask me to leave 620.555 voters out in the cold‟.14 The fact that the attention was on her support among the public was illustrative for theattention to the person Verdonk. As mentioned it was unclear which issues Verdonk wasgoing to fight for. In just 3 of the 88 articles Verdonk is linked to an issue. The first two areon the direct cause of the conflict with Rutte, which merely served as a firestarter and is notsomething that got repeated over time. The other was a short mention that Verdonk did not10 ‘Wilders bezorgt VVD nachtwerk na debat motie’, De Telegraaf, September 8, 2007.11 ‘Verdonk uit weer kritiek; ‘VVD onzichtbaar in vreemdelingendebat’’, De telegraaf, September 13, 2007.12 ‘Wilders zoekt toenadering’, De Telegraaf, September 14, 2007.13 ‘Rita Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, October 17, 200714 ‘Verdonk verlaat de VVD; ‘Dit is beter voor Nederland en de partij’’, De Telegraaf, October 16, 2007. 16
  17. 17. care whether Polish workmen would integrate in Dutch society.15 It was an isolated statementin nothing less than a period marked by non-issue attention. This was perfectly illustrated byher appearance in parliament to debate the 2008 budget. She spoke but had not read a singledocument and stated „I have listened very carefully and I worry about the future {..} this is acabinet that does not do a single thing for its first 100 days in office‟.16 Verdonk criticised thegovernment for not presenting any plans and at the same time did not herself present anythingeither. It was referred to also by the other parties, when it came to a ban on hunting aChristian democratic MP said that they „should talk to Verdonk very soon on the issue, sinceshe is probably still not out on this one‟17. Verdonk instead claimed that she „wanted to listen to the people. {..}It is that whatpeople do not see in The Hague: substantive solutions‟.18 What those solutions were remainedunclear at that point in time, but it did not seem to matter that much. The negative attentionwas mostly directed towards the VVD. Headlines shouted; „Another black day for the VVD‟19and „VVD scattered apart after Verdonk‟s departure‟.20 The leadership of Rutte was openlyquestioned with people arguing that „only former minister Henk Kamp could control thedamage‟.21 Meanwhile Verdonk was seen as an inspiring politician22 and as the Dutch versionof the iron lady, an image that she herself had carefully wanted to uphold.8 It seems that evenwhile she did not present any positions on issues, there is an image of the iron lady beingkicked out of the VVD, a party very much at the end of its lifecycle.Wilders Whereas Verdonk showed a big increase in this first period, with her starting her newmovement, it was Wilders that dropped in the polls. In early 2007, Minister Ella Vogelaarmade remarks on Islam becoming a part of the Dutch culture. Wilders called her totally crazy(„knettergek‟) for saying this.23 It was that same issue that made Verdonk go against the partyleadership on which Wilders withdrew support for this minister. It came to characterise a styleof debating for the PVV in which they subsequently changed the tone of debates to what some15 ‘Verdonk: Polen niet inburgeren’, De Telegraaf, October 29, 2007.16 ‘Werkgevers vrezen terugval; CDA: Evenwichtig’, De Telegraaf, September 19, 2007.17 ‘Dierenpartij is een zegen’, De Telegraaf, November 2, 2007.18 ‘Verdonk Wil in torentje; ‘Trots op Nederland’ moet Fortuyn evenaren’’, De Telegraaf, October 18, 2007.19 ‘ZOVEELSTE ZWARTE DAG’; VVD likt wonden na vertrek Rita Verdonk ‘Partij zal niet scheuren’’, De Telegraaf,October 17, 2007.20 ‘VVD uiteengespat na vertrek Rita verdonk’, De Telegraaf, September 14, 2007.21 ‘Kamp moet Rutte opvolgen’; Ruim driekwart van de VVD-achterban steunt Rita Verdonk’, De Telegraaf,September 15, 2007.22 Bevlogen Politica aan het woord’, De Telegraaf, September 14, 2007.23 ‘ Wilders weer op kruistocht; PVV-leider noemt Vogelaar ‘knettergek’’, De Telegraaf, September 7, 2007. 17
  18. 18. saw as unworthy for parliament. The speaker of the Dutch Second Chamber, Gerdi Verbeet,even wanted to change parliament proceedings in order to prevent Wilders from being able tosay these things in the future.24 The event that did spark some comments and discussion was, however, notrepresentative for the first period of analysis in terms of attention for Wilders. In fact when wecompare the articles written about Verdonk and compare this to Wilders or the PVV, we seethat there is considerably less attention to Wilders. In absolute numbers there were 99 articlesduring this time on him or his party. Only 40 of these however could really be argued tocontain anything on Wilders, his party or the issues he represented. The other articles onlymentioned him briefly without stating anything about him. In this respect there can also beseen a lot of overlap between Verdonk and Wilders with those articles. With many of themthe main character was Verdonk and Wilders got mentioned only as a bystander. Consideringthis, there was relatively less attention in this period for Wilders. The articles that remain did, however, show a remarkable difference with those ofVerdonk. Almost 80% of them were on issues, with Islam being at the forefront of it all.Apart from the matter, he wanted to settle with Vogelaar, Wilders had some other issues heraised that for him directly related to the threat of Islam for the Netherlands. When educationminister Ronald Plasterk wanted to remove the ban on Mein Kampf, Wilders immediatelyresponded by saying he instead wanted to ban the Koran. He found it strange that such a book,spreading hatred, was still allowed to be sold.25 This move of linking certain other issues tothat of violent nature of Islam was repeated when princess Maxima argued in a speech formore diversity and tolerance towards other cultures. Wilders dubbed it „well intended,political correct, nonsense‟.26 These were however small issues, not receiving that much attention. An issue that didgot some more attention and sparked a slight increase in the polls for Wilders was thepublication of one of Wilders‟ MPs, who had formerly worked for the Dutch immigrationservice, on the „total disaster‟ the service was.27 Wilders demanded a parliamentary hearingon the matter a few days later, stating that „all former ministers whether they were Labour orVVD, including Rita Verdonk, had failed on the matter‟.28 These parties however blockedsuch a hearing and the attention for the matter likewise disappeared. Even though it was a24 ‘Verbeet heeft genoeg van ‘Knettergek’, De Telegraaf, September 8, 2007.25 ‘Burgers verdeeld over verbod Mein Kampf’, De Telegraaf, September 14, 2007.26 ‘Speech van Maxima fout Balkenende’, De Telegraaf, September 26, 2007.27 ‘Immigratie een ramp’, De Telegraaf, September 29, 2007.28 ‘Wilders: Enquete naar immigratie; IND beerput van ellende’, De Telegraaf, October 1, 2007. 18
  19. 19. matter that got relatively more attention, it was nothing compared to the attention that wasraised for Verdonk. Wilders did not seem to be „hot news‟ at that point in time.3.2. Period 2: The first signs; 4 November 2007 – 23 March 2008 Figure 3. Opinion polls 4-11-2007 - 23-3-2008 24 Number of seats 19 PVV 14 ToN Source: 9 4-11-2007 4-12-2007 4-1-2008 4-2-2008 4-3-2008Verdonk In this second period there is a clear indication that the initial surge of Verdonk to herthen ultimate high of 25 virtual seats had worn off. By the 23 rd of March 2008 she haddropped to just 16 seats. While it did not mean the end for her just yet, there are some signsthat could possibly prove vital for her movements survival. As figure 1 indicates at the start of this period, early November 2007, she was a majorforce in Dutch politics, with the then governing coalition at an all-time low in the polls.29However what is most striking about this period is that Verdonk was not visible at all duringthese months. Whereas in the previous period, lasting only two months, she was mentioned 88times, during this period of almost five months there were only 99 articles with a references tothe iron lady. From these articles a considerable portion did not contain any real informationon her, but just vaguely mentioned Verdonk. It almost seems like a similar picture to thesituation with Wilders in September – November of that year. A developing story at the end of November and early December was the attempt byformer VVD leader Hans Wiegel to open talks with Wilders and Verdonk to join a wideliberal movement He wanted the three parties to work together and start rebuilding a liberaltradition in the Netherlands. Wilders however immediately declined the offer.30 Verdonk, on29 ‘Coalitie op dieptepunt’, De Telegraaf, November 10, 2007.30 ‘Wiegel oppert samenwerking met Wilders en Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, November 23, 2007. 19
  20. 20. the other hand, used this attempt to lure Wiegel into taking a position in her movement. Theymet, she asked him to become chairman, but he fiercely refused stating he was „a honorarymember of the VVD‟.31 It was a first major blow for Verdonk who was still trying to buildher party and could have used the experience and expertise of Wiegel. This attempt by Wiegel did mark the start of flirting by Verdonk with the PVV. Sheopenly stated that she wanted to form a government with the party of Wilders in the future.Even though Verdonk did say that she did not agree with some of Wilders‟ issue stands, shedid seem eager to join forces.32 Because of this it started to become unclear what exactlypeople should think of her and her new movement. This is also characterised by readercomments in the newspaper with one stating that „this turnaround of Verdonk wanting togovern with Wilders now makes me think it is just an empty vessel‟.33 Others also started toargue that there was no differences between Wilders and Verdonk and the suggestion wasmade that they were very alike and both „extreme right and very dangerous‟.34 This flirting with Wilders and Wiegel was only the partial reason that Verdonk gotmore associated with Wilders. The other part is that people simply did not know what shestood for and assumptions were made based on the few things that she did say. Apart from asingle mention of an issue as a response to somebody else there was nothing concrete shetalked about. References were made that she was a „no-show‟ when it came to major debatesin parliament. She, however, argued that people trusted her and that her issue stands wouldfollow in 2008.35 Instead she focused on image. She presented a new logo for her movement,using a very folksy picture of a football to represent the Netherlands and the commonpeople.36 It was also her adviser, Kay van de Linde who wanted to create the image ofVerdonk. Issues were less important in his strategy. It was all about creating the perfectpicture that the people would sympathise with.37 That picture was for a large part based on protest, Verdonk started to present herselfmore and more as new politics in contrast to the ancient regime. She uttered words as „oldpolitics‟ and „The Hague business‟ (Haags geneuzel), to refer to the other parties. In her viewthese had very much failed and she wanted to look for real solutions.28 It was this image shefocused on and it was also exactly because of the real solutions she was looking for that she31 ‘Verdonk loopt blauwtje bij Hans Wiegel’, De Telegraaf, November 30, 2007.32 ‘Verdonk omhelst Wilders’, De Telegraaf, December 24, 2007.33 ‘Hebben Kamerleden contact met (groot)ouders, December 28, 2007.34 ‘Marijnissen;’Wilders is gevaarlijk’’, De Telegraaf, Frebruary 24, 2008.35 “Mensen vertrouwen Mij’, De Telegraaf, December 24, 2007.36 ‘Verdonk kiest voetballogo’, De Telegraaf, Frebuary 2, 2008.37 ‘Waan van de dag’, De Telegraaf, March 11, 2008. 20
  21. 21. refused to present any actual plans for the people to think about. Verdonk wanted to work ondirect democracy and argued that „the people did not trust politics anymore‟. She did not givea vision for a better Holland, because „the people should be involved in that process‟.26 Even though it did seem a risky strategy, especially seeing the reactions she got andthe drop in the polls, she did manage to become politician of the year in 2007, just defeatingGeert Wilders who came in second.38 It, however, seemed mostly based on the start of themovement and her party and afterwards she slowly started to fall.Wilders The end of 2007 and the start of 2008 is a period in which the PVV reclaimed someground. While they did not just yet fully recover from the upset in the political spectrumcaused by Verdonk, there is definitely a return to a previous position somewhere around 15seats. There could be a claim made that the initial shock of Verdonk, after which she droppedback in the polls, was overcome and people returned to the PVV. In figure 1, we can see thetwo parties almost crossing each other at the end of this period. One of the interesting things that can be seen from the analysis of De Telegraaf is thelarge difference in attention for the PVV with respect to Verdonk. There was a total numberof 301 articles devoted to either the PVV or Wilders. This is also definitely more incomparison to the first period where we did not see that much attention to Wilders‟ party. Theremarkable thing again here is that there are no real signs of protest vote attention or action byWilders, it is mostly about issues. The larger part of the articles are about the PVV taking astand on a certain issue. In general it can be argued to be a period where the PVV focusedmore on getting their message out. Important about these issues is that they varied in topic. There was a wide range oftopics which the PVV made the news with. PVV MP Fleur Agema focused on healthcarearguing that the government should pay more attention to the abuse of disabled people 39. Shealso wanted to raise the minimum age for prostitutes, emphasising the problems of young girlsand forced sex.40 They were fiercely against the military mission to Uruzgan, stating that theNetherlands should not be involved in the conflict anymore and that we should spend themoney (700 million euros) „at home‟.41 Apart from that, PVV MPs also focused on educationand climate change. Martin Bosma accused a previous minister of letting parts of the38 ‘Verdonk beste, Wilders tweede poilticus 2007’, De Telegraaf, December 14, 2007.39 ‘Meld misbruik gehandicapten’, De Telegraaf, November 28, 2007.40 ‘Leeftijd van prosituees optrekken’, De Telegraaf, Janaury 31, 2008.41 ‘Positieve reacties op besluit kabinet; Nog wel enkele vraagtekens’, De Telegraaf, December 1, 2008. 21
  22. 22. secondary education system fail and wanted change.42 Barry Madlener called climate changea hype with many MPs just following the lead and therefore refusing to participate in the Balisummit to tackle the issue.43 There were two other issues that definitely caused some discussion and raised someeyebrows. The first one was the PVV stand on the Dutch Antilles. While other parties werealso sceptical about the economic and financial performance of these islands, the PVV took itone step further especially on their rhetoric. In an interview Hero Brinkman called the Antillesand Aruba „a corrupt gang of crooks‟ (“corrupt boevennest”) and he wanted to get rid of theislands.44 This sparked a lot of reactions in and outside the Netherlands and even led to thePVV MP needing security during the parliamentary visit to the region.45 In an angry reactionto this statement the parliament of the Dutch Antilles also decided to deny Brinkman entranceto the state buildings until he apologised. Brinkman refused and the meeting was cancelled.46This episode was the start of a hate love affair of the PVV with the islands, arguing to takefurther measures against the former Dutch colonies. The other issue was the role of the queen in the Dutch constitution. In her annualChristmas speech, Queen Beatrix called for tolerance, respect for diversity and freedom ofreligion. Wilders took this very personal: “everybody knows who she is aiming for” andwanted her to stay on, but only for cutting ribbons. 47 It led to a discussion in the country for asmaller role of the monarch as a political figure. A poll showed a majority (51%) of thepeople wanting to reduce the power of the queen in contrast to 41% in earlier years. Wildersalso announced a proposal for a new law to create a ceremonial monarchy in which the Kingor Queen would be stripped of any formal powers and obligations.48 The matter however isstill not settled. For Wilders the discussion went deeper than just the Queen, he was upset by herwords in that speech. It characterised his fight against Islam and the threat he perceived for hiscountry. Even though, as shown, the PVV raised other issues, Islam was the most importantone. Almost a third of the articles had to do with this issue in this period. A lot of them raisedcriticism of certain actions that in their eyes cause an „Islamfication‟ of the Dutch culture.42 ‘Netelenbos is hoofdschuldige falen onderwijs’, De Telegraaf, December 4, 2008.43 ‘Weer een bos in rook op’, De Telegraaf, December 6, 2007.44 ‘Antillen moeten meer belasting heffen’, De Telegraaf, December 6, 2007.45 ‘Bodyguards voor Hero Brinkman’ , De Telegraaf, January 4, 2008.46 ‘Overleg Antillen afgelast’, De Telegraaf, January 8, 2008.47 ‘Wilders woedend na kersttoespraak’, De Telegraaf, December 27, 2007.48 ‘Kleinere rol voor koiningin’, De Telegraaf, January 8, 2008. 22
  23. 23. They argued for a ban on foreign languages in government buildings,49 but also wanted othersigns of non-Dutch cultures to be removed from the public eye. In their view, female policeofficers should no longer be allowed to wear headscarves when working. It would give themno chance when dealing „Moroccan boys‟.50 They even went as far as wanting to ban abathing suit that covered the entire body, stating it to be a sign of „islamification of sports‟. 51 Mainly because of his views on Islam some people started a counter movement againstthe „threat‟ Wilders. Doekle Terpstra, the leader of this movement, called him „the evil and itshould be stopped‟. He wanted native Dutchmen to rise up against Wilders and take over theimmigration debate.52 While the movement initially seemed to have many followers, it gotmostly negative response. Most people thought Terpstra went too far in calling Wilders evilitself. A poll showed 79% of the people did not support this movement.53 It even raised thequestion if this kind of response to Wilders would not trigger violence against the PVV leaderand whether it would not be just a matter of time until something happened to him.54 At thatpoint Wilders was the best guarded person in the Netherlands, having received many deaththreats. One among many being a video clip appearing on the internet where an image of himgot his throat sliced.55 The best way to illustrate that Islam was the most important topic for the PVV is themovie Fitna. In March 2008, when there was a lot of talk of the film coming out very soon,there were 100 articles on Wilders or the PVV in de Telegraaf. A staggering 85 of themconcerned Fitna. The movie, according to Wilders, showed the real story of Islam. It showed„the real truth‟ about the Koran and portrayed horrifying images of beheadings and otherexecutions by Sharia law.56 In the run-up to the premiere (which was ultimately broadcast only on the Internet)there was nothing short of fear among politicians and anger abroad. The minister for theinterior called on mayors and the police to prepare for the worst.57 Prime Minister Jan PeterBalkenende even called for Wilders to reconsider, saying he was intensively worried to whatcould happen. „It is about the security of Dutch citizens and companies abroad and about the49 ‘Nederlands niet verplicht’, De Telegraaf, December 19, 2007.50 ‘Agente met hoofddoek hoort niet’, De Telegraaf, November 29, 2007.51 ‘Boerkini goed voor integratie’, De Telegraaf, January 12, 2008.52 ‘Verzetsbeweing tegen Wilders’, De Telegraaf, December 2, 2007.53 ‘Anti-Wildersbeweging krijgt geen steun’, De Telegraaf, December 5, 2007.54 ‘Verdeeldheid over acties tegen Wilders’, De Telegraaf, January 15, 2008.55 ‘Wilders doet aangifte om internetclip’, De Telegraaf, December 30, 2007.56 ‘Wilders doet boekje open over zijn film’, De Telegraaf, January 26, 2008.57 ‘Draaiboek gemeenten om film Wilders’, De Telegraaf, January 17, 2008. 23
  24. 24. military personnel doing their job‟.58 Several Dutch embassies felt no longer safe to show theDutch flag on their buildings, because of the reactions that it could spark 59. That was mainlybecause of the reaction in the Arab world to this movie. The Dutch cricket team travelledincognito to Namibia for an international tournament, afraid of reactions to the Wildersmovie.60 In general, Fitna occupied the political news, especially because of the uncertaintyabout the movie. Even while this was a period of small recovery for Wilders, that was notbecause of Fitna. On the contrary, in the month that Fitna became so prominent, Wildersalready started to show some decline in the polls. A poll by TNS NIPO showed that 75% ofthe Dutch people did not think the movie was a good idea.61 It appeared to be a sign of whatwas to follow, when Fitna actually was shown to the world.3.3. Period 3: Fitna; 23 March 2008 – 18 May 2008 Figure 4. Opinion polls 23-3-2008 - 18-5-2008 24 number of seats 19 PVV 14 ToN Source: 9 Peil.nlVerdonk From March until the end of May 2008 we can see what could be dubbed as therevival of Verdonk. After she had dropped back, she now managed to reclaim support andeven reached an all-time high at the end of this period of 26 seats in the polls. This was notsomething she could manage to hang on to very long, but nevertheless in this period there was58 ‘Op ergste voorbereiden; Balkenende houdt hart vast voor gevolgen Wildersfilm’, De Telegraaf, March 1,2008.59 ‘Kamer wil vlag in top in Beiroet’, De Telegraaf, March 21, 2008.60 ‘Cricketers bang voor moslimtaal’, De Telegraaf, March 22, 2008.61 ‘Nederlander ziet niets in film Wilders’, De Telegraaf, December 4, 2007. 24
  25. 25. growth and signs that TON is not completely without a chance to get a good result at the nextelections. Naturally this is the period of Fitna and its aftermath, after the fierce discussions in theprevious month the movie was now released. It should be mentioned that on the exact datethat Fitna came out, March 28 2008, Verdonk started to show a rise in the polls. Verdonkherself did not pay much attention to Fitna, either in the previous period or in this one. Theonly thing she did say was that it was a „big fuss about nothing‟, meaning that Prime MinisterBalkenende, among others, should not have had an opinion ready before the movie wasreleased. Verdonk on the other hand, would stand firmly for freedom of speech.62 That she was, nevertheless, linked to Fitna, but for her in a good way, becomes clearby the sharp movement in the polls after the release. In one week she gained five seats andafterwards continued to grow further. As showed, this growth did come for a large partfrom the PVV with 25% of the PVV voters of the 2006 election mentioning they would nowvote for Verdonk instead.63 Apparently Verdonk was seen as a mild alternative when it cameto issues concerning Islam, even though she did not explicitly responded to the movie. Apart from this influence there was another fire starter for Verdonk. What she in factdid was re-launch her movement by presenting the official kick-off of Trots Op Nederland.After months of avoiding issues, this time there was substance. Verdonk argued for a toughimmigration and integration policy just as she had done when she was still a minister. Shewanted fewer rules, a solution to the traffic jams and more responsibility and trust towards thecitizens.64 Finally people managed to get idea of what she stood for and the reaction in thepolls to this was noticeable. A research among 4500 participants showed that people werehappy that Verdonk had presented her ideas and they stated they took her seriously. „ToN ishere to make the Netherlands more liveable without focusing too much on minorities, that Itake seriously‟.65 ToN was, however, not like other parties. With her movement it was possible toparticipate online to decide on issue stands. As stated before she wanted the people to thinkabout it and give the solutions. That raised a lot of criticism. A publicist in De Telegraaf jokedshe should just „copy paste the newspaper and that would give her a new program‟.66 Theprime minister said that she was totally on the wrong path and argued that „nobody could62 ‘Verdonk steunt Geert Wilders, De Telegraaf, April 4, 2008.63 ‘Nieuw Haags Peil van 6 april 2008’,, April 6, 2008.64 ‘Het is genoeg: Verdonk presenteert Trots op Nederland’, De Telegraaf, April 4, 200865 ‘Trots op NL’ scoort’, De Telegraaf, April 5, 2008.66 ‘Eenvoud’, De Telegraaf, April 5, 2008. 25
  26. 26. support her manifesto, because she did not have any ideas!‟.67 So even though she did presentsome initial ideas, overall she gave no actual policy stands and surely did not pursue theseafterwards. In the remaining articles of this period (more than a months‟ time), there wasnothing substantive to be found. Instead she went back to the person Verdonk and again she emphasised her anti oldpolitics stands. In a tour around the country she said, in her first speech to people, that „theythink you are dumb‟ and that „they do not trust you‟, „they only want your money‟.68 It is theanti-politics rhetoric that she used to motivate supporters to join her movement and to startover with a new way of politics in which citizens would have a say. She had her most loyalsupporters among business men and women; in addition to Nina Brink, who became famousin the Netherlands for the rise and fall of her company World Online, there was Harry Menswho had his own TV show where Verdonk was a regular guest. He also emphasised this antipolitics by stating that „the current elite makes it very difficult for the opposition‟69.It was definitely this unrest and uneasiness with politics in general that she built on. With alarge reader study among readers of De Telegraaf many people stated Rita Verdonk was agood alternative: „We are waiting for Rita‟, „Rita will be our rescue‟.70 What they also said, asbecame clear from the previously mentioned research, was that Verdonk was essential for thesurvival of the party. 61% of the respondents only saw a future for ToN if Verdonk was there,if she were to leave, the movement would collapse.56 So even with this surge in the polls andvirtually becoming the second largest party of the country, she still mainly relied on herselfand the protest feelings towards politics in general.Wilders While Verdonk presented her new movement to the world, the most important thingfor Wilders and the PVV remained the movie Fitna. In the days just before the unannouncedrelease of the movie on the danger of Islam, there were some problems for Wilders. First ofall since there had been so much discussion of the movie and its alleged images, there was adiscussion possibly banning the movie. Several organisations, including the Dutch IslamFederation, went to court to ask for a ban and demanded apologies from Wilders for hisactions.71 While that was averted easily, his other problem was bigger. Not a single Dutch TV67 ‘Balkenende haalt uit naar Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, May 17, 2008.68 ‘Verdonk: Men vindt u dom’, De Telegraaf, April 15, 2008.69 ‘Fiscus slaat munt uit beveiliging’ , De Telegraaf, April 20, 2008.70 ‘Lezer is het helemaal beu’, De Telegraaf, April 28, 2008.71 ‘Turkse NIF wil excuses Wilders’, De Telegraaf, March 27, 2008. 26
  27. 27. station or network wanted to broadcast Wilders‟ movie, with exception of the Dutch MoslimNetwork (NMO), which Wilder declined immediately. He also tried it on the Internet, but hissite was shut down because of complaints received by the provider.72 When he finally succeeded posting it on the Internet, the reactions were mild to say theleast, with people responding that it was not as extreme as expected. Experts argued there wasno reason to prosecute Wilders on the basis of this movie, which showed some extremeviolence, but did not cross the line of freedom of speech.73 The cabinet, that immediatelyconvened in an emergency meeting distanced itself from the movie, saying that the only thingWilders tried to achieve was to hurt the feelings of people and it served no other goal. Wildershimself responded by saying that the prime minister should be ashamed for causing so muchpanic throughout the world.74 An important thing to mention is the attention to Fitna with respect to the PVV. Of the152 documents in this period on the PVV or Wilders, slightly more than half of them weresomehow related to Fitna. Of those articles 52 were published in the 12 days after the releaseof the movie. For the PVV there appeared to be nothing else than Fitna at that point in time. Itcontrolled their news, especially in the first days after the release. Afterwards it becamesomewhat quiet around the PVV. There were already signs that people walked away when allthe commotion was raised before the release of the movie, but with the actual movie comingout and the attention for the most part being on Fitna it becomes more clear. The movie Fitnaand the popularity of the PVV did not seem to be positively linked, on the contrary there werestrong signs that Wilders was the main victim of his own movie. The debate that was sparked afterwards was not so much about the movie, but theprocess surrounding it. It became ugly when cabinet ministers accused Wilders of wanting toburn the Koran in his movie, arguing that to be the main reason for the cabinet to respond insuch a manner as they had done in the run-up to this. They even released confidential notes toprove this. Wilders was outraged, called them liars and even urged the cabinet to resignbecause of this.75 The matter was never settled and it was not clear who was telling the truthin this. This was reason for the vice-president of the council of state, the highest judiciarybody in the Netherlands, to argue that the „democracy of the Netherlands is in danger‟. Whensuch doubt continues to exist it raises „serious problems with the credibility of the state‟.7672 ‘Ook internet weer film Geert Wilders’, De Telegraaf, March 24, 2008.73 ‘Keurig vertaald, geen aanzet tot haat’, De Telegraaf, March 28, 2008.74 ‘Balkenende: Wilders wil alleen kwetsen’, De Telegraaf, March 28, 2008.75 ‘Film Fitna wel aangepast na kritiek kabinet’, De Telegraaf, April 2, 2008.76 ‘Democratie loopt gevaar’, De Telegraaf, April 13, 2008. 27
  28. 28. There were, however, more problems with Fitna for Wilders. After the initial releasehe had to change parts of the movie because of the legal claims. He had used wrong images ofpeople portraying them to be terrorists.77 It raised more discussion on the already widespreadopinion of Fitna being a movie of very low standards.78 These low standards also seemed toprevail in the preparations for what Wilders intended to be a series of debates in the country todiscuss Fitna and Islam in general. It failed and in the end there was no actual discussion as hewanted there to be. The first debate night was cancelled because there were not enoughMuslims who wanted to discuss the movie with Wilders79 and another debate in Gouda wascancelled because Muslim societies felt threatened by the demands that Wilders presented fordebate. They wanted to discuss the movie, but under their conditions and not those of thePVV.80 The apparent failure of Fitna in electoral fallout and in the way the debate proceededresulted in a remarkable period of silence by Wilders and the PVV. Apart from some minorissues there was not much news in the remaining period. When Wilders spoke out again heacknowledged that the PVV should also focus on other issues saying that „Islam remained themost important point, but we sometimes have to pay attention to other matters‟. He kicked offby proposing to annex Flanders to solve the political problems in Belgium.81 It did not seemto be a very serious issue and was rejected almost immediately, but it does show that Wildersalso saw the problems with being a one issue party focused on Islam.Period 4: Verdonk’s Final Act; 18 May-2008 – 1 February 2009 Figure 5. Opinion polls 18-5-2008 - 1-2-2009 25 20 Number of seats 15 10 ToN 5 Source: 0 18-5-2008 18-7-2008 18-9-2008 18-11-2008 18-1-200977 ‘Wilders past Fitna aan’ , De Telegraaf, April 1, 2008.78 ‘Onschuldig’, De Telegraaf, March 28, 2008.79 ‘Streep door Fitna-Debat’, De Telegraaf, May 10, 2008.80 ‘Invitatie PVV aan moslims wekt ergernis’, De Telegraaf, April 25, 2008.81 ‘Wijk komen op voor de gewone man’, De Telegraaf, May 12, 2008. 28
  29. 29. In this fourth period of analysis the focus will be on Rita Verdonk only. During thisperiod, which can be seen as the final act of her movement, we see that after re-emerging inthe previous months she now drops in the polls. As shown in figure 5, she became involved ina free fall that lasted almost eight months. Untill this day ToN has not recover from this, itseems therefore crucial to see what happened in this period and what the focus was on. What is illustrative for Verdonk throughout all the periods is the major focus on theperson Verdonk or as the leader Verdonk of her movement. The articles in this period againshow this pattern, although the attention was mostly negative. As seen in previous periods shealso became associated with non-politically related issues. She, for example, handed out 1200bras to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of a local company in Bleiswijk.82 The purpose ofthis action was not clear and seemed a rather strange move. She also took a part in a DutchSinterklaas movie, stating it to be „a real Dutch product which she firmly supports‟.83 It waspart of a larger strategy by her adviser Kay van der Linde who also put her up for hire toperform at parties and barbeques. It was an idea taken over from American campaigns wherepeople like Clinton and Obama were also available as guest speakers. By paying 10,000 euroone would get an entire evening with Verdonk.84 There was also a big discussion around Verdonk‟s security in early June 2008. Ananalysis by the Dutch anti-terrorism unit showed that there was no longer a major risk ofpeople wanting to harm Verdonk. The Dutch government therefore decided to stop protectingher with bodyguards. Verdonk did not agree with this assessment and claimed still to be underthreat and did not feel safe.85 It led to a discussion in parliament where Verdonk took on therole of a victim with the Dutch government unwilling to keep her safe. The Dutch peopleseemed not to agree with Verdonk, with almost 60% agreeing with the decision made by thejustice minister that it was no longer necessary to keep her protection level as high as it hadbeen when she was a minister in the previous cabinet.86 All this talk about security again keptthe discussion away from issue related matters. Security, however, was just the start of Verdonk‟s problems in this period. Withadvisers as Ed Sinke and Kay van der Linde, a big issue around a money donation and herallegedly being involved in leftish action groups participating in squatting activities ultimately82 ‘Verdonk geeft 1200 bh’s weg’, De Telegraaf, August 21, 2008.83 ‘Filmrol Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, May 24, 2008.84 ‘Verdonk te huur voor tien mille’, De Telegraaf, June 14, 2008.85 ‘Ik voel mij niet veilig’; Kabinet staakt bewaking Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, June 5, 2008.86 ‘Steun voor verminderen beveiliging van Verdonk’, De Telegraaf, June 8, 2008. 29
  30. 30. cost her many votes. Before this period there was some talk about problems in her party butthis period the party seemed to rapidly fall apart financially as well as organisationally. It started out with her party celebrating the official start of her new movement TON.She organised an evening inviting all kinds of people, who had to pay to gain access to theparty itself and Verdonk to raise money for her. The problem, however, was that it did not sellout. A business man then promised Verdonk millions of euros for the remaining tickets. Hewanted to buy them and spread them around party faithful. Verdonk, however, never receivedthe money, which led to an argument over what was agreed and whether that person shouldpay ToN or not.87 It characterised the financial problems the party was in and the fact thatthere was no real control over it. It remained an issue when Verdonk, in June 2008, accused her former adviser EdSinke of stealing campaign money. Sinke, having left ToN weeks before, allegedly used partyfunds for his own companies without the permission of Verdonk. He denied it, but it was toolate. ToN was immediately compared to the LPF. This party, formerly led by assassinatedpolitician Pim Fortuyn, fell apart by internal struggles and fights.88 Talk started about theorganisation of Verdonk‟s movement in general. It was openly questioned whether Verdonkwas capable of fulfilling the ambition she had outlined for herself. It was clear that thingswere not going well within the party.89 Until then, however, she always had the image of being an iron lady, firmly obeyingthe Dutch law and doing what she had to do for her country. This was questioned when itcame out that Verdonk had a past of being a leftish activist. In September 2008 several Dutchpoliticians were outed as being active as such in the 1980s, but for Verdonk‟s image it was amajor blow. According to a Dutch current affairs magazine, she had participated indemonstrations to defend squatting and joined sit-ins for this purpose.90 She tried to defendherself by saying that she had not broken the law, but it was not believed with a tv host askingher whether she was just there for a „picknick‟ than?91 Her image of always doing the rightthing, no matter how difficult, was now blown away. Verdonk, starting out as the right wingcandidate, was now associated with left wing issues she always claimed to be against. A final push came from her most loyal adviser, the person that had always defendedher throughout the years: Kay van der Linde. As mentioned earlier, he was the one who had87 ‘Donateur’: TON niet opgelicht’, De Telegraaf, July 3, 2008.88 ‘Oorlog in TON over geld’, De Telegraaf, June 19, 2008.89 ‘Afbreuk’, De Telegraaf, June 19, 2008.90 ‘Verdonk actief als kraker’, De Telegraaf, September 2, 2008.91 ‘Bewijs’, De Telegraaf, September 3, 2008. 30
  31. 31. come up with the strategy of creating the image around Verdonk instead of using issues topromote the party. His Judas kiss was a guest lecture at the University of Amsterdam in whichhe stated his surprise that so many people had supported Verdonk. According to him therewas „just a person, no party, no issues, no nothing‟ and „that is what they want to give theirvote to?‟. According to van der Linde the party was a hoax.92 He claimed not to have knownthat the lecture was being recorded and that it was blown out of proportions, but it was toolate. Van der Linde left the the movement a day after.93 The man who had been so importantfor the image of the party was now forced to leave criticising it. In just a few months Verdonk had lost two important advisers and saw her imageshattered. Meanwhile she still failed to become leading on any issues with only presenting anopinion every now and then with most of the time not being clear about them. Instead sheaccused the prime minister of the day Jan Peter Balkenende of a conspiracy against her. „Theelite in the Hague saw her as a threat‟ and therefore they would come up with things thatwould make her look bad. As an example she mentioned the prime minister referring to heralleged squatter past. She found this to be a small piece trying to destroy her party.94 Itseemed to have been a final act of desperation of a politician who knew she was never goingto reclaim the position she once had as the iron lady of Dutch politics, a person that ultimatelycould never convince in terms of issues and got beaten by her own party.3.5. Period 5: Poll position; 21 December 2008 – 12 April 2009 Figure 6. Opinion polls 21-12-2008 - 12-4-2009 30 Number of seats 25 PVV 20 Source: 15 21-12-2008 21-1-2009 21-2-2009 21-3-200992 ‘Kay van der Linde: Verdonks TON gebakken lucht’, De Telegraaf, November 29, 2008.93 ‘Ook linkerhand Rita Verdonk verlaat TON’, De Telegraaf, November 30, 2008.94 ‘Verdonk: Balkenende in complot tegen TON’, De Telegraaf, December 14, 2008. 31
  32. 32. What can be seen from this period, as was the case in previous ones, was that the PVVfocused on a wide range of issues, some of them indeed centred around themes asimmigration and security that are mostly associated with right wing populist parties. Whatsets the PVV aside from other such parties is, however, the focus on issues as healthcare,animal rights and the position it takes in labour market discussions. When it came to securingdecent levels of healthcare in the Netherlands and discussions surrounding that, we can seethe PVV actively supporting left wing positions.95 When events occurred with animals beingtreated wrongly and neglected it was Dion Graus, the PVV MP, who was one of the first tostand up and demand better regulation of animal rights.96 And when discussion arose onpension rights for working men performing hard labour, the PVV sided again with theSocialist Party and showed its human face fighting for a better life for people.97 NaturallyIslam was important as well during this period, but definitely not as passionately as during theFitna discussion. The PVV could surely not be qualified as a one issue party during thisperiod, for that the focus was too widespread and inclusive. It must be said that there were also signs of a more populist approach, with the PVVfocusing on the average Joe in their plans. Barry Madlener directed his attention to the rise inwater taxes, claiming that these were „difficult times for many people and it would thereforebe very hard for them to pay up such amounts‟.98 Wilders suggested giving every person inthe Netherlands a cheque for 400 euros to revive the economy. The PVV would not take awaymoney from people, but would support them in their needs.99 These plans were naturallyaccompanied by a lot of rhetoric aimed against the current government and their way oftreating the Dutch citizen. During the ING bailout discussion, trying to save one of the mostimportant Dutch banks from going bankrupt, the PVV claimed that with the government plans„the average Joe was financing Joe Sixpack‟.100 Another favourite was labelling theenvironment, art subsidies and development aid as „leftist hobbies‟. These were plans that 101were of no use to the average Dutch citizen and that should be eliminated. It were wordsthat later became a symbol for everything Wilders did not agree with in these parties. The importance of this period, however, can be characterised by a couple of events ordevelopments around Wilders as a person. The court case being one of them. After an initial95 ‘Overname ziekenhuizen weer onzeker’, De Telegraaf, January 17, 2009.96 ‘Nederland treurt om Annabel’, De Telegraaf, March 3, 2009.97 ‘Politiek buigt niet voor metaalsector’, De Telegraaf, March 11, 2009.98 ‘Kamer onthutst over hoge waterschap nota’, De Telegraaf, March 3, 2009.99 ‘Wilders: Geef iedereen 400 euro’, De Telegraaf, March 20, 2009.100 ‘Potje nakaarten’ Ing-deal ontstemt kamerleden flink’, De Telegraaf, February 4, 2009.101 ‘Wilders; Snij in linkse hobby’s’, De Telegraaf, February 18, 2009. 32
  33. 33. rejection by the public attorney to prosecute Wilders, the court decided on January 21st 2009that they did have to do so. It stated that Wilders had „offended the Muslim people and actedin violation with the foundations of a stable democracy‟.102 In the eyes of many this decisionwas not a one to prosecute, but to convict. Geertjan Knoops, professor of internationalcriminal law, claimed it to be „a blueprint for conviction‟ and VVD MP Fred Teeven said that„a member of parliament is being silenced‟.103 Although there were also some positivereactions to this decision, the general opinion appeared to be one of disagreement. A publicopinion study among 7000 respondents showed that people could not understand why thiswas done and almost 90% of them said that he had to be cleared of the charges against him.104The court case would eventually take place with the outcome still unsure until this day,although the prosecution continues to stand by its initial decision not to punish Wilders for hisactions. On February 12 of that same year another remarkable event occurred. Wilders wantedto fly to London to show his movie Fitna in the British upper house, but was refused entranceto the United Kingdom upon arrival because of disturbance of the public order and being asecurity risk.105 Similar to the reactions to the courts‟ decision to prosecute, there again was ageneral sense of disapproval of this refusal by the British government. Even his most fierceopponents stood by his side. Deputy prime minister and Labour leader Wouter Bos stated that„Wilders was unjustly being portrayed as being involved in hate crimes‟.106 Nobody reallyunderstood why the British government had taken this decision and just as with hisprosecution it occupied the news for several days. Only a few weeks later his was admitted into the United States to show Fitna and to express the opinions he wanted. It was during thisvisit that he found out that for the first time in its existence the PVV had virtually become thelargest party in the Netherlands. Since January the party had grown twelve seats.107 What happened with these two examples is that even though it was very personalised,it created and revived a much larger debate. It was no longer just about Wilders beingprosecuted or Wilders not being allowed to enter the United Kingdom to show Fitna, it wasabout freedom of speech and being able to say what you want without the fear of prosecution.It was this that triggered Rutte to argue for unlimited freedom of speech, saying that „Citizens102 ‘Voortbestaan PVV in gevaar’, De Telegraaf, January 22, 2009.103 ‘Parlementariër mond gesnoerd’, De Telegraaf, January 22, 2009.104 ‘Vrijspraak voor Wilders’ , De Telegraaf, January 23, 2009.105 ‘Ongehoord en niet te geloven’, De Telegraaf, February 11, 2009.106 ‘Bos op de bres voor Wilders’, De Telegraaf, February 12, 2009.107 ‘Wat ben ik hier blij mee’, March 1, 2009. 33
  34. 34. and politicians should be able to say what they want‟.108 It was also exactly for this reasonthat Mayor Bloomberg of New York, during the visit of representatives, also said that „you godown a slippery slope when you start to reduce freedom of speech‟.109 Wilders was no longersubject in a debate on Islam or his views, it was about the freedom to express opinions. It wasin this that Wilders had become a victim. It is no surprise that because of the reaction ofpeople and the general opinion with both of these events that it directly translated into thePVV gaining seats in the polls.110,111 All of this was also in the midst of the aftermath of the world wide economic crisis.The Dutch government therefore had to take steps to tackle the consequences. Most of theseplans were being made behind closed doors, without the opposition having any influence overthe process. During the parliamentary debate on this Wilders took a rigorous theatrical step:he left parliament with his entire caucus during the debate. They claimed that the governmenthad not for a minute listened to the opposition and denounced the decision making process asa hoax.112 Wilders wanted to be heard and he succeeded in this, during this period he grew tohis ultimate high in the polls and from that moment the tone changed somewhat. When Wilders noticed that he might have a chance of becoming the largest party afterthe next election and showing a steady grow in the polls, he showed some of, what laterduring the 2010 formation process proved to be, his willingness to compromise. Heannounced that his favourite government composition would consist of the PVV, CDA andVVD. He was even prepared to make concessions in order to make sure that the PVV wouldend up in government.113 It was seen by others as a remarkable turn away from his oldstraightforward political decision making towards an opening to others. It was now adiscussion whether other parties would join up and possibly form coalitions with Wilders.Alexander Pechtold of the Democrats 66 party refused and would „request asylum in anothercountry‟ if Wilders would enter the cabinet.114 It was however apparent that Wilders and thePVV had become „salonfähig‟.108 ‘Weg met die wet’, De Telegraaf, January 25, 2009.109 ‘Bloomberg helpt Rutte en Wilders’, De Telegraaf, January 29, 2009.110 ‘Wilders Rukt op’, De Telegraaf, January 26, 2009.111 ‘Wilders wint met vliegreis’, De Telegraaf, Frebuary 16, 2009.112 ‘Weglopen is fout en theatraal’, De Telegraaf, March 27, 2009.113 ‘Samen met CDA en VVD’, De Telegraaf, April 5, 2009.114 ‘Pechtold zoekt asiel als PVV in kabinet zit’, De Telegraaf, April 8, 2009. 34