by Jack Ferguson, in Amsterdam • December 9th marked the culmination of a two-year publicity stunt by the leader of the modern Dutch far right, Geert Wilders. The leader and founder of the Party for Freedom (PVV in Dutch) was convicted of “insulting a group”, as well as inciting hatred and discrimination.
The charges stem from a rally held during the 2014 local elections, at which Wilders asked a crowd if they would like “More or fewer Moroccans?” After his supporters roared back “fewer”, he told them, “We’re going to take care of that.”
Despite the fact that the trial followed over 6000 complaints to police, his conviction looks unlikely to hit his party’s standing in the polls ahead of national elections next March. No sentence was imposed by the court, who argued the conviction was its own punishment.
The PVV is the current frontrunner, an incredible feat for a party that was only formally founded in 2006. They hold a clear lead over the current governing VVD, the more traditional right wing force.
This unprecedented potential upset for Dutch politics comes in the wake of an unpopular grand coalition which saw the equivalents of the Conservatives and Labour governing together, with PvdA (Party for Workers, or Labour) cast in the junior role of Nick Clegg.
This went all the way to Labour shaming themselves by reneging on virtually all election pledges on public spending and austerity. Predictably, they now are projected to drop from 38 seats to 10.
Wilders meanwhile has been preparing for this moment of political disillusionment and alienation for over a decade. He is a quintessential figure of the 21st century revival of far right politics in a more polished and suave form, shorn of the overt symbolism of mid 20th century fascism.
A hardcore Dutch nationalist, he has built his career through crude scapegoating of immigrant communities, claiming the Netherlands faces a threat from immigrants from elsewhere in the southern and eastern EU, as well as conjuring a phantom danger of “Islamification.”
As a solution to the nation’s problems, he advocates for ‘Nexit’—Dutch withdrawal from the EU, and the return of the Guilder to replace the Euro.
In a signature move that has been replicated in the US and elsewhere, Wilders and the PVV hypocritically pose as the defenders of the Dutch liberal tradition, claiming that their racism is justified because Islam is oppressive of women and LGBT people.
Indeed, Wilders has been right next to Nigel Farage in Trump’s entourage in recent months, and even has similar poor taste in hair style.
While their overall economic programme remains familiarly right wing and neoliberal, they tactically also place major emphasis on funding and support for the elderly, seeing their base among older white voters outside of the more cosmopolitan cities.
The Dutch electoral system is based strictly on proportional representation, making it much less winner-takes-all than the formation of UK governments.
All other potential leading parties have agreed to a common stance of refusing to work in government with the PVV, but how long this stance will be maintained following the election remains to be seen.
As Labour collapses as it has across Europe, the left is divided between a number of different parties, ranging from Green Left to the Party for Animals (which also has a quite left programme for humans as well). The Socialist Party, the main left force that aims to replace Labour, is also struggling to advance in the polls.
At the previous elections, there was a period in which the SP seemed poised to take power, before receding in the polls. In recent years, a dilution of some positions and moves to be seen as more respectable have not always paid off in increased votes.
While a fearful world mainly looks to the Presidential election in France as the next potential shock to the global system, the truth is that Dutch voters may be about to deliver one sooner.
The rise of Wilders has been one of the textbook cases for how far right ideology has been repackaged by slick media operators and politicians who have positioned themselves to take advantage of the ongoing global economic depression.
Defeating this new threat across Europe will take a determined and long struggle, in which socialists are not afraid to go beyond the bounds of respectability.