NO FINGER IN THE DYKE – The current Dutch Prime Minister’s centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy will continue as the biggest party in the parliament, with Mark Rutte in the top job. People’s Party performed better than the polls expected (possibly a boost from his clash with Turkey’s Erdogan), but it has still suffered a big swing of 5 per cent against and a loss of 8 seats, which will no doubt make negotiating the next coalition government more complicated and protracted.

The populist surge of Geert Wilders did not materialise, but as I blogged about it a few days ago, it was never going to. Still, Wilders increased his vote by 2 per cent and his seat tally to 20 (still short of his 2010 high water mark of 25). His Party of Freedom is now actually the second largest in the parliament. The other big winners are Christian Democrats and centre-left D66.

As Anne Applebaum writes in “the Washington Post”, the real story of the Dutch election is the collapse of the traditional left vote and fragmentation of the left-wing politics. Labor Party has suffered a massive swing against, losing 29 seats (!) – with 5.7 per cent of the popular vote and 9 seats it is now only the 7th largest party in the parliament, behind Socialists and the Greens.

As Applebaum says:

Across the continent, disillusioned ex-left-wingers have often drifted into the arms of xenophobes, particularly since many of them — most notably France’s Marine Le Pen, but also the Austrian Freedom Party and the Polish Law and Justice Party — now advocate what one might call Marxism Lite or, less politely, national socialism: Elements include the re-nationalization of industry, curbs on trade and bigger social-welfare states. But others who have left the Left have taken a different route. Some support liberals such as Emmanuel Macron in France, or Greens such as Alexander Van der Bellen, the president of Austria. In the Dutch elections, support for social and economic liberals, as well as for the Green party, went up dramatically.

In the end, the demise of the Old Left, and the story of what replaces it, may turn out to matter more than the rise of the “New Far Right.” It’s true that this Populist International understood much earlier that the dramatic changes wrought by the Internet, social media and automation, as well as trade and globalization, meant that the democratic West needed new political parties with new philosophies. Its answer was negative, angry and in some cases undemocratic radical nostalgia: rejection of the present in favor of a revolutionary return to some idealized, all-white, fully employed past.

There could be other answers, too. Maybe disillusioned voters can also be mobilized around positive projects. Maybe they will be attracted to new parties, or new leaders, who offer a vision of a better future instead of an unattainable past. Lately, that hasn’t worked so well in the English-speaking world. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen at all.

The centre strengthens, populists tread water, the left collapses and splinters. The real stories are always more interesting – and complicated – than the headlines.

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