Four years ago, Mark Rutte vowed to defeat ‘the wrong kind of populism’. Now, recently disgraced after a benefits scandal, little of the centrist prime minister’s aura remains. We went to Capelle aan den Ijssel, a dreary commuter town 60 miles south of Amsterdam. As the Dutch go to the polls on Wednesday, voters feel abandoned by their government.
“He’s what we call a kankerlijer”, says a man calling himself Ruud, using a traditional Dutch insult roughly translatable as ‘doofus’. He swiftly hoists his baby and young child on his bike, disregarding helmets. The muddy brown strips of dirt on the side of the road signal deferred maintenance, the grey clouds hovering over Capelle are eerily reminiscent of a Ruisdael painting. Trams don’t go here.
Ruud will be voting Geert Wilders’ upstart Freedom Party. For the first time: “I used to be an old leftie. Last time I voted [Rutte’s junior coalition partner] D66. No more. To me, the benefits scandal showed that our mainstream politicians only care about immigrants. The autochthonous Dutch are structurally discriminated against.”
But it’s not only political correctness that’s killing the country. The covid-19 pandemic ravaged the country’s healthcare system and its underfunded GGD’s (Gezamenlijke Gezondheids Dienst, Common Health Service). In a particularly humiliating twist for the proud Dutchies, Dutch corona patients had to be sent to hospitals in Germany, the Netherlands’ historical enemy.
Not everyone in Capelle is planning to vote for Wilders, however. More than a few support local son Joost Eerdmans, the new rising star in Dutch politics. A former civil servant, Mr. Eerdmans has teamed up with veteran political analyst Annabel Nanninga to found the right-of-center JA21 party. “Of course, the left-wing media have completely ignored us, so we rely on the internet for campaigning”, the soft-spoken Mrs. Nanninga explains. If the polls are to be believed, JA21 may well overtake the calvinist SGP as the country’s 12th biggest party.
On an abandoned playground, the swings creaking in the wind, the overlooked youth are either politically apathetic or casting a vote for Volt, a radical party run by youngsters who want to erase borders within Europe. They long for a future elsewhere, with more opportunities.
Here, in this country that prides itself for its nuchterness, few expect things to change after Wednesday’s vote. “Everything will probably stay the same, it always does”, says Miranda, a young mother. She opens the back doors of a van. Newspapers cover the windows. “Go on you guys”, she says. Eight children, all under the age of ten, cram themselves in the pitch black van. They will be released in the nearby woods when darkness falls, left with a flashlight and a peanut butter sandwich. It’s an old Dutch tradition known as dropping (dropping). The strong will make their way back. The coming months will tell if Dutch politics is as resilient as Dutch children.