Sorry, Theresa May, but Politics Is Complicated

While Theresa May paid an expensive dowry to hold onto power, the negotiations in Holland prove how tricky forming a principle based ‘agreement’ actually is.

150 Million per DUP vote – A Sustainable Coalition?

Even from this side of the North Sea, it’s pretty obvious that, after the elections, Theresa May bought herself and her party 10 Democratic Union Party votes, costing 150 million quid a piece, to cobble together a weak, almost laughable coalition in order to survive the Queen’s speech and get “back to work” (still as a minority government). The question that must now be asked is if Theresa has got herself a bargain. Well, she’s certainly bought herself time (excuse the pun), but I’d be interested to see how much pounds per minute that will all come down to – and then convert the price into Euro’s so that we, on the continent, can all have a good laugh and watch the mockery of the British public unfold.

Ironically, her blatant and unapologetic manoeuvre to hold on to power at any cost might be the sole reason why she’s going to get away with it. We are all standing here gob-smacked at her audacity and lack of shyness. As a cherry on the cake, the Conservatives came out with the brilliant remark that the money was available anyway. So why not spend it on buying a few parliamentary seats, and then tell the nurses, firemen and police constables that they’ll have to wait another 7 years for that illusive pay-rise. But what is Theresa May going to do with her newly acquired seats – apart from paying more than £60b to the EU, printing over 3 million ID cards for the EU citizens whose futures are on the line, and refurbishing scores of council flats? One thing’s for sure, we have to admire Theresa May’s determination in wanting to “get the job done”. She will get Brexit done and dusted, even if it has already cost her £1.5bn.

Here in the Netherlands, we could learn something from the speed and efficiency with which Theresa May has formed a new government. Since the March parliamentary elections, various Dutch political parties have been trying to bury their differences and form a working coalition, without success. It just shows you that the old saying that “you get what you pay for” really holds in politics.

But what is taking the Dutch so long? Part of the answer is that, unlike Theresa May who is prepared to put the peace process in Northern Ireland at risk, in order to deny the emergency services a pay rise and mess up the rest of the UK, the Dutch are not prepared to take risks by forming coalitions with more than dubious parties. In refusing to work with the extreme-right-wing PVV and its leader, Geert Wilders, a working coalition comprising at least 4 parties is now required to obtain a majority that has any chance of succeeding. But a hundred-odd days to form a government is nothing to get worried about. In 1977, a full 7 months were needed to get the country ticking again, and that’s really fast-food time compared to the 541 days needed by our mutual friends from Belgium in 2010.

Since 29th March, former health minister Edith Schippers had the unenviable task of presiding over the discussions between the various protagonists in attempt to find out if a working coalition was at all possible. Discussions took place between the 4 biggest political parties – excluding Geert wilders – to see if common ground could be obtained. It won’t surprise you at all to learn that it didn’t. The centre and centre-right parties (VVD, CDA and D66) have a hard time getting on with each other, leave alone the left-leaning parliamentarians from the GroenLinks party (Green party). On 11th May, Schippers informed the Dutch parliament that negotiations were proving very difficult, if not impossible.

Everyone is aware that the parties concerned display mutually large differences in content. Not for nothing have I qualified the discussions as a substantially difficult task. Furthermore, the reality is that the available budgetary leeway is extremely limited, as was clearly explained by the Finance Minister round the negotiation table. – E. Schippers

coalition, dutch, May, minority
The negotiations over the Dutch Government show how difficult a democratic mandate actually is when all parties stick to their principles, and to the promises in their manifestos. Left to right: Edith Schippers (VVD), Jesse Klaver (Green Left), Mark Rutte (VVD), Alexander Pechtold (D66). / Source: AP

A Dutch Government Before Brexit?

You can forgive GroenLinks for sticking to their election manifesto. They have just recovered from poor results in the 2012 parliamentary election, and are all too aware of what has just happened to the socialist PvdA who, having formed a coalition with Mark Rutter’s VVD, convinced their supporters that true socialism was a thing of the past and no longer applicable to our modern-day societies. The “market” was the answer for everything, including climate change and growing inequalities in Dutch society. The PvdA voters got the message and defected to other parties, including D66 and GroenLinks.

By far the biggest stumbling block in the current negotiations, however, concerns immigration, with the GroenLinks party favourable for a more flexible and “humane” attitude towards non-EU migrants. GroenLinks and D66 want to scrap the deal agreed with Turkey which has resulted in a significant decrease in migrant numbers. In 2015, there was a heated debate concerning whether illegal migrants and those who were refused asylum, should continue to be cared for at the state’s expense. The Netherlands got “ticked off” by Council of Europe human rights committee, for not giving these migrants food, a bath, and a bed to sleep in. However, in December last year, the Dutch government stopped financing these services, much to the annoyance of D66 and GroenLinks. What is more worrying, is that the immigration authorities have no idea of whether the asylum seekers who have been refused entry, have actually left the country.

At the end of May, Edith Schippers couldn’t take it anymore and admitted defeat, saying “ik ben er klaar mee” (“I’m through with this”), and giving way to the experienced Secretary of State, Tjeenk Willink. Ironically, Willink is a member of the decimated PvdA, whose total number of members in the next parliament, you can count with two hands – without using one of your pinkies. GroenLinks also decided to call it a day, and were replaced by the ChristenUnie (CU), a Christian democratic party, whose policies on immigration, whilst being tougher than those of GroenLinks, still need to be discussed, in order to reach any sort of coalition agreement.

It is somewhat ironical, that whilst in the UK the Conservatives and DUP have forged an alliance in order for the UK to commit economic suicide, in the Netherlands, the different parties are discussing the rights of individuals to end their life. D66 supports the concept of helping the terminally ill in such a way, whereas  the CU strongly opposes this. Further discussions on the subject of climate change and immigration are also taking place, with the various parties no closer to reaching a consensus. For the CDA leader Sybrand Buma, there are signs of progress being made. “It is a big project with four parties and that is very carefully done.” Prime minister Mark Rutte (VVD) also insists that things are being taken “step by step”. At this rate, I really don’t know what is going to happen first – Brexit or the formation of a Dutch government?

Saved by the puppies?

Since discussions with Geert Wilders are out of the question, it seems that if no agreement can be reached before everybody has had enough, Rutte will have to form a minority government and govern as best he can. The alternative, of course, would be to call another general election. However, there is an unlikely alternative alliance that may save the day. A coalition could be formed by the VVD, CDA, D66 and the Party for the Animals (PvdD), which won five seats. Such a coalition would be enough to give Mark Rutte a parliamentary majority of…one seat.

Traditional parties are in fact single issue parties, with exclusive attention to Westerners and their money. Political Parties for the Animals have a broader vision. They do not put the short-term interests of people first, but of the whole planet and all her inhabitants instead. – Marianne Thieme (Leader PvdD)

It could work because, concerning immigration, the PvdD is not favourable to a large influx of migrants but prefers a “small-scale” approach. Maybe, Mark Rutte could promise them the construction of thousands of electricity producing turbines, solar panels on every single building in the country, as well as a few extra dog kennels – a reward for PvdD support in parliament. It would really be a case of a prime minister being saved not by a few DUPpies as in the UK, but by a handful of puppies. It just goes to show you that caring for animals may pay off for humans, after all.

About George Suchett-Kaye

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George is a British/French national. He has a passion for oral microbiology (obtained a PhD in Lyon, France) and a passion for philosophy and politics.

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