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Dutch Politics VVD

Rita Rocks Holland

   Tue 11/12/2007

Rita Verdonk has just launched a new political movement: 'Trots op Nederland' (Proud of the Netherlands ), and the Dutch are currently debating whether she is a passing fad or a political force to be reckoned with. Former MP Lousewies van der Laan gives us the picture.

Like Madonna, the strong women of the Netherlands only go by their first name: Ayaan, Maxima, Rita. And more than Jan-Peter, Wouter and Marc (Prime Minister Balkenende, Minister of Finance Bos and VVD leader Rutte.) they are reshaping the national debate. One current Dutch debate centres on whether Rita is a passing fad or a political force to be reckoned with. Bets are on the fad.

Rita Verdonk, former immigration minister, has just launched a new political movement: Proud of the Netherlands ('Trots op Nederland', acronym TON). She wants to focus on traffic jams, the elderly and immigration. Neither left nor right, she wants to appeal to all people disenchanted with the Dutch political establishment. It is clear that she has found more than a political niche. Current polling puts her between 29 and 23 seats, making her the second largest party in the country.

This is problematic for the establishment. Political parties, media and commentators push her aside as a passing fad, arguing that the zapping masses will get bored of her before the next elections. They remind us that she is an intellectual lightweight, who was incompetent as a minister, blundering on sensitive dossiers such as Syria, Iran and Congo.

She caused the fall of the second Balkenende government by illegally taking away the passport of international freedom icon Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She has no concrete plans, stayed away at recent budget debates and excels in strong-sounding one-liners without substance. How can those silly masses not see that there is no substance?

It is precisely this arrogant attitude which will continue to strengthen Rita. People feel that she stands for what says and they like her tough line on immigrants. She became a hero when she rebuked an imam who refused to shake her hand: "Well, then I guess we have a lot to talk about". They don’t understand why the conservative-liberal VVD party kicked her out, after she won almost half their seats.

Did the party leader Marc Rutte really think that after more than 600,000 people voted for her, Rita should sit quietly in the backbenches? Ignoring the result of democratic elections that blatantly has made him look weak and made her a star.

As much as the establishment may want to wish her away and return to business as usual, they have to realise that she is not just 'hype' with a smart website and smooth advisors. People feel taken seriously by her. When other politicians brush her aside, they are insulting her voters and the public at large. "Let us explain it one more time and then you silly Rita followers will see the light," they hope.

That won’t happen. It just reinforces the perception that politicians have no respect for the public. It will make Rita bigger. Ask your Dutch colleague at Shell about Rita and you’ll probably hear: "Let’s see whether she can actually deliver those votes." Ask your bus driver and you’ll hear: "She’s fighting for us." Then make up your mind and place your bets. I think she’ll be around.