Left, right and middle coalitions of the Netherlands of the past 35 years

A tactic that the political right has employed since Adolf Hitler is that of Der Grosse Lüge, the Big Lie.

The idea is that you say something so preposterously untrue that people would refuse to believe you made it up. (Interestingly the first uses were self-referential, in that the Nazis falsely accused others of employing something as evil as the big lie technique.)

A modern big lie is this: the political left is responsible for all the woes of Dutch society.

This is preposterously untrue, I’ve always thought, because the political left never has had any power in Dutch politics. Governments would always be in the political middle, where the left had to water down its politics to the point that you could no longer recognise them as such, or on the right. You cannot be blamed for doing something wrong if you have not done that thing in the first place.

Although I have never had any desire to attempt to explain the lie is a lie (one of the reasons the technique works so well is that denials actually reinforce the lie, e.g. “when have you stopped beating your wife?”), my base assumption that the left never has had any political power at the national level in the Netherlands has always been nagging me.

Thing is, for a lefty I am pretty far to the left, to the point where I’ve stopped recognising moderately left wing policies as left wing policies. I might not be the best person, in other words, to just guess that we’ve never had any left leaning national governments.

left-right-netherlands-1977-2012Which is why I decided to do some research, the results of which you will find in the graph to the right (click for a larger version). Let me summarise the graph:

  • In the past 35 years, the Netherlands has had 13 different governments.
  • Of those government, 3 were left wing, 7 were right wing, and 3 were middle governments.
  • I counted by first determining per constituent party whether they were on the left or right on social issues, and on economic issues; and then added those numbers for each constituent party.
  • As I say in the notes, this leads to certain skewdnessess, because not every party is equally powerful within a coalition, and parties could be counted as left wing (for instance) but still differ immensely among themselves.
  • An example of the latter case are the Christelijke Unie (Christian Union) and the Partij van de Arbeid (Labour Party), who will approach issues such as abortion, gender equality and so from completely different angles.
  • Predominantly left wing coalitions governed on average for 37 months, middle coalitions for 34 months and right wing coalitions for 30 months—I don’t think studying just one country is going to yield enough data to be statistically relevant though.

My hypothesis: the left has never been in power on a national level in the Netherlands. My conclusion: falsified. Is this enough to blame the left for all of society’s ills? Well, I wasn’t going to tackle that Big Fat Lie, remember?

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