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New Left Review 20, March-April 2003


For more than a decade the Netherlands was the cynosure of European social democracy: the society where inflation was mastered, growth lifted, unemployment lowered, welfare trimmed and—not least—where stock ownership became more widely diffused than in any other European country. Amid such blessings, how could Dutch voters turn to Pim Fortuyn? A diagnostic of the strains underlying the Netherlands’ variant of neoliberalism.

SERVAAS STORM AND RO NAASTEPAD

THE DUTCH DISTRESS

As though a bolt of lightning had illuminated a previously unseen landscape—tense with frustration and social resentment—the general elections of May 2002 revealed the prosperous, liberal-minded Netherlands in a harsh new glare. The shock of a political murder, and the entry into government of a newly hatched political party with a radical anti-immigration programme, precipitated a year of turbulence in Dutch politics from which the country has emerged shaken, if not stirred. The aim of this article is to examine the underlying dynamics of this histrionic irruption, and to consider what its longer term effects might be. We will start, however, with an account of the outsider candidate, before going on to examine the socio-economic changes that two decades of neoliberal restructuring have wrought on the Dutch ‘polder’ model, and the ways in which these have affected the political system.

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