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It’s not easy for local elections in a country the size of The Netherlands to make the international news. Which got the Dutch election night headline space from the BBC to The Guardian, from the Times of Israel to Al-Jazeera, and from Fox News to the Huffington Post.
All of which was pretty unfair, considering that Wilders’ Freedom Party (or the PVV, as the Dutch call it) had been something of a non-entity in the whole local elections campaign. All of this hullaballoo around Wilders was, needless to say, tremendously unfair to the political parties that actually contested the local elections on a meaningful scale. To be sure, it was the local parties which actually made the most gains, upping their share of the vote by five percentage points to almost 30% (and a total of 2,819 local councilors), and in the process depressing the vote for almost all the national parties.
The biggest prize the Socialists took, however, was the traditionally leftist university town of Nijmegen, where the Green Left had been the largest party previously. In general, the SP’s electoral map shows that it is building an electorate especially in the peripheries, expanding from its traditional base in the historically catholic part of the country.
However, especially with its gains in the northeastern province of Groningen, the party seems to be more broadly developing an electorate in the small-town, often economically ailing, regions furthest away from the bustling cities in the West.
There are, of course, several systemic problems when trying to extrapolate broader lessons about the state of national politics from local election results.
In addition, a relatively small number of municipalities did not take part in these elections, having already had interim elections during the last four years after, for example, a merger of municipalities.
This largely class-based appeal of the new, populist parties has made the Labour Party, the country’s traditional working class party, exceptionally vulnerable. Since then, things have gotten worse than ever for the Labour Party, and they have suffered as much among working class voters as among all voters. While the PVV and SP feed on resentment of the government’s liberal austerity policies, the Democrats are edging the government parties on from the outside.
While the PVV and SP appeal to lower-education and lower- and middle-income voters, D66 firmly targets higher-education voters. In the city of Groningen, the Labour Party lost its top position for the first time in over sixty years. In the province of Groningen, where it traditionally does better than anywhere else, it suffered especially. The loss of votes has inevitably also led to a loss of city government positions – disproportionally so, it seems.
As these examples show, there is a long tradition of broad coalitions in Dutch local government, uniting parties from left, right and center in pragmatic collaborations. Less widely reported than the party’s troubles with Van Rey in Roermond, the VVD had problems in its very heartland too. The party did best of all on the island of Vlieland (43%), the second-smallest municipality in the Netherlands by population, and the traditional right-wing bulwark of Rucphen, in the southwest (38%). The Christian-Democrats (CDA), which have been in decline for a very long time and received just 8.5% in the 2012 national elections, have traditionally been relatively strong in local elections, in part thanks to the lower turnout (Christian-Democratic voters tend to be older and more rural, and turn out more reliably than most), and in part thanks to persisting local loyalties and traditions.
The first prognoses on election night this year, however, painted a gloomy picture for the party: it would lose well more than a quarter of its vote. There was also a measure of relief for the Green Left, founded in 1990 as a merger of radical, pacifist socialist, communist and left-wing evangelical parties. Under Rosenmoller’s successor, Femke Halsema, the party completed its transformation from a chaotic left-radical coalition of protest groups into an electorally successful party of the postmaterialist, cultural left. Throughout 2012 (as I recounted in a comment at the time), the party seemed more intent on ripping itself apart with backbiting, leaked criticisms and embarrassing revelations (such as that the party board had tried to oblige aspiring Halsema successors to take an IQ test) than waging an election campaign. Since the Green Left still had well over 400 local councillors, having held its ground well in the 2006 and 2010 municipal elections, a lot was at stake for the party in these elections. The smaller christian parties, the Christian Union and the SGP, tend to have an even greater relative advantage in low-turnout elections: their voters are the most faithful of all.
Both parties serve strictly protestant electorates, and have their roots in historical (and to me, fairly obscure) religious schisms among Dutch protestants and calvinists.
Nowadays the Christian Union has a fairly big-tent, evangelical approach to religion, however. On the other hand, the SGP has kept up a more dogmatic political line, and on some issues has only been dragged into modernity by force.
But it’s not just in folkloric, staunchly Calvinist villages that the parties did well. One issue that somewhat divides the two small christian parties is Geert Wilders’ trenchant criticism of Islam. Former Christian Union leader Andre Rouvoet, in particular, used to sharply criticize Wilders. The difference between the two small protestant parties was confirmed in a poll by a Dutch Reformed newspaper. All this talk of bible belts and Geert Wilders should provide a good excuse for a different observation: Rotterdam becomes the second Dutch city to see an expressly muslim party win council seats. While Livable Rotterdam and, apparently, Livable Vlaardingen are flourishing, the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) brand is all but history.
In Moerdijk, meanwhile, 44% of voters cast a blank ballot in protest against what locals consider official neglect of the village, which is being squeezed by a large industrial harbour.
There are a couple of municipalities in the Netherlands where local leftwing parties exist alongside (or rather: to the left of) the Socialists, the Green Left and Labour. Up through the fifties and even the late sixties and early seventies, the party kept getting 15-20% of the vote in the various municipalities that would later merge into Zaanstad and nearby municipalities north of Amsterdam, like Oostzaan, Ilpendam and Landsmeer. Click to enlarge: Reiderland, national elections 1998 and 2002 - did NCPN voters switch to the LPF?When Beerta and Finsterwolde merged with Nieuweschans into Reiderland in 1990, the communists still survived, with the NCPN getting no less than 50% of the local elections vote in 1994. On top of all of that, provincial authorities were pushing through another municipal reorganization, and after just twenty years of existence, Reiderland was merged with Scheemda and the much larger Winschoten into the new municipality of Oldambt (pop.
First, however, the comrades in the northeast face yet another round of municipal reorganization, as the province of Groningen has embarked on a drastic reduction of the number of municipalities to just six. Instead, the Oldambt council voted for an alternative merger with Hoogezand-Sappemeer, Slochteren and Menterwolde. The full results for the 2014 Lambeth local elections have now been posted and the result sees Labour taking a commanding control of Lambeth council, claiming 59 out of 63 seats, with an overwhelming 54% share of the vote. The Lib Dems found themselves being absolutely decimated at the polls, losing all of their 15 seats and crashing from second place to fourth. Their share of the vote also suffered a catastrophic collapse, plummeting  from 28% in 2010 to just 13%. The Greens won a single seat in St Leonards and managed to increase their share of the vote by 7% to 16%, while the definitely not racist UKIP were suitably humiliated, gaining zero seats in Lambeth and just 2% of the vote. In the Coldharbour Ward, Rachel Heywood hung on to her seat, beating Labour rival Matt Parr, 2,232 seats to 2,037.
Stockwell also saw a clean sweep for Labour, with the elected candidates being Alex Bigham 2,026, Imogen Walker 1,778 and Guilherme Rosa, 1,769. In Streatham Hill there was more Labour joy, with the seats going to Liz Atkins 1,736, Rezina Chowdhury 1,582 and Iain Simpson 1,448.
Clapham Town was all Labour (Linda Bray, 1,930, Christopher Wellbelove, 1,853 and Nigel Haselden 1,842) while the posh folks of Clapham Common made it a Tory full house, with Tim Briggs 1,205, Louise Nathanson 1,154 and Bernard Gentry 1,102 becoming a very, very rare thing in Lambeth: a Tory councillor.
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Bigger than I would have expected, in any case, considering all Wilders had gotten away with in the past.
By March 24, two of his party’s remaining 13 MPs (a fourteenth MP had left earlier) had abandoned the party. It was particularly unfair to the Democrats (D66), and to a lesser extent the Socialist Party (SP), who were the big winners. With their new total of 824 council seats and 12% of the vote, they are now the third largest party in local politics. The SP is traditionally strongest in the south-east of the country, where it long fostered local bulwarks such as Oss even back in the 1980s and early 1990s when it had no national representation at all.
The party has a long tradition of local roots in eastern Brabant, in particular, where the SP was getting over 20% of the vote in Oss even when it was still a Maoist splinter with a national vote of just 0.3%.
As mentioned, local parties took a hefty, increased share of the vote, and no longer just in rural areas, and their success can not be trusted to harm all national parties in proportionally equal ways. Most notably, Den Bosch, Leeuwarden, Alphen aan den Rijn, Alkmaar, Oss, Spijkenisse, De Friese Meren and Heerenveen had no elections. The Socialist Party’s appeal, at least in the national polls, is in some ways similar to that of the far-right Freedom Party.


When the social-democrats surged back into a solid second place in the 2012 elections thanks to a strong campaign and the personal appeal of its new leader, after having badly trailed the Socialists in the polls for months, it was thanks only in part to recapturing some of that old base. In a poll from last February, just 12% of low-income voters and 6% of low-education voters expressed a preference for the Labour Party. It is exceptionally popular among students, and the saying used to be that the Democrats were the party which people with a high education voted until they had enough money to switch to the VVD.
The party now came out on top in just one municipality in the whole province, and six of the seven municipalities where the party lost most were in that province (just like four of the seven municipalities where the Socialists gained most were there). It will no longer be part of some 50 of the 178 city governments it participated in before.
Nevertheless a centrist party stands a better chance of local government posts than a party whose ideological leanings are all too explicit. The voters who have headed, and keep heading, to the SP feel that the Labour Party has lost its left-wing soul. It shed 334 of its 1,430 or so council seats, and fell from 16% to 12% of the overall vote. Wassenaar, located in the dunes near the governmental residence in The Hague, is the second richest municipality of the Netherlands.
Rucphen is a very different town from the Wassenaars and Bloemendaals of the country, marked by turnout rates as low as those in the wealthy villages are high.
The PVV also remained the largest party in 2012, despite losing a third of its national vote. Thus, in 2010 the CDA received a higher share of the vote (15%) in the local elections than in the national elections (14%), despite local parties taking a sizable chunk of the vote in the former. The new party had a rough start in the early 1990s, losing over a quarter of its members by estranging some of the radical-left supporters of its forebears, while failing to achieve a cross-over appeal to a wider left-wing electorate, but it fared well under the leadership of Paul Rosenmoller in the late 1990s. However, despite being personally popular, Halsema oversaw a gradual erosion of the party’s standing, as it lost four of its 11 MPs, 2 of its 4 MEPs and 46 of its 77 provincial deputies. Such a strategy might have worked for the German Greens under Joschka Fischer, but the problem was: the Netherlands already had a center-left, pragmatic party for the university-educated upper middle class. And on election night, it could breathe a sigh of relief: it had not done well, but not horrendously either. In its traditional bulwark Wageningen, the seat of a small university famous for its agricultural science studies, the party remained in second place with 18% of the vote and less than a percentage point loss. The acronym SGP stands for State Reformed Party (founded 1918), while the Christian Union is a merger of the Reformed Political Union (founded 1948) and the Reformed Political Federation (founded 1975). Moreover, while it retains its principled opposition to abortion, gay marriage, euthaniasia and other such erstwhile hot-button issues, it steers a centrist or even center-left political course on non-religious issues.
They also often run common lists, especially in municipalities where they are too weak to otherwise stand much of a chance to win seats. Lilian Janse was accepted as lead candidate by the local party after six different men had passed on the offer. Unlike Wilders, both parties defend the right of Muslim women to wear a headscarf (for obvious reasons, perhaps, considering the traditional dress in their own bulwarks). He is raising issues about immigration and integration which others had left untouched for years. The only local party with council seats still bearing that name, in Eindhoven, lost one of its two seats. The Cold War and the party’s support for the suppression of the 1956 revolution in Hungary pushed the communists into political isolation, however. In Amsterdam itself it remained the second or third largest party until 1974, and it remained part of the city government up through the mid-80s. In Finsterwolde, the party kept getting an absolute majority of the votes even in national elections until 1977, and barely less than that in 1981 and 1982. In 1998 that number dropped to 36%, but it stabilized in 2002 (34%), leaving the party once again the local #1. Moreover, whereas newly merged municipalities in the north and west of the province will be allowed to remain at some 50-60,000 inhabitants, the east of the province is supposed to merge into two much larger units of about 100,000 inhabitants each, which really is disproportionally large for Dutch municipalities. The only question left to settle is about which municipalities in East-Groningen should merge with which other ones. The man, Arnoud van Doorn, apparently changed heart, left his party and became a Muslim instead – and joined the Islam Democrats.
I will continue to work towards a better Streatham and my campaign for a greener High Road continues. And that’s what he did, on March 19, when the municipal election results were being tallied. Moreover, as was mentioned in almost none of these stories, it actually lost votes in both cities. It remains the personal vehicle for Wilders and his art of provocation, and he likes it that way: no internal party democracy, no bothersome national conferences, and as few potentially wayward local sections as possible.
Since then, however, it has also started encroaching on traditional Labour areas, especially Labour’s heartland in the northeast. Beyond those two, the only other town among the largest 40 municipalities where it topped the polls was Helmond, in the south-eastern countryside. 25,000), where the party has been getting double-digit percentages since the mid-1980s, reaching a peak of 24% in 1994, and where it had received 19% of the vote last time round, it had to pass on taking part altogether this time.
The Freedom Party, one of the most important national parties, hardly took part (and its voters in particular seem to have added to the local party vote). While those who stuck with the Labour Party through the rise of the far right in the last decade are unlikely to switch to the PVV after all now, the Socialist Party remains a popular alternative for those who feel alienated by the Labour Party’s liberal policies in government. The party received 29% of the low-income vote and just 19% of the high-income vote; but in a sign that it was hardly a return to the old days, the party actually did better among mid-level and higher education voters (25-26%) than among low-education voters (23%). And in the wake of its big wins in the local elections, the party has leapt into first place in the national polls. While the PVV and SP steer a course of near-total opposition to everything the government does, D66 is eager to prove itself constructive and cooperative.
And to think that just eight years ago, the party still received 23% in the local elections, beating out even the aggregated total for local parties! In Utrecht the Labour Party will be absent from the city government for the first time in at least sixty years, as an unlikely combination of D66, Green Left, the VVD and the Socialists will try governing together instead. Thus, no less than 9.5 of the some 17 million Dutch will live in municipalities where at least one of the aldermen is a Christian-Democrat. His new party promptly won 10 of the 31 council seats, while the VVD collapsed from 11 to 3.
The average income is some 65% higher than the national average, and much like in many of the other wealthiest municipalities, the VVD traditionally tops the vote here. In short, don’t expect the VVD to do as well here in the European elections, when the PVV is taking part. In the end, the CDA lost less than half a percentage point and only some 30 of its 1530 council seats. In the national elections of 1998 it got over 7% of the vote, and the party attracted a lot of new members when it profiled itself as the most assertive critic of the new, Fortuynist far right. She still led the party to a partial recovery in the 2010 elections, but her succession was clumsily arranged, resented by the party’s left, and turned into a PR disaster when the party board tried to deny a young Moroccan-Dutch member the chance to challenge anointed successor Jolande Sap.
There were calls for the party to just abolish itself, and Sap was forced out, amidst more psychodrama, against her will. It even made some gains, mostly in the countryside and smaller cities; in Roermond it doubled its score to 12%. It has even gained respect on the left with its opposition to Wilders’ xenophobia, its defense of international development aid, its support of refugees and asylum-seekers, its stress on environmental protection and its socio-economic policy preferences.
123,000), the Christian Union became the largest party, gaining 5 percentage points to get 19% of the vote, ahead of Labour and D66. 20% of SGP voters, and only 4% of Christian Union voters, agreed with his proposal to ban the Quran.
Across the country the party experienced something of a revival in the early 1970s, getting 4.5% of the vote in the 1972 elections (including 10% in the province of North-Holland and 9% in the province of Groningen), and its membership crept back up from around 10 thousand to over 15 thousand in 1980. The party suffered something of an embarrassment in the national elections that year, however.
In the council of the new, larger municipality there is still one communist – so maybe the way back up should continue there. A provincial commission had suggested to merge Oldambt with Stadskanaal, Vlagtwedde and Bellingwedde. In this model, the current Oldambt would constitute about 38% of the new municipality’s population. So he kept his seat in 2010, but under his new party’s banner, while the Islam Democrats got another councillor elected (and now two).
Thousands of people demonstratively reported Wilders’ remarks to the police for discrimination and incitement to hatred.


Five of the party’s provincial deputies broke with the PVV, including two of its three deputies in Frisia.
That development accelerated in these elections, with the SP actually taking over from Labour as largest party in the small-town northeastern muncipalities of Oldambt, Hoogezand-Sappemeer and Bellingwedde.
In fact, comparing the 2012 elections map for the SP with that of catholicism in the Netherlands suggests a definite correlation. Local policy issues and local politicians play a significant role in the election outcome, more so than in provincial elections – unusual election results will often be due to local controversies.
And finally, while larger municipalities do also have larger councils, the increase is not scaled proportional to population size, and thus smaller municipalities have a disproportionate weight in the results when measured by total number of council seats won. The Volkskrant noted how the Labour leadership has basically chosen for a time-tested strategy: governing from the right and campaigning from the left. They pool 56% of the low-education electorate (33% for the PVV, 23% for the SP) and 47% of the low-income electorate (23% for the PVV and 24% for the SP).
A few months ago, when the government risked stumbling over its lack of a majority in the Senate in a crucial vote, it entered into a formal agreement with D66 and two small Christian parties, in which those opposition parties vowed to support the government in forthcoming parliamentary votes in exchange for some policy compromises, with the Democrats priding themselves in particular over additional investments in education. The February poll had the party’s support among higher-education voters six times as high as among lower-education voters, but also almost three times as high among higher-income voters as among lower-income voters. In Deventer, too, this was the first time since at least WW2 that the PvdA did not come out on top.
In Maastricht, where a party for the elderly became the largest party, Labour will not take part in the city government for the first time in almost seventy years.
The last time it did not come out on top was in 1962, and the party still received 52% of the vote in 2002.
Thus, the briefly successful Farmers Party received 21% of the vote in Rucphen in the national elections of 1967 (versus 5% nationally); the misleadingly named Centre Democrats received 9% here in 1994 (compared to 2% nationally), and the LPF received 31% of the vote here in 2002 (17% nationally). Sure, that was still its worst result in local elections since the party was founded in the 1970s, but it also left it easily the largest single party in municipal politics, and the party leader Sybrand Buma was elated. So, sure, the Green Left had proven itself a pragmatic, governance-oriented group of political professionals. Ethnically Turkish, Moroccan or Surinamese voters in the Netherlands tended to faithfully vote for the Labour Party. In Vlaardingen, a suburb of Rotterdam, the Socialists became the largest party with just 14% of the vote, against 13% for Livable Vlaardingen, 11% for the Labour Party, and a total of eleven parties on the council.
34,000), which first took part in 2002 and this year received 10.3% of the vote, also a new high.
The large influx of New Left-type intellectuals was to spark attempts to modernize the party into a more feminist, environmentalist, movement-like organization, however, which alienated most of its old base of industrial workers.
Considering its previous lack of success, the NCPN had deemed it better to save some money and not take part in those; but then Pim Fortuyn happened and Reiderland promptly yielded the best result for his new party in the entire north.
This would be bad for the communists, as Stadskanaal is less left-wing than most municipalities in the region.
It’s still bad news for the communists, since none of these other three municipalities have a communist tradition. Shortly before this year’s elections he made news by criticizing the muslim NIDA party in Rotterdam for not being sufficiently homophobe for an islamic party (even though a former Freedom Party colleague of his said they used to go to gay bars together). The German press agency DPA compared Wilders’ rhetorics with those of Joseph Goebbels, and the news editors of the commercial broadcaster RTL published an open letter condemning the remarks.
The victory in Amsterdam was fairly historic, too: it was the first time since the end of World War 2 that the Labour Party did not come out on top in the city.
In both the latter municipalities, the Labour Party had been the largest party since at least WW2 – in fact, up til 1990 Labour used to get over 50% of the vote in Bellingwedde. Even local chapters of the national parties can be quite varied in orientation, as becomes clear from spending some time on the local vote-match sites that appeared during the campaign – one of which was used almost a million times. But the Socialists will remain outside the local government even in half of the municipalities where it became the largest of nationally operating parties.
But there seems less of a structural character to the party’s losses, and none of them amounted to firsts in post-war history. But the effects of a long-running local sex and financial scandal and serial defections from the VVD took their toll, and this time it received just 20% of the vote, down from 37% four years ago. Since then, the party seems to have tried to keep a low profile, work diligently in parliament, and at least somewhat return to its roots.
That’s an altogether different numeric universe from the top results of the Party for the Animals (6% in Vlagtwedde and in Buren). Most notoriously, the party only allowed women to become party members in 2006, and only made it possible for women to run for office on SGP lists last year – and both changes only took place under judicial pressure, from both Dutch courts and the European Court of Human Rights.
111,000), the SGP became the largest party by holding more or less steady at 16% of the vote. But this culturally very diverse electorate has started spreading its votes more widely in the last two decades, with the Green Left, the Christian-Democrats, and later on even the VVD and the far right making some inroads. Hilbrand Nawijn may have added a generous helping to the freakshow the LPF became after Fortuyn’s death, his List Nawijn just became the second-biggest party in Zoetermeer (pop.
An attempt by a former Green Left member in Nijmegen to resuscitate the brand of the erstwhile Pacifist Socialists (PSP) failed however, with just 0.3% of the vote. However, the party retained a loyal core of support in and around Amsterdam, especially among dock, steel, and railway workers, as well as in the rural northeast of the country. A new party, the VCN, was quickly formed, soon renamed into the New Communist Party (NCPN).
And at the very least, the results strongly suggested that the NCPN voters had in fact bolted straight to the far right.
And unlike eight years ago, when the party had also already gained a second seat in the elections but had to leave it empty because, well, its list only had one candidate, this time a second communist was at hand to take the new seat. Moreover, Stadskanaal is OK with the idea, but the councils of Vlagtwedde and Bellingwedde are OK with merging with each other, but not Stadskanaal (are you still following this?).
Ethnically Moroccan Dutch citizens started a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #bornhere, brandishing their passports. Since then, more provincial deputies have left, and the party has now lost about one in six of them in total. The Democrats also topped the polls in an array of medium-sized cities, especially university towns and towns in the west or center of the country: Tilburg, Groningen, Enschede, Apeldoorn, Haarlem, Amersfoort, Zaanstad, Arnhem, Zoetermeer, Leiden, Delft, Hilversum. In Delft, for random example, the Labour Party turns out to be surprisingly right-wing, while in Heerlen the Green Left party appears to have a fairly neoliberal approach. The net result is that any move the Labour Party might make to win back the voters on one side will likely just further increase its bleeding on the other side.
The party’s best result came in the deeply catholic town of Tubbergen, in the east, where it received 51% of the vote. It’s the same story in Nijmegen, where it got 18% after losing less than a percentage point. Before the rise of a local party called Heart for Urk, moreover, back in 2006, the two parties were still pooling 67% of the vote here, with another 20% for the Christian-Democrats. The local elections in 2006 marked the first time that a specifically Muslim party won a council seat: the IslamDemocrats won a seat in The Hague. And now, this year, the United Communists have actually doubled their numbber of seats to four, and increased their vote share to 15.8%.
That party only kept its one seat in the elections though, so no luck for the man – which is probably for the better, considering that he was just sentenced to a fine and community service for leaking secret documents, selling drugs to minors and possessing an illegal arm. In Heemstede, however, its losses did mean that the VVD didn’t come out on top for the first time in at least fourty years.
Its place in city government is also already assured in cities like Maastricht, Breda and Apeldoorn.
But it kept dominating in local elections in the far northeast for a while, until it was undone by internal divisions and, eventually, a municipal merger.
A couple of years ago, he paid for an advertisement in the local newspaper in which he published all the salaries and end-of-year bonuses of the local politicians. I suppose that his reasoning, with these as well as the previous local elections, must have been that it was better to forego on translating the party’s excellent polling into lots of local councillors than to risk disorder and divisions. Comrades in neighbouring Scheemda deemed the NCPN to not have resisted the project properly and founded their own party, grandly naming it the United Communist Party, which supplanted the NCPN there and got 10-14% of the vote in 2002-2006.
Why, the Socialist Party of course, which should surely make this municipality the most leftist of the country.



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