Populism has been a recurring theme in Dutch politics this year. Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam Freedom Party, dominated the news with his populist rhetoric.
Rita Verdonk, the former Immigration Minister, was kicked out of the liberal party and started the movement Proud of the Netherlands. She herself is proud to be called a populist. But what have other politicians in The Hague done to jump on the populist bandwag
The last day of the parliamentary year is a good chance to find out about all this. The parliamentary year runs from September to July, and closes with a barbecue, where you can find anyone who is anyone in Dutch politics including Finance
Minister Wouter Bos.
He says the most popular thing he did in the past year was:
"wearing an orange scarf in the Bern stadium when the Dutch football team was beating the Italians three-nil."
That was during the European Championships, when the team didn't fulfil its populist expectations - they didn't get past the quarterfinals.
But Minister Bos, who is also the leader of the Labour Party, says he doesn't mind being called a populist:
"I believe that not everything that is populist is wrong. I believe that ordinary political parties can actually learn from populists. I don't think any political party can survive if the gap between ordinary citizens and their politicians widens."
Liberal party leader Mark Rutte is also chasing the populist vote. He says:
"...a good politician should be a little bit of a populist so I try to be one too."
Of course Mark Rutte leads the VVD party, which in a few years lost the two biggest populists in the country - Geert Wilders and Rita Verdonk. Mr Rutte doesn't want to
be left behind.
Some say Rutte is trying too hard. He could learn something from one of the upstarts in parliament - the Party for the Animals, led by Marianne Thieme. They made a film called Meat the Truth, a follow-up to Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth. At the international premiere, the party hired a Hummer, and former Playboy model Pamela Anderson.
Marianne Thieme says: "I don't call that populism. I call that a smart way of making your message easier to adopt for people who only listen to people like Pamela Anderson, who only look at Pamela Anderson and never listen to scientific people."
Ms Thieme says a populist uses false arguments to sway the public. But the man who deals with animals rights issues for the Christian Democrats, Henk Jan Ormel, says the Animal Party itself shows a populist touch. A former veterinarian, Ormel
says he loves animals. But, he goes on:
"animals are not like human beings. And to say that loudly at the moment is anti-populist."
There are more Dutch politicians who are uncomfortable with populism. Tineke Huizinga is Deputy Minister in charge of transportation:
"It is my aim never to be populist. I don't think it's good for a country when there are a lot of populist politicians. In the end you'll end up in a country where emotion plays the most important role."A call to temper populist tendencies in Dutch politics. But another way to deal with populism is to co-opt it.
The Speaker of the lower house of parliament, Gerdi Verbeet, has a broad definition of populism:
When asked what the most populist thing she has done in the past year, she replies,
"Talking to you. That's populist, especially if a lot of people are listening."
By political editor John Tyler
4 July 2008