What still works at the VVD? And who among their own supporters is not angry? Entrepreneurs complain about the leaked purchasing power plans of the Rutte IV cabinet, as a result of which companies now seem to have to pay more profit tax. Local administrators find it unacceptable that the national government obliges them to receive asylum seekers. And what has become of the motion against the nitrogen plans of VVD minister Christianne van der Wal, adopted at a VVD congress in June? VVD members don’t see it.
What local VVD members do see: ministers of their own party who come up with plans that their voters do not want, and which they also forcefully impose. Van der Wal threatens to dominate the provinces if they do not manage to reduce nitrogen emissions in their area themselves. She also previously threatened to expropriate farmers in high-emission areas if they don’t voluntarily stop. State Secretary for Asylum Eric van der Burg, also a VVD member, is working on a law to force municipalities to designate places for asylum seekers. Is there anything liberal about it?
Mark Rutte’s party has been losing seats in the polls since the spring – currently about 26 out of 34 would remain. His popularity among VVD members is also declining, according to an investigation by the end of June One today. And since the congress that won the nitrogen motion, to the astonishment of the party leadership, there has been unrest among the members. There are ‘fire letters’ from departments, there was an enforced VVD evening about asylum policy, the candidate chairman that the party board wants, Onno Hoes, receives fierce criticism and does not seem to make it.
It does not fit at all with the VVD as a party in the center of power, since Rutte’s first election victory in 2010. For years, he has been able to keep a tight grip on the image of his own party and its own people, through constant voter surveys. , smart campaigns and disciplining the House of Representatives faction. Everything to stay in the center of power.
On Tuesday’s VVD evening about asylum in Driebergen, Member of Parliament Ruben Brekelmans faced concerned members who are fed up with the fact that the VVD seems to be giving in to other parties in the coalition again and again. Over coffee they complained about D66, which they believe is in charge in Rutte IV.
Brekelmans and Van der Burg had come to listen to the members, but mainly talked a lot themselves. According to Brekelmans, it is far from certain that real coercion will also be introduced in the law – although he did not want to “engage in a semantic discussion about pressure or coercion or whatever”. He said: “As it has happened now, a city council does not want to and the central government says a reception location will be in that building … I can at least say that, that is something I do not want.”
But it is certain that there will be government interference. The intention, said Brekelmans, is that each region “contributes” to Ukrainians, asylum seekers and recognized refugees finding a place. “That is coercion,” alderman Paul Slettenhaar from Castricum insisted. “Then be honest about that.”
Too soft or ice cold
Many VVD members who had come to Driebergen were angry about the cabinet’s asylum agreements – they were not strict enough in their view. The next day, Wednesday, Member of Parliament Daan de Neef resigned in The Hague. He found the way in which the VVD is dealing with the asylum crisis ‘ice cold’. It was again an uncomfortable situation for the VVD: the party is therefore too soft in the eyes of many members, but too hard according to someone who has been thinking about the party course for years – De Neef was a speechwriter and advisor to Rutte. According to VVD members, his departure was unexpected, just before an extra group meeting on purchasing power, among other things.
What plays a role in the loss of control by the VVD top: uncertainty about leadership. At just about every public performance, Rutte is now asked what he will do after politics, as if it is almost that time. “I’m still in the middle of this work,” he said in an Instagram live session on Thursday, when he had to explain it again. He started again about his volunteer work as a social studies teacher. He finds that useful, he said. “I will not go back into business, and I will not do anything further in politics.”
But it is still far from clear who can succeed Rutte if he stops one day. And not how: through a party leader election with debates and own campaigns? In 2006, with Mark Rutte and Rita Verdonk as the main candidates, this led to a long conflict and almost to a split in the VVD.
It seems certain that the new party chairman will have to figure out the best approach. There are three candidates for the party chairmanship: former mayor Onno Hoes, whose VVD integrity committee is now checking whether he can also be a lobbyist for real estate agents, entrepreneur Eric Wetzels from Oosterhout and Bert Homan from Assen, who has already has previously applied and is seen as having no chance.
Hoes is the preferred candidate of the VVD board, but Eric Wetzels seems to have much more support among the members. He promises that with him as chairman, the VVD top will listen more closely to the concerns and ideas of its own supporters. VVD members can vote on it from mid-September, the new chairman will start in the autumn.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 3, 2022