Parties on the decline
Political parties are losing their grassroots support; money alone will not solve the problem.
Political parties are not doing well. All together they have only 309,000 registered members left, or 2.5 percent of the electorate. Public trust in the traditional political parties is lower than that in government, parliament, the EU, churches, unions and the media.
These are the conclusions of a report by the Dutch council for public governance (ROB). The advisory board has some recommendations to the government and the parties themselves to change this situation.
There is no doubt that change is needed. Political parties are the heart of a parliamentary democracy. But of the few Dutch people who are still members of a political party, only 50,000 are active members. The pool from which political parties can recruit future representatives is shrinking. They are already having trouble finding enough people willing to stand in next year's local elections. Another result is that fewer people are involved in drawing up the parties' political programmes, although these are the basis for government coalition agreements.
Contrasting with the decline of political parties is the rise of [populist] political movements such as Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) or Rita Verdonk's Proud of the Netherlands (TON), even if it remains to be seen if these will be able to grow lasting roots in society.
Movements like the PVV or TON are not set up like the traditional political parties. One cannot become a registered member, but donations are welcome. It is a reality that ROB thinks should be taken into account by allowing these movements to apply for government funding just like the traditional parties.
It is a valid point, but ironically the PVV doesn't want government funding. It opposes government subsidies on principle, and it doesn't wish to comply with the conditions the ROB is linking to these subsidies: public registration of donors, and a role for these donors to exercise influence on the party programme and the electoral lists.
The ROB's plea to allow more donations to both political parties and movements is recommendable, on the condition that these donations are made public. Transparency is more important than capping donations.
But the real question is whether the ROB's advice will do the traditional political parties much good. They didn't need the ROB to realise that they should make more and better use of the internet. And the advice not to commit to the political centre at all costs is probably lost on those parties who feel at home in the centre. Furthermore, they know that it is common practise to leave the centre ahead of an election only to rejoin it when it comes to governing.