UK's quick coalition impossible in the Netherlands
The swift formation of a British governing coalition highlights the political similarities and differences between the UK and the Netherlands.
It was a radical break from British culture. But despite being the first time
since 1974 that election results failed to yield a clear winner, it took
David Cameron and Nick Clegg – political antipodes in many respects – only
five days to find each other.
The Netherlands will be going to the polls to elect a new parliament in four weeks time. In accordance with Dutch political culture, this election will not deliver a majority to any party . A new cabinet will be at least five weeks in the making. Meanwhile, crown-appointed scouts will meet with party leaders behind closed doors, seeking to form a new coalition.
In London, a new coalition has agreed on pragmatic outlines born out of necessity. In The Hague, even the most principled blueprint will prove a shaky foundation for a future government.
This difference is food for thought, particularly because both countries have so much in common. For one, traditional popular parties have taken a beating in both countries. Half a century ago, the Conservatives and Labour still accounted for 97 percent of all votes in the UK. Now, only 65 percent of all ballots are cast for both parties together. In the Netherlands, some 50 years back, 85 percent of the electorate voted for the Christian democratic CDA, Labour, and the right-wing liberal VVD. According to recent Synovate polls, only 60 percent still will.
Both cultures have dealt with this development in very different ways, however. In the UK, where several generations never needed to learn how to forge a majority from partisan minorities, the idea that a nation should not be without effective government, if even for a day, greatly helped to speed up matters.
In the Netherlands, where the unique political phenomenon of the 'caretaker government' has been a common intermezzo between governments for as long as anyone can remember, no one is in a hurry. Not when it comes to calling elections, nor when it comes to seeking majorities.
This paradox is clearly visible in the layout of both parliaments. The House of Commons in Westminster is shaped like a duelling ground. Government and opposition face each other, literally at two swords distance. In the last five years, the Liberal Democrats were seated next to the Conservatives for that very reason. Only if their new coalition falls apart will the House of Commons' layout become obsolete.
The Dutch parliament left its old rectangular hall two decades ago. In its new theatre, left-wing and right-wing parties are no longer seated opposite each other, but side-by-side in a semi-circle. On the duelling ground, people are in a hurry, but the theatre calls for more patience.