Extramarital affair ends Dutch spin doctor's political career
Sex scandals are rare in Dutch politics, but now an affair with an aide has floored deputy minister and prominent Christian democrat Jack de Vries, just weeks before the general election.
Jack de Vries was long one of the most influential members of the CDA, the
Dutch conservative Christian democratic party. The party's success in the
last three national elections can be attributed partly to him, as spin
doctor behind prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende. But with a new election
just three weeks away, his political career now seems over. De Vries, who
became the deputy defence minister in 2007, stepped down after an
extramarital affair with a member of his staff set off a publicity storm. In
the history of the Netherlands, it is rare for a private matter like this to
decide someone's political fate.
Last week it was revealed that De Vries (41), who is married and a father of two, had an affair with his aide. The deputy minister confirmed the relationship and said it was the reason he now lived apart from his wife and sons. Initially, he remained deputy minister in the caretaker government that is running the Netherlands until the June 9 election, but on Friday he finally stepped down. He said he would focus on his private issues and also withdrew from the CDA's campaign. He is still listed number 15 on its ballot, but will not enter parliament regardless of the outcome of the election.
Family values party
In the wake of the news, websites and newspapers published pictures of De Vries and his aide. Many of their reports drew attention to the discrepancy between De Vries's behaviour and the family-values line preached by his party. He was initially backed by prime minister Balkenende, but it came to light that his credibility at the defence ministry had suffered. The department's code of conduct says: "Leaders in our organisation have a special responsibility. They always give a good example."
De Vries long worked behind the scenes of the CDA, as a spokesperson and personal adviser to Balkenende. Leading the CDA campaign team in the 2006 election, he became the most notorious spin doctor in the Netherlands.
The term spin doctor has had a negative ring to it ever since Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's savvy media strategist, was accused of having "sexed up" the Iraq dossier. Yet De Vries, who saw Campbell as an example, still used the term himself. In his view, spinning was nothing more than "proactively approaching the media".
Rise and fall
The successful campaign of 2006 was his finest hour. Initially, the CDA fell behind Labour in the polls, until De Vries took aim at Labour leader Wouter Bos. He devised a special daily campaign item that highlighted issues about which Bos had changed his mind. CDA became the biggest party after that election, instead of Labour, which resulted in a CDA-Labour-ChristenUnie coalition.
The campaign had put De Vries in the spotlight instead of behind the scenes, and he decided to take a break from politics soon after it. But after a brief stint as a consultant, he was back in The Hague to replace the deputy defence minister who had stepped down to become a mayor. Labour was not pleased with the man responsible for the smear campaign joining their cabinet.
As deputy minister, he was responsible for purchasing weapons for the Dutch armed forces. Most importantly, he would begin replacing the Dutch military's F-16 fighter jets. The purchase of the first Joint Strike Fighter last year almost led to a government crisis. But it was another military issue that finally caused the collapse of the coalition. Labour and CDA could not agree on the possible extension of the Dutch mission to Afghanistan and will now be facing each other at the polls again, without Wouter Bos, who recently stepped down as Labour's leader to focus on his family, and without De Vries, who has private issues of his own to concentrate on.