From 2002 to 2010, right-wing politics continued to gain ground. Jan-Peter Balkenende was Prime Minister of four successive Cabinets, none of which managed to complete a full four-year term of government. Yet, although political life was more chaotic than anyone could remember, there were some common themes. The first three Balkenende Cabinets were based on less consultation, a theme generally associated with a ‘purple’ coalition, and in response, the trade unions staged large demonstrations. Hampered by social unrest, the Balkenende Cabinets fell, without achieving many of their political goals, and the consensus economy survived.
It is the semantic shift that is now our concern: the consultation policy that the ‘purple’ coalitions had initially wanted to abolish was now seen as one of the main characteristics of purple. Formulated differently, the Christian Democrat Balkenende set out to put an end to a practice that the preceding purple coalitions had also wanted to abolish.
Dutch politics, with its need of consensus, has become known for its imprecise language. ‘Purple’ has remained undefined; a ‘parliamentary constitutional monarchy’ is the square of a circle; no one quite knows what ‘personal socialism’ is supposed to be; and ‘Islam’ is usually shorthand for ‘criminal boys of Moroccan descent’. But the fact that nowadays a term like ‘consensus-seeker’ can be used derogatively, has little to do with vague language. It illustrates a growing sense that the consultation culture is not in harmony with efficient leadership.
What we may in fact be witnessing is that politicians have now come to the fore who, in despite their differences, agree on one thing: that the constant consultations between elected and electors, between rulers and ruled, have become an obstacle to effective governance. The likely explanation of this phenomenon is that, just like the managers of companies and other organizations, most Dutch politicians have accepted the Anglo-Saxon model of leadership. They see themselves as specialists in leadership and not as the official adjudicators of the outcome of several rounds of mutual consultations.
As we noticed in our discussion of the Industrial Revolution, this Anglo-Saxon style of leadership is excellent for innovation, but is ill-suited for creating consensus and obtaining support. In the case of Netherland, it is creating feelings of unease across the board. After all, if a manager thinks that governing is a specialization, he will be reluctant to seek advice from people whom he considers to be unqualified. Consequently, many a captain of industry has dismissed advice from the ondernemingsraden (works councils), and instead has relied for advice on a consultancy firm. As a corollary, employees no longer feel that they are being taken seriously and accuse management of being unaware of what is really happening in the company.
During the three Lubbers Cabinets (1982-1994), the Anglo-Saxon was introduced into government. Traditional pillar organizations were replaced by commercial companies that had less popular support. The old Catholic and Protestant health organizations did not perform any better than commercial health companies, but while a patient would be less likely to criticize treatment under the organization of his own pillar, a commercial company was expected to offer value for money. Problems which for decades had been contained, like that of waiting lists, have meanwhile become almost unmanageable. There is similar dissatisfaction with the postal services, public transport, and other public utilities. The selling off to foreign buyers of companies such as Hoogovens, Fokker Airplanes, DAF trucks, and KLM – companies the Dutch used to be so proud of – did little to enhance a sense of national unity.
In Netherland, both in politics and in commercial life, we are having to deal with a new, European or global style of leadership that owes more to the Anglo-Saxon model than to the traditions of France, Germany and Holland itself. This inevitably creates tensions in a country in which, traditionally, every citizen has a right to have his say and where everyone has, at least theoretically, some influence on the process of decision making.
It is unlikely that tensions that have built up can be defused by politicians who conceptualize problems with the tools they acquired at international business schools. Dutch Muslims are an easy target, especially since the Van Gogh assassination. As Van Gogh’s assassin was influenced by Jihadist beliefs, it gave credibility to the claim that Islam itself is the problem and not the criminal behavior of a lost generation of Moroccan boys. However, as we have seen, the real problem is the change of leadership style, which neither politicians nor businessmen are able to reverse. As nothing is perceived to improve, people become more disillusioned and focus on the more visible of their leaders’ failures: the incomplete assimilation of immigrants.
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