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March 14, 2010

En Nu Iets Compleet Anders
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 11:12 AM * 152 comments

Tired of the wrangling over health care reform and gay marriage, the defense of torture, the Tea and Coffee parties, the endlessly binary view of politics? Well, I have a solution for you. We’re in an election cycle here in the Netherlands, after the government fell (and fell hard) in February, and it’s like nothing you’ve seen in the English-speaking world.

We have a controversial figure who tries to make the entire conversation about himself. We have two major-party resignations on the same day, both to spend more time with their families. We have parties moving left and still picking up right-wing polling numbers, witness parties both religious and animal-rights, socialists, greens and populists.

And best of all, we have someone explaining it all in clear and accessible English.

Peter-Paul Koch, known in the usability community for his browser compatibility work, has recently collected his intermittent articles on Dutch politics (which I’ve been reading since I moved here) into a separate blog. His original plan to create a comprehensive view of the subject by 2011 has been rushed by recent events, and he’s risen wonderfully to the occasion.

The best place to start is probably with his brief introduction to the history and structure of the current system. He’s planning to do a series of posts delving into the deep history of the political culture (his first one is intricate and fascinating; I await the rest with real interest). Proceduralists should check out his explanation of the rules of the game; numbers geeks and chartists might want to spend some time in the parliament composition graphs and tables of political alignments of governments. And his recently-added poll review has a neat coalition-forming game that calculates the stability of the various possible governments.

But the main politics blog is where the action is. There is an ongoing sequence of profiles of the alphabet soup of Dutch political parties, complete with a brave but doomed attempt to map them to US parties. He’s been tracking and commenting on polls and debates as they happen, watching the impact of recent local elections and party political reshuffles on the big picture, and summarizing political news in his intermittent “small fry” posts.

This is addictive, compulsive reading, even if you’re not in the Netherlands (I call PNH as a witness here; he’s begun starting IM conversations not with “Good morning” but with “Bos retired from politics? WTF?”). It’s a topic as fascinating and complex as only politics could be, explained clearly and amusingly by someone whose training as both a historian and a user experience expert pays off. In fact, the only thing I really disagree with Peter-Paul on is this statement of his mission:

he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

Anyway, go look. Iz neat stuff.


Edited to add:
If you want to figure out where you would stand in this political spectrum, try this profiler from last year’s European elections (the Dutch politics page has an English-language option). Further interesting profilers may also be found at Kieskompas, a site I’ve discussed before on Making Light.

Comments on En Nu Iets Compleet Anders:
#1 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 12:03 PM:

Some parliamentary-style governments are also nuclear powers; the relative nonchalance with which such governments can just fall scares the hell out of me: I suppose the military maintains nuclear control then, a sort of de facto junta? The American system where the political parties openly hate each other, have regularly timed elections, and work their hardest not to cooperate except for allocation of pork projects seems to me to be more stable, in a depraved sort of way.

#2 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 12:40 PM:

"I suppose the military maintains nuclear control then, a sort of de facto junta?"

In the UK, the monarch is head of state, so even with the Parliamentary government in the process of transferring, there's no military junta, de facto or otherwise.

#3 ::: Emily Shore ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 12:40 PM:

Presumably the head of state retains overall control if there is an interregnum between heads of government. (In the US, obviously, the President is head of both government and state.)

#4 ::: Hanneke ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 01:09 PM:

*where political parties work their hardest not to cooperate*
- The good side of the Dutch system is that parties *have* to cooperate, to be able to form a coalition Cabinet. This means that polarisation only goes so far, and extremist parties need to compromise or never get anything done. Which is good.
- The remarkable thing at this moment is that we now seem to have, as of Friday last, a two-party system: PvdA (social democrats) vs PVV (blond bombshell singleton). Everything seems to be fluid all of a sudden. And we've gotten the same heated atmosphere I remember from US election time. We're even reusing slogans :-) Yes We Cohen! HOPE O'Cohen '10 etc. Yes, quite addictive.

#5 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 01:26 PM:

Does "left to spend more time with his family" have the same ironic connotation in the Netherlands as it does in the UK - with an implied "if he knows what's good for him"? Politicians who have become liabilities to their party or government tend to suddenly conceive of a desire to spend more time with their families...

Well, I overstate my case a little. It's just that, when a politician doesn't want to say why they're resigning, they always give the family line.

#6 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 01:56 PM:

ECIII: Governments don't really "fall" in most parliamentary systems as far as I know, at least not in the UK. If a government loses confidence, parliament is dissolved and a general election called, but the government remains in office until the election results are known. This procedure is complicated here by the possibility of the sovereign refusing to dissolve parliament, but the principle that there is always a government remains.

#7 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 01:57 PM:

Oh my god! National proportional representation! *dies with jealousy*

#8 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 02:27 PM:

I see one can still confidently embark on a game of "spot the loony!" though.

Why no, I don't speak Dutch, but I am fluent in Python...

#9 ::: Marrije ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 02:50 PM:

@heresiarch Plus socialized medicine! Plus pretty high standard of living! Plus rather vibrant & diverse press corps! (though many here will disagree with the last point, claiming that most of the printed press and all of public tv is in the pockets of the lefties).

#10 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 02:59 PM:

This is fascinating, but I have a number of questions.

1) What does "election winner" mean, as in the statement, "The coalition [must] contain at least one election winner"? It obviously doesn't mean "the largest party," since that's dealt with separately, and there can only be one largest party at the time, whereas this phrasing suggests there can be more than one "election winner."

2) If I read this correctly, ministers are not members of Parliament, unlike in the UK. How does that work? Do potential ministers not run for Parliament on the party list? Or do they run, and then resign from Parliament when they're appointed ministers? If so, what happens if they leave their ministry without retiring from politics? (e.g. their party leaves the coalition without new elections being called, or they just personally want to retire to what in the UK is called the back benches).

3. The UK's third party, the LibDems, are currently on the horns of a dilemma about what will happen if no party wins a majority in the impending elections. Do they say whether they'd be willing to enter a coalition with one or the other, or either, of the two larger parties, and if so how do they convince voters to choose them instead? Or do they keep silent, and if so how do they convince voters to choose what in American is called "a pig in a poke"? (i.e. you don't know what you're going to get)

These issues are being treated in the British press as mysterious, intractable, and almost unprecedented (at least recently) dilemmas. Yet in a country with a political system like the Netherlands, these problems must be everyday affairs. How do parties differentiate themselves in the election, yet also cooperate afterwards? Or do they?

4. In the UK, the worst thing a powerful party can do for itself is stay in power too long. Look at the Conservatives in 1997 or Labour today. Ten years or more continually in office seems to wear ministers out. Yet the Dutch CDA has been in power almost continuously for a century. How do they do it? Does being in a coalition give them cover from other parties, and more of a break for individual ministers?

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:06 PM:

DBratman @10:

I can answer one of your questions clearly. Maybe we can figure out or find the answers to the others as a group.

1) What does "election winner" mean, as in the statement, "The coalition [must] contain at least one election winner"? It obviously doesn't mean "the largest party," since that's dealt with separately, and there can only be one largest party at the time, whereas this phrasing suggests there can be more than one "election winner."

An election winner in this context is a party that has increased the number of seats it holds from the last election.

This can mean, as it did for Balkenende IV, including a small party like the CU which went from 3 seats in the 2003 elections to 6 in 2006.

This is a contrast from the other two parties in that government, PvdA (42 seats in '03, 33 in '06) and CDA (44 in '03, 41 in '06). They're election losers, even though their seat counts dwarf that of the winner they included in the cabinet.

#12 ::: ppk ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:13 PM:

Thanks, Abi, for your kind words. It's becoming clear that my political work is very important to Americans who're currently living in Holland (you do, don't you?)

Anyway, have fun trying to make sense out of Dutch politics. If you're only used to American politics, it's ... something else.

@SeanH:
"Governments don't really "fall" in most parliamentary systems"

Tell that to the governments.

#13 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:13 PM:

Abi @11: That's very clear. Thank you.

#14 ::: ppk ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:20 PM:

@DBratman:
Yes, ministers run on the party list in the way you describe.

The CDA keeps itself fresh by now moving to the left, then to the right. But the reason they're in power is that they're indispensable for most coalitions. My ongoing article series will talk a lot about this.

The LibDems' strategy seems pretty simple to me:

1) Run on a platform of constitutional change ("more power to the small parties"), and promise to force either Labour or the Tories to agree with these changes.

2) If both refuse, let them form a coalition together and wage opposition "from the centre". That can do wonders for a centre party; see D66 in Dutch politics. The LibDems might even win the next elections.

3) Of course this assumes that there's a hung parliament, and that the voters care about constitutional change.

#15 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:22 PM:

It does seem that the parliamentary system allows single-issue politicians a better chance of being heard, especially if they can manage to join a coalition without grimacing too much. I suppose it's a good thing that a MP from a single-issue party can't anonymously halt progress of legislation like isolated fanatic US senators can. Right?

On the other hand, some single-issues are better than others....

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:31 PM:

ppk @12:

I'm an American/British expat (both at once; it's complicated) living just outside of Amsterdam for nearly three years now. I'm reasonably certain I'm within two degrees of separation from you, considering where I work (small tech firm in Noord) and how many Fronteers members I know.

Most of the readers on this blog are Americans, widely-enough read to be comfortable with the British parliamentary system, but not previously aware of the intricacies of the Dutch way of doing things. We do have a substantial British contingent as well, plus other readers more widely scattered across the globe.

And although my words may have been kind, they were also entirely true. You're doing great stuff on your blog, and it deserves to be widely read and appreciated.

#17 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:38 PM:

ppk, your #2 above is rather optimistic - UK politics in much of the country is still deeply tribalistic - I live in a constituency that has never elected anything but a Conservative MP, and likely never will, and about 300 constituencies are similar [mutatis mutandis]. A LibDem 'victory' is pretty much literally unthinkable. It is one of the tragedies of this country's politics that elections are decided by the few tens of thousands of people who live in Con/Lab marginal constituencies, and are dumb enough to think that flip-flopping their vote between the two makes any kind of sense* - especially in a system sadly/happily lacking in US-style pork-barrelling [a fact which makes their behaviour even more inexplicable].

*Explanatory note - this is the thought pattern I can't fathom: "I voted Tory in 92, and they were shit, so in 97 I'll vote Labour.... Well they turned out to be shit too, why don't I try the Tories again, just in case they're not shit any more?" Et caetera, ad infinitum...

#18 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:38 PM:

ppk@14: OK, so politicians appointed as ministers resign from parliament. So then what happens if they cease being ministers during a parliament? Are they out of luck until the next election, assuming they get to stay on the party list at all?

In the US, a member of Congress appointed to the Cabinet must resign his or her Congressional seat. Cabinet service often doesn't last long, so such a politician can afterwards be left high and dry if they can't get their seat back. This is one reason why relatively few US legislators become Cabinet secretaries unless they are prepared to make it the capstone of their career, their final position. Hillary Clinton, for instance, faced a major decision in whether to give up her promising Senate career to become Secretary of State.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:56 PM:

DBratman @18:

The piece you're missing in your reasoning is the list system inherent in national proportional representation.

If a British or American politician gives up their seat, then someone else gets that seat and that physical constituency. So yes, resigning your Cabinet post means you have to go find another constituency and run in that area against local politicians. Hillary Clinton would have to bump Kirsten Gillibrand in the next primary to get her seat back, for instance, or move somewhere else and prove herself to a new district.

If you resign your Cabinet post in the Netherlands (without pissing off your party), you'll probably still be sufficiently senior and useful that you'll be fairly high up on the party list at the next election. So unless your party does really badly in the election, you're in under proportional representation.

Does that make sense?

#20 ::: ppk ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 04:00 PM:

@abi: I think I've got you placed now. Are you Martin Sutherland's wife?

@alex: Well, my LibDem strategy assumes there is a general assumption that a coalition is possible or a good idea. If neither exists in the UK...

@DBratman: If a minister was on the original list he or she may re-enter parliament, provided a backbencher suddenly discovers an urgent reason to quit parliament. This usually happens with surprising speed.

When Bos resigned he was asked whether he'd return to parliament, and he declined. Now we know why, but even before it was seen as a good move that allowed him to completely focus on the campaign.

Cohen was not on the original list, so he is not allowed to enter parliament.

#21 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 04:03 PM:

Abi @19: No, I'm not missing an understanding of the list system. That's why I accepted the idea that a resigned minister could stay on the list at the next election. (Unless they were retiring completely, or were out due to scandal or whatever.)

My question was more about what happens in the interim. A member of Parliament has a legislative platform; a minister has ministerial office. Is a resigned minister an out-of-office politician until the next election comes up?

I realize this probably doesn't happen very often. Parliaments don't last that long, and in a system where the premier can't fire the ministers they probably mostly stay around.

But what if a party leaves the government? Then several ministers might be out at once, and without seats, weakening the party. And the people who replaced them in parliament might resent being displaced on the next election's list.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 04:10 PM:

ppk @20:

I am indeed Martin Sutherland's wife. I'm also a software tester at Medialab in NDSM. I'd drop a bunch of names I know from there, but that would be distracting from the main conversation, which is more fun and interesting anyway.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 04:14 PM:

DBratman @21:

I'm sorry if that came across as patronizing. I hadn't really thought through the implications of the list system myself until I asked your question of my husband, who has the advantage of having grown up here.

I see ppk has answered it better than I did in comment 20.

#24 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 04:14 PM:

SeanH @ 5: "To spend more time with family" has gone rather out of fashion in the US, as it translates almost directly to "The press is getting wind of the {dead girl|underage boy} in my bed but hasn't gotten the interview yet."

#25 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 04:32 PM:

Mark:

Well, it's a bit harder to carry off when your career ending scandal also breaks up your family, as seems common in us politics of late. The less spectacular kinds of f--k up (you just unintentionally tell the truth or something) do still lead to a desire to spend more time with your family.

#26 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 04:38 PM:

albatross:

Peripheral and all but trivial matter: you seem to be composing your comments in something that's inserting hard line breaks. I've cleaned up this last one, but although it is not very important, it's mildly distracting.

#27 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 05:13 PM:

1. I have lost much of this afternoon to learning about the political system of the Netherlands. Had you asked me this morning of the likelihood of such an event, I woulda made a casual rating of zero, so all blessings to Abi. I think part of the fascination is that sense of exploring a crazy alternate-universe political system. "Wouldn't it be great if people actually used something like this? Or if not great then at least really interesting?" It's kinda like the experience Jo Walton described of her first encounter with descriptions of the American liberal-arts educational paradigm.

2. The "Which Dutch Political Party Are You" quiz at europrofiler.eu is interesting, but it's tough to get a real bead on things when you don't have informed opinions on (e.g.) matters of EU integration. Perhaps what we really need to illuminate things is some sort of matrix in which recognizable SFnal characters are mapped against the parties. You know: something showing how various members of the cast of Babylon 5 or BSG or Buffy would vote. Or something.

#28 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 05:32 PM:

ppk, I'm delighted with this uncompromising paragraph at the beginning of your Intro:

In general the Dutch consider nine the minimum number of parties necessary to adequately represent themselves politically. Foreign students of Dutch politics, especially those from the Anglo-Saxon countries, will have to learn to live with this fact.
(inserts tongue into cheek)

Forgive me if I cut it down to "Get over yourselves, you guys!"

(removes tongue from cheek)

#29 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 05:37 PM:

Linkmeister @28:

See why I had to recommend this stuff? Then there's this one in the Rules of the Game:

In a district system we’d probably have only two parties: CDA and PvdA. This prospect is too boring to be contemplated, and therefore attempts to introduce the district system are doomed to failure.

It reminds me of the comment a friend of mine once made about why he worked in game development.

Where else is "that sounds cool" an adequate reason to do something, even if it's complicated and expensive?
#30 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 05:42 PM:

PPK or Abi can correct me, but my impression is that for a lot of Dutch politicians, politics is just one of their two careers. For instance, Femke Halsema, parliamentary leader of the GreenLeft party, is also a criminologist. (As I said to Abi when I learned this, "That's the high-concept for a TV series.") So I'm not sure that every instance of a Dutch politician bowing out to spend more time with their family is in fact a smokescreen for ducking out to evade an oncoming scandal.

For instance, while everyone appears to have been completely gobsmacked by the resignation the other day of PvdA (essentially, "Labour") leader Wouter Bos, nobody seems to be suggesting that there was anything nefarious about it. Bos was on a roll--as Finance Minister in the previous coalition government, he'd gotten high marks for dealing well with the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, and the particular way he took the PvdA out of the government, thus bringing on the upcoming elections, was widely regarded as canny. On top of all that, his heir apparent for PvdA leadership, Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, is one of the most personally popular politicians in the country. So if Bos really was inclined to leave on a high note, this was a good time to do it.

The recent resignation that I found striking--which happened on the same day as Bos's--was that of Camiel Eurlings, minister of transport, public works, and water management (a non-trivial portfolio, one suspects). Eurlings was a rising star in the center-right CDA (essentially, "Christian Democrat") party, and quite possibly its next leader, since the CDA, having been formed by the merger of multiple Catholic and Protestant parties, has an ironclad rule that the leadership alternates between Catholics and Protestants...and the current leader is a Protestant while Eurlings is a Catholic. The observation in Peter-Paul Koch's post that made my eyebrows hit the ceiling was that Eurlings' "stated reason was that he wanted to spend more time with his girlfriend and family." Whoa, I thought. It's one thing to be intellectually aware that modern Dutch society is pretty calm about people having long-term relationships and raising families without the sanction of old-fashioned marriage. It's another thing to see a rising center-right Catholic political leader using, as the acceptable storyline to explain a resignation, his desire to spend more time with his family by a woman to whom he isn't married.

It's these little moments of eye-opening difference that make PPK's blog coverage of Dutch politics so fascinating to me. Again, it's one thing to know that the term "liberal" means something very different in the European context. It's another to read a sentence such as this one, in PPK's profile of the Dutch party D66: "Right-wing voters, especially liberals, who can’t stand Wilders will be drawn to D66 automatically, especially since party leader Pechtold had distinguished himself in opposing Wilders." Forget Wilders--it's that beginning bit, "Right-wing voters, especially liberals". It's the same sensation we get at a particularly tasty piece of incluing in a science fiction novel.

#31 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 05:48 PM:

This procedure is complicated here by the possibility of the sovereign refusing to dissolve parliament, but the principle that there is always a government remains.

To clarify this, I don't know what the position is in the Netherlands, but if the British sovereign refused to dissolve parliament when asked there would be the mother of all constitutional crises. It's just inconceivable.

#32 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 05:53 PM:

PNH @30:
It's the same sensation we get at a particularly tasty piece of incluing in a science fiction novel.

You know, if I had read ppk's blog in any other context, part of me would be thinking, "This is Robinson, Brust or Zelazny-level worldbuilding. Fascinating, layered, complex, assumption-exploding stuff."

But trust me, even with my limited Dutch, I can tell you that it's all real. And that's what makes it so neat.

#33 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:13 PM:

Abi, #32: "You know, if I had read ppk's blog in any other context, part of me would be thinking, "This is Robinson, Brust or Zelazny-level worldbuilding. Fascinating, layered, complex, assumption-exploding stuff."

I think I first started thinking along these lines while you, Teresa, and I drove across Flevoland when we visited you last Spring. An entire province made of new land raised from the Zuyder Zee in our lifetimes. Watching the geometrically-regular roadside tree-plantings fly past the car windows, I began to feel I had some idea of what the inside of a terraformed generation starship would feel like.

The Netherlands aren't just an intensely built environment--I live in one of those myself. They're an intensely built environment in which one can discern, in social attitudes, political assumptions, ongoing social arrangements, and current events, constant signs of a common-sensical attitude that hey, we're all living here together in this gigantic machine that we've built over the last thousand years, and however much we disagree about other stuff, we'd better cooperate enough to keep the machine working or we'll all drown.

No, I'm not idealizing modern Dutch society; yes, I know they have plenty of problems; nobody needs to jump in with a post setting me straight on this point. But yes--there are ways in which the modern Netherlands feels, to an American like me, like the setting of a very interesting and well-worked out SF novel. And nothing about this fact is uncomplimentary to the modern Netherlands.

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:28 PM:

PNH @33:
Watching the geometrically-regular roadside tree-plantings fly past the car windows, I began to feel I had some idea of what the inside of a terraformed generation starship would feel like.

I had an even earlier experience of the same thing, for reasons I can't explain as clearly as you have there. The first time I took the ferry from the back of Centraal Station to NDSM (for a job interview, as it happened), something about the structure of the ferry dock made me think of the dock levels in Downbelow Station. I've never been able to express the resemblance in words; it's something about a cobbled-together structure that's been well-maintained and added to for a long time, by many hands.

Without trying to make observations of the very real life of a separate and long-standing foreign nation all about us, I think that it's the inevitable reaction to a powerful mix of comprehensibility and exoticism. The Netherlands is deeply foreign, really not an Anglophone culture or a descendant of British rule like either of my two homelands. And yet the Dutch, with their graceful English and their famous honesty, are so good at communicating that culture that an attentive reader can really get the sensawunda that we usually only associate with SF.

#35 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:32 PM:

Andrew Willett, #27: "The 'Which Dutch Political Party Are You' quiz at europrofiler.eu is interesting, but it's tough to get a real bead on things when you don't have informed opinions on (e.g.) matters of EU integration."

That was my experience as well--but I did manage to figure out that, on balance, my views are most in harmony with those of GroenLinks (no surprise there). More amusingly, applying my results across all European political parties, I turn out to be in near-complete agreement with Dïe Grunen, the Austrian Green party. Obviously my next step has to be to move to Vienna and begin consuming lots of good coffee and pastry.

#36 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:38 PM:

Abi, #34: "The Netherlands is deeply foreign, really not an Anglophone culture or a descendant of British rule like either of my two homelands"

The fact that the sheer physical landscape is so strange to us doesn't hurt either. In the middle of our last visit, I pointed out to Teresa that, at least in the northern half of the country, the only times you can be sure you're above sea level are when you're on the banks of a river. As she thought through the implications of this, her stunned look was a thing to behold.

#37 ::: ppk ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:42 PM:

@Patrick: Everybody believes Bos and Eurlings when they say they want to spend more time with their family. The phrase is rarely abused, as it is in the US.

As to having several professions: party leaders and other national figures are full-time politicians. Once they quit active politics they might return to their previous careers. More commonly they get sent to advisory boards and other bodies where they can carefully craft compromises, or to sectors in society or business they can represent.

Your world-building remarks are ... interesting. The trick of world-building is knowing your world inside-out so that you can afford to refer to it only casually, and that's pretty easy when it's a political system I've lived under for my entire life.

Still, one could think that sentences such as you describe mean that I've omitted an explanation. No doubt some readers might get confused, and I might have been clearer.

As to Eurlings, I don't doubt that properly marrying is high on his priority list. But he definitely said "girlfriend", there's no denying that.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:48 PM:

I should point out, by the way, that learning the language has not diminished my sensawunda.

If anything, contemplating grammatical quirks such as how the adjectival nature of the past participle of many verbs creates an innate sense that the consequences of your past actions reverberate into the present* is as strange, as complex, and as fascinating as watching the bone-deep Dutch instinct for cooperation and living together with people you disagree with.

-----
* Verbs of motion and transformation use "to be" with their past participles. So "I fell" is "Ik ben gevallen." Structurally, that's most of the way to "I am a fallen person".

#39 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:55 PM:

A couple of points

(1) When the Second Chamber was created, it was deliberately not modelled on the British House of Commons, and consensus was deliberately preferred to simple majority rule because of (a) the existence of three political blocs (secular liberals, Catholics, and Calvinists), and (b) the desire to ensure that populous provinces would not outweigh less populous ones. As democracy replaced the property vote this approach was retained.

(2) The 1917 compromise on education established, apparently permanently the system of verzuiling* (pillarisation) establishing Protestant, Catholic, and secular segments within the political system and ensuring that parties would draw support only within those segments. This doesn't mean that there's only one party per segment, the secular segment contains several, liberal and socialist, for example, and the Protestant ARP has gone with the wind. Nor does it mean that new segments (and parties identified with them) can't emerge. One issue of debate is whether there should be a Muslim zuilen.


*My dissertation adviser coined the term.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:56 PM:

chris y @31:
if the British sovereign refused to dissolve parliament when asked there would be the mother of all constitutional crises. It's just inconceivable.

I always felt that the British Queen's right to refuse to dissolve Parliament or appoint the Prime Minister was a single-use device, to be kept for extreme emergencies. I don't know that we'll ever get a problem so great that it would be worth provoking that kind of crisis, but it's interesting to think of the monarchy as a one-shot safety valve.

#41 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:59 PM:

DBratman:

In the Dutch system ministers are not members of either chamber. They are responsible to parliament, may be questioned by it (in two distinct procedures, either individual questions relating to their portfolios, or a process called an interpellation in which an entire chamber questions a minister on a substantive matter), and sit in front of it.

#42 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 07:01 PM:

ppk, #37: "Your world-building remarks are ... interesting. The trick of world-building is knowing your world inside-out so that you can afford to refer to it only casually, and that's pretty easy when it's a political system I've lived under for my entire life.

"Still, one could think that sentences such as you describe mean that I've omitted an explanation. No doubt some readers might get confused, and I might have been clearer."

I don't think you need to worry -- in fact you write about politics with far more clarity than a lot of professional political journalists do. The context you may be missing is that I'm a professional science fiction editor, so I'm prone to take new-and-interesting information and turn it around in my head in a science-fictional way. If it seemed as if I was suggesting that you were less than clear, that was my mistake--in fact, one of the things I've been enjoying is the extreme clarity you bring to political doings which are both strange to my Anglo-American sensibilities, and yet also logical and reasonable all the same. That kind of "cognitive dissonance" is one of the reasons people enjoy SF and it's also one of the markers for the kind of non-fiction subject-matter that I, at any rate, find particularly interesting.

#43 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 07:42 PM:

Interesting. I tried that Europrofiler political quiz, with neutral answers given for things with which I was unfamiliar enough to formulate a more meaningful response, and it pegged me as being more-or-less a Liberal Democrat.

#44 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 07:46 PM:

Crap, shoddy cut & paste on my part between composing in Notepad and posting here; I lost the first sentence, which read:

For some time now, I've been rather curious as to where I'd fall on the UK political spectrum (I'm already fairly sure where I'd fit in Canada's, for example).

#45 ::: ppk ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 07:52 PM:

@Patrick: I hurriedly read up on you and now understand where you come from.

In any case, my greatest fear is to forget to explain something that's obvious to me but not to my readers.

Aren't there SF readers who will put a book aside when they read something like "Right-wing voters, especially liberals" ? Nah, probably not. But political readers might.

#46 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 08:10 PM:

chris y @31: if the British sovereign refused to dissolve parliament when asked there would be the mother of all constitutional crises. It's just inconceivable.

I'm not sure about that - crisis probably, inconceivable no. Anthony Birch in The British system of government says that the problem, essentially, is that the monarch has to be impartial between parties. So if the Prime Minister asks for a dissolution, and the monarch refuses, the PM presumably resigns, and the monarch asks the Leader of the Opposition to form a government. If this government then fails a confidence vote, a dissolution of Parliament is basically the only way out - which means the monarch has granted a dissolution to one party having first refused it to the other.

The practical rule, then, is that a monarch can refuse a dissolution only if a viable alternative government can be formed without an election. Obviously this would only be the case if no one party had an outright majority (in which case the new government would immediately lose a confidence vote).

This nearly happened in 1923. A hung parliament led to an unstable minority Labour government, which lasted only 10 months before the Liberals withdrew their support of MacDonald, the Labour PM. MacDonald naturally asked King George V for a dissolution. The king seriously explored the possibility of refusing, which would have meant a Liberal-Conservative coalition forming the government. When the king consulted the Liberal and Conservative leaders, however, they weren't willing to join forces, so the dissolution was granted and another election called.

You would need, basically, a pretty unlikely set of circumstances - it rarely happens that there is, in any one Parliament, more than one serious possibility for government. If, however, the next election results in a hung parliament, the Liberal Democrats support a Labour government, but then some great falling-out occurs and the Lib Dems not only break with the Labour party but join forces with the Conservatives...

I'm not saying it's anything close to likely. But I don't think it's inconceivable.

Anyway, back to the Netherlands! According to that EU Profiler test, my nearest party is GroenLinks (we agree on almost everything except the matter of smoking bans in public places, which isn't an issue of overwhelming importance to me), but I'm also quite close to PvdA (although we diverge markedly on law and order terms - I militate strongly against "restrictions of civil liberties should be accepted in the fight against terrorism" and "criminals should be punished more severely").

#47 ::: Jack V. ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 08:25 PM:

ppk: Thank you, that was fascinating.

On comparisons to well-written science fiction: yes, that's exactly what I thought. But I've had similar feelings reading about other countries or other points in history; I think it's that many subjects can be presented in an entertaining, engaging and informative manner, but that fiction always tries to be (at least the first two, and science fiction all three), but non-fiction sometimes is and sometimes isn't.

#48 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 08:40 PM:

Fragano, #39 -- My impression was that verzuiling, pillarization, is widely regarded as a thing of the past in the Netherlands, although still quite alive in Belgium...but I'm getting the impression from you that I may not be entirely correct about that.

However, I'm also struck by your remark that your dissertation advisor was the guy who coined the term. Question one: Do you mean Arend Lijphart, who even I have heard of? Question two: How did they talk about it before he invented the term?

#49 ::: ppk ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 08:56 PM:

Verzuiling (which I translate as "denominational segregation") is a thing of the past. With the exception of a tiny sliver of the protestant one, the denominations are gone. There are a great many fossilised remains (the absurd number of Dutch broadcasting corporations, for instance,) but as a concept it's dead.

I also wondered whether Fragano's tutor would be Lijphart. Lijphart invented a great many terms, and is still very influential in the study of the denominations and how they cooperated, but he did not coin the term "verzuiling."

#50 ::: Dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 09:27 PM:

Oh, good - thanks for the link. Since I'm moving back to the Netherlands in a couple of weeks this will be very useful! ("Back" because I lived there for a year in 2006-7; not long enough to get much understanding of the politics.)

@Patrick, I noticed (not for the first time)) something similar last week in a different area; driving to Amsterdam from Eindhoven (in the south) which is on higher ground, it's still clear how thoroughly altered the land is by human activity. (For example, what appear to be forested land will have trees planted in straight lines.) And that's land that's not been reclaimed. It's something I'm not used to in the US, where "rural" = "closer to natural, less affected by humans".

#51 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 10:09 PM:

Andrew Willet @ 27: "The "Which Dutch Political Party Are You" quiz at europrofiler.eu is interesting, but it's tough to get a real bead on things when you don't have informed opinions on (e.g.) matters of EU integration."

For people looking to try the quiz: it's at euprofiler.eu, not europrofiler.eu.

I find that I am in the big empty spot between SP and PVDD and GL and PVDA, though somewhat further left. If I were Dutch, I would feel quite unrepresented.

#52 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 10:12 PM:

abi @23: No, your explanation didn't come across as patronizing. I just hadn't made myself clear to you as to exactly what I did and did not grasp about this.

Yes, ppk's intervening discussion @20 did pretty much answer my question. It's clear that ppk knows more about the Dutch political system than you do, but I thank you greatly for explaining as much as you can!

#53 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 10:38 PM:

chris y & SeanH have been writing about the granting of dissolutions in Westminster systems.

The real dilemma comes when an incumbent government dissolves and wins an election, but so narrowly that they have trouble governing, and instead of resigning, the PM asks for another dissolution. If there's no reason to suspect that the political landscape has changed and the next election will give a more definitive result, the monarch, or Governor General, is entitled to wonder if the PM is just trying to put off the inevitable by putting the country to the trouble of an election.

The problem is that whenever the head of state refuses dissolution, a firestorm of controversy will result. This is exactly the dilemma that hit Canada in 1926 in the form of the King-Byng Thing, when the GG refused dissolution and forced resignation, and the replacement government was at a severe disadvantage both rhetorically (since the ousted government could charge the GG with acting unconstitutionally, whether that charge was fair or not) and practically, since at that time newly appointed ministers lost their seats, a practical prerequisite for holding office in the Westminster system, and couldn't speak in the Parliament where their political fates were being decided.

Notice it's not the same if the PM who calls the second, quick election is newly installed after the first election, because they can be justified as potentially on the way up. In a King-Byng type scenario, they're on the way down. This is where ppk's concept of "election winners" and "election losers" comes in handy. Few objected to Labour in the UK calling short-term elections in 1966 and fall 1974, because they'd just won office and could clearly hope to do better in a follow-up, as indeed in both cases they did.

Even though Labour lost the 1924 election, the same principle applies. I had not read that the King explored a Conservative-Liberal coalition before letting Labour dissolve, but if he did, it was clearly not on. The Conservatives had been both the largest party and the incumbent government after the 1923 election, but they were "election losers" in the Dutch sense and their tariff platform had been definitely rejected by a majority, since the other parties both strongly opposed it. So they resigned and let Labour, the second-largest party, have a go; it was Labour who decided on having a minority government rather than a coalition with the Liberals, whom they did not trust.

This was the UK's first Labour government, and rather than see such a socialist apocalypse, many panicked people pleaded for Conservative and Liberal to coalesce and keep Labour out, but both party leaders wisely thought that a really bad idea - responding to the pressure by clamping the lid down tighter is not a recipe to make it go away - and if they weren't going to form a coalition before the Labour government was formed, they certainly weren't going to form one afterwards in the same Parliament. And the Conservatives, though still the largest party, couldn't form one by themselves because they'd already given up their right to try in that Parliament.

#54 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 11:37 PM:

I'm spreading the existence of the cited blog in a couple of places, including Howard Rheingold's online community BrainStorms. There are a few Dutch people there. I'm interested in reactions.

#55 ::: Howard N. Bunte ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 12:39 AM:

What a WONDERFUL blog... from/for the land of "The Low Sky".
I am currently studying the development of the European Union here in soCal at the Claremont Colleges/Scripps... and it is SO Good to find an English language posting location, with thoughtful folks contributing to the flow of ideas and no rancor apparent...
Deeply appreciated to all who post here...
HNB

#56 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 01:17 AM:

I just did the quiz and discovered that I land fairly close to the PvdD. I had to do a bit of clicking about to discover that it's the "Party for the Animals". If only it were the "Party Like an Animal" party. Actually, I landed a bit to the left of them on the Socioeconomic scale. (Does this mean I need to return my MBA?)

I'll have to read through the Dutch political blog when I'm less sleepy - I don't think I'd be able to process it correctly right now.

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 02:15 AM:

For the record, I voted GroenLinks (GreenLeft) in the European election. The Euprofiler put me somewhere between them and PvdA (Labour), but I couldn't stomach PvdA's views on the balance between civil rights and security.

I voted GroenLinks in our local election as well, but that was based on issues relevant to our gemeente.

I'm reasonably certain that I am not entitled to vote in the Dutch general election, since I am not a Dutch citizen. Considering how much representation I get in other matters (there's the water board as well, as I blogged at the time), I can hardly complain. The voting I have done has brought me much deeper into Dutch life, and caused me to think about the culture here in new and interesting ways.

#58 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 04:34 AM:

abi @38 - so does French, not that mindblowing if you learned it in school...

Generally, if you think Dutch politics are weird, you should try Ulster/the Six Counties/Norn Irrn... A system expressly designed to accommodate the prejudices of people who would otherwise be shooting at each other, if the UK govt ever stopped throwing money at them by the bucketload...

#59 ::: George Berger ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 05:30 AM:

On 8 Jan. 09 I left the Netherlands for good, after having lived there for nearly 37 years. I had to act quickly, for reasons explained below. What I am reporting on here will not change unless the Dutch people act decisively for once. No coming government shall:

DUTCH HEALTHCARE IS A DANGEROUS ‘ANOMALY IN EUROPE’

[Lengthy cut-and-pasted article deleted, following further bad behavior by this now-banned commenter. --PNH]

I have been unable to follow the recent political chaos in detail, since healthcare has almost my entire attention. But I do think that Mr Bos's talk about his family is a fraud. I have heard this excuse many times in my years there, under similar situations. In every case it was a smokescreen that covered either a political reentry or time to arrange a cushy job for services (often corruptly) rendered. I must end by saying that the country's liberal image is itself a smokescreen that covers an authoritarian, brutal clique of rulers who shove the neat jobs back and forth. In the meantime, Mr Bos enjoys an excellent severance payment system and.....special health and other insurance policies. They are very good, as opposed to the garbage I had to settle for.

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 06:34 AM:

George Berger @59:

Your comment is fairly severely off-topic to this thread, in a way that won't, I think, lead to productive discussion. It was also, as posted, not very readable.

I've removed the cut and paste text wall, which I note is available all over the internet in the comment threads of diverse blogs. I have, for anyone that's interested, linked to a PDF version of it.

I'd rather, if you feel it must be read on Making Light, that you had posted a more...tailored version of it when we were discussing health care earlier this year. I suspect, however, that some of the more conspiracy-oriented elements of the content would make discussing it difficult, and I'm not minded to get into that on this thread.

#61 ::: George Berger ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 07:17 AM:

Dear Ms/Mr/Drs/Sir/Dr/ Hooggeleerde heer,
Nothing in my writings are conspiracy-theory orientated. I know which parts you are referring to. They concern sources whose names I cannor reveal, for tried and true journalistic reasons. In one case I went to some effort NOT to learn the name of a source. But be assured that not every employee of the Nieuwe Zorgstelsel admires its Deathcare aspects. I appreciate your condescending remarks. I have no idea who you are or what you represent.

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 07:26 AM:

Patrick: Verzuiling is mostly a thing of the past, but one of the items I read recently seemed to hint that the excessively blonde Wilders was worried about a Muslim zuilen.

ppk: Yes. Arend Lijphart was my advisor.

#63 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 07:31 AM:

George Berger @61:

My name is Abi Sutherland. I represent no one but myself in this context. A certain minimal amount of research on the blog you're spamming* would reveal that I am one of the moderators here, in charge of shepherding the conversation.

Your comments continue to be completely outside of that conversation. I'd suggest you be content with the fact that I've linked to a PDF of your article and let it go. It's far more than I generally do, and I'm well on the way to regretting my generosity.

This subthread is now closed. If you return on this subject again, rather than the topic of the post, I'll delete the PDF link and block and publish your IP address. We're not obliged to host every irate screed that people see fit to foist on us.

-----
* cutting and pasting irrelevant content is, within this context, spamming.

#64 ::: J Meijer ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 08:02 AM:

abi, thanks for posting this. It is a new site for me and it is always useful to have some backup when trying to explain the Dutch political system and situation.

#65 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 09:51 AM:

Abi rocks.

Where were we again? Verzuiling, thing of the past. Query, was Arend Lijphart Fragano's dissertation adviser. Essential skiffiness of Dutch politics and landscape when viewed by Anglosaxophones (interesting exchange, that). And then there's this morning's election news.

#66 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 10:08 AM:

To bring the UK diversion back on topic: here, Queen Elizabeth II's strongest role in government is an advisory role - she meets with the Prime Minister every week. Aside from that, we've already picked over in some detail her ability to make the call in a constitutionally squiffy moment*. So a couple of questions about the Netherlands:

-I get the impression from PPK's post 'The rules of the game' that Queen Beatrix has a similar power, although it's probably a lot less likely to be used in a system that's accustomed to forming coalition governments. Does she?

-In the same post, there's "She only participates actively in politics just after the elections, when a new government is being formed. She appoints the politicians who take the lead in this process, and she replaces them by others if that becomes necessary." Is this her initiative, i.e. she picks the politicians who'd be the best for the job? Or does she follow the lead of party leadership?

And at the risk of echoing, thanks are certainly due to PPK for putting so much work into such a helpful and accessible resource.

*Two points here. Firstly, calling a second election because you didn't like the results of the one you just had is pretty undemocratic - it seems to me that it would be more democratic for the Queen to call upon other members of Parliament to form an alternative government than it would to tell the electorate they got it wrong. Secondly, DBratman mentions a Canadian concern: "the ousted government could charge the GG with acting unconstitutionally". I have trouble imagining such a direct assault on the Queen coming from one of the UK's political parties. There simply isn't enough republican sentiment here for casting the Queen as the enemy of democracy to work.

#67 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 10:23 AM:

One of the things I find particularly interesting about Dutch politics is how rapidly the Dutch have adapted to both postcoloniality and multiculturalism.

Arend Lijphart's doctoral dissertation at Yale was published as The Trauma of Decolonization: The Dutch and West New Guinea about the shock felt at the loss of the Netherlands' last colony in Asia. It was, clearly, a real cultural and political shock to the Dutch national psyche.

Yet, by the end of the 20th century, the anti-immigration right in Dutch politics was running candidates who were immigrants of colour, and including them as ministers (which turned out to be not so wise) when it got into government.

The Dutch strategy of decolonisation (after the loss of Indonesia, which it tried to hold when it should not have) turned out to be a lot more flexible than either the British or French approach (not to mention the Belgian). It's left the Kingdom of the Netherlands* as a sort of layer-cake state, with most of it in the EU, but parts that aren't, and parts that are currently trying to figure out where they want to be.**


*Which is not the same thing as The Netherlands.
** Those are the parts that I am most interested in professionally. "Status Aparte" was one of the best practical jokes of my lifetime. Not to mention the fact that I have to keep looking up the status of the Netherlands' volcano.

#68 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 10:37 AM:

Actually I was hoping that here in the UK the Royal family might act as the last stumbling block to parliament/ the gvt in power declaring itself in charge for the foreseeable future. It would be interesting to have the prime minister summoned the the palace to be sacked on the spot and arrested for treason. Although I'm not so sure that the queen/ king could legally do that.

#69 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 12:02 PM:

The europrofiler was fun, though like other usians, I don't know enough about the eu to have an opinion. I came out about equally close to the conservatives, greens, and
liberal dems.

#70 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 12:18 PM:

@67 - As a Brit, I can't help admiring the French response to continued possession of tropical colonies - which is to behave as if they were located somewhere just off the coast of Brittany. It's refreshingly unlike the UK, which still manages not to actually include the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands fully within itself, despite them being just off... etc...

Something great about the idea that Tahiti, Martinique, etc just ARE bits of France, slightly mislaid. As long as everyone likes it that way, of course. Didn't work out so good for Algeria [he said, with typical British understatement], and the Corsicans still have trouble with it after 250 years...

#71 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 12:38 PM:

Since the Kingdom of the Netherlands consists of multiple countries, doesn't that make the Queen of the Netherlands actually a queen-empress (and thus deserving of higher precedence at international functions)? If the tie-breaker is time in office, that would place her ahead of the Emperor of Japan, but after the Queen of England (although does not currently claim the title of Empress of India).

#72 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 01:00 PM:

Alex #70: Martinique is a bit of France, Tahiti isn't. Tahiti is a TOM, Martinique's a DOM. The French speak of 'les DOM-TOMs' (pun intended), DOM is 'departement en outre-mer' (pardon me for leaving out the accents) while TOM is 'territoire en outre-mer', overseas department v. overseas territory. Territories -- strictly speaking, overseas collectivities, (Tahiti, New Caledonia, Kerguelen, the Antarctic, St Pierre, Mayotte) aren't fully integrated into France, while departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyane, Reunion) are. Martinique might as well be Corsica or Morbihan. Tahiti is a bit further off the coast.

#73 ::: Marek ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 01:05 PM:

Is that a Monty Python reference in the title?

#74 ::: George Berger ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 01:31 PM:

Dear Moderators, esp. Mr. Sutherland
Please remove my comments and the link. It is an insult to have the link smack in the middle of your unfriendly comments (Mr. Sutherland). I have no idea why you are so mean-minded. Moreover, you preserve the parts that fit your discussion while linking to the rest. The matter "the rest" treats is more important than the transient character of deadly Dutch politics. As for my article's readability, be assured that it has received many complements. So I suggest you throw away your Strunk and White, buy Fowler's, and start writing decent, friendly, English. As for your publishing my email address, go right ahead. The many people who are interested in my article know it or can easily find it. If I were not a decent individual I'd say that I don't give a F....F....what you do with that address. Give it to your Politburo for all I care. I thank you for your "Generosity." Keep right on "regretting" it. As for my "continuing," note that I did so only after you began. Why should I not reply? There is no reason. I thought that Libertarians believe in Free Speech and constructive argument. I guess you don't like adequate responses to your silly, peremptory, remarks. Had they been friendly I might have reacted otherwise. But they are insinuating (conspiracy theories) in a context about which you know very little or--more probably--nothing. THAT is quite improper.
Yours, Dr George Berger

#75 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 01:47 PM:

My goodness. The amount of wrongness in #74 sheerly boggles the mind. I'm kind of amused that ML is supposed to be a haven of "libertarians", though.

#77 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 01:57 PM:

I've seen flounces, but #74 comes closes to being the triple Salchow of flounces. It includes a free political transformation, a sex-change operation, and the worst reading of mood in recent history. Bent 'George Berger' de Nederlandse wordt voor 'Frank Persol'?

#78 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 02:17 PM:

Boring administrative note:

George Berger evidently has a history of barging into the comment sections of blogs that are discussing something vaguely connected to his concerns, and pastebombing them with his lengthy rant. Here's an example; here's another.

Unlike those two sites, we aren't even particularly discussing healthcare, in the Netherlands or anywhere else. So his behavior here is even more inappropriate.

It was very kind of Abi (who he refers to as "Mr. Sutherland") to replace his several screens worth of text with a link to his own PDF document. However, since he's continued to spew abuse, I've now deleted that link. He is also now banned from Making Light.

For the record, the IP he posted from is 90.224.142.214, which appears to resolve to a network in Stockholm.

I don't care about his disputes with the Dutch healthcare system. I don't even care if he has justice on his side. What he was trying to do here wasn't conversation, it was abuse, and it won't be continuing.

#79 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 02:23 PM:

Hell, I'm a flaming liberal even in Hungary (where I at least have the right to obtain the right to vote). My closest political party: Lehet Más A Politika (Politics Could Be More). Neat, neat profiling link, Abi!

#80 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 02:36 PM:

Oh, darn. A troll I could have fed. Is there something in the water lately?

#81 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 02:47 PM:

@73 - see #8...

@72 - picky, picky. Either way, they are parts of la belle France as Jersey will never be part of the UK. And they appear on the TV weather forecasts, how cool is that?

#82 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 02:52 PM:

Odd the particularly specific hobby horses that send people truly off the deep end. For some reason Mr. Berger reminds me of the guy who used to hang out on the Mag Mile in Chicago with a large sign reading "FBI Agent Chris Saviano Stop Raping My Wife!"

But back to the topic at hand. The interesting thing to me is that the Dutch system, for all its complexity, seems to be working more or less as intended, where the American system sees most of its complexity arise out of trying to run a modern nation-state and an international superpower on the basis of what some wealthy planters and merchants thought was a good way to organize the affairs of a loose federation of agrarian and maritime colonies.

I suspect this has something to do with the fact that the Netherlands has significantly rejiggered its constitution several times since 1800, while we Americans are stuck with the revealed word of the Founding Fathers as brought down from Mount Vernon by the Prophet George.

#83 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 02:54 PM:

Marek, #73: It would appear so.

#84 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 03:36 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 77: "'ve seen flounces, but #74 comes closes to being the triple Salchow of flounces."

More like the iceskating backflip--banned from competition for being dangerous and showoffish. It's quite impressive how he hits so! many! elements of the flouncing form. It's quite a little encyclopedia du flounce. We should be appreciative: it's quite the learning opportunity, to be able to dissect such a pure example of the breed.

1a. Demonstrate compete blindness to context. "Dear Moderators, esp. Mr. Sutherland"

2. Take your ball and go home. "Please remove my comments and the link."

3. Accuse other people of unfairness. "It is an insult to have the link smack in the middle of your unfriendly comments (Mr. Sutherland)."

4. Express confusion over their irrational hatred of you. "I have no idea why you are so mean-minded."

5. Accuse them of doing exactly what they said, in plain language, they were doing.* "Moreover, you preserve the parts that fit your discussion while linking to the rest."

6. Mention how popular you are in other contexts. "As for my article's readability, be assured that it has received many complements."

7. Bring up not-even-tangentially-related personal hobby horse. "So I suggest you throw away your Strunk and White, buy Fowler's, and start writing decent, friendly, English."

8. Point out what a great person you are for not doing the thing you are, as you speak, in the process of doing.** "If I were not a decent individual I'd say that I don't give a F....F....what you do with that address."

9. Accuse your interlocutors of fascism/totalitarianism. "Give it to your Politburo for all I care."

10. Use scare quotes. "I thank you for your "Generosity." Keep right on "regretting" it."

11. Make nonsensical query; answer yourself. "Why should I not reply? There is no reason."

1b. Demonstrate an even more laughable and basic misunderstanding of your context.*** "I thought that Libertarians believe in Free Speech and constructive argument."

12. Declare yourself the winner. "I guess you don't like adequate responses to your silly, peremptory, remarks."

13. Note regretfully how it's all everyone else's fault for being rude. "Had they been friendly I might have reacted otherwise."

14. And finally, the crowning touch: the sarcasm-soaked, overly formal closing. "Yours, Dr George Berger"

*This is, by far, my favorite. So clueless! So inept!

**This is my second favorite.

***While repeating an earlier element, the sheer breadth of this error commands a long moment's silent recognition.

#85 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 03:37 PM:

Wait, the Risorgimento caused a major realignment in Dutch politics? Wow, 19th century European politics was even weirder than I had thought.

Great series. But what does all this mean for the issue that theoretically led to the current situation?

Do I get this right that if the election results would be roughly what the polls predict now, it would be impossible to form a coalition where all parties would at least more or less agree on Afghanistan and economic policy and immigration? But how could a coalition where members strongly disagree on even just one of these issues work?

If the left-of-center/center-left parties as a whole never had a majority, how did you end up with all those unusually left-leaning (even for Europe) laws and policies that you're so famous for? And I don't just mean the purple era innovations, I mean the stuff that started a few decades earlier, too. Is it all because of the VVD's social liberalism? But then how did they get the CDA to go along, given that they and their predecessors used to be always a part of the government?


Earl Cooley III @71, not really. kings and queens that are either really or at least technically kings and queens of several different countries are fairly common; it doesn't in itself make them emperors or empresses.

#86 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 03:43 PM:

I'm quite sure I could have fitted quite a few more "quite"s in there, though whether it would have been quite enough I quite quite quite quite quite quite quite quite--

#87 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 03:45 PM:

Carrie S. @75, heresiarch @84, then again, Google describes Making Light as "A liberal to libertarian weblog on issues of interest to a full-time science fiction editor and part-time musician in New York."

#88 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 03:53 PM:

For the record, I excised the content of his comment that was in the PDF, but left the framing remarks. I took great care not to remove more than was contained therein.

#89 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 03:55 PM:

I've been sidetracked by Teresa's term at #65: Anglosaxophones. Are they similar to the cor anglais or the French horn?

#90 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 03:56 PM:

guthrie @ 68: "the Royal family might act as the last stumbling block to parliament/ the gvt in power declaring itself in charge for the foreseeable future" Yes, I've often thought of that as well. Along with the monarch being the titular head of the armed forces, it prevents even a pretence of legality in such a situation.

heresiarch @ 84: Nice analysis/breakdown/critique*

*I was going to write that as breakbown/analysis/critique but then it wouldn't abbreviate to a/b/c.

#91 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 04:01 PM:

BTW, on the general point of comparative politics, I think it's important to remember that the distinction between "odd" "complex" multi-party systems and "simple" "obvious" two-party ones is just a question of perspective. There are, for example, many "tendencies" in US politics that could be said to represent differences just as significant as those between some Dutch parties - from paleocons to the Paliban/Teabaggers; "Blue dogs" to "yellow dogs", and triangulators of all species. Since outside of election-time US legislators tend to behave as radical individualists [and indeed projecting themselves almost uniformly as an independent-minded person-of-the-people], the US system is only really "two-party" in the sense that that's how they line up to sling mud at each other. Really it's probably 7 or 8-party at least.

In overall-majority systems the actual course of a governmental or legislative agenda is always fought out across a fractious coalition of interests and perspectives; it's just that they generally all happen to claim nominal membership of the same "party".

#92 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 04:27 PM:

#91, Alex: You're quite right--in some real senses, the US has at least seven or eight national parties. It's attractive to speculate that, if we had a system more like the Dutch, we might actually be able to have useful negotiation between those factions.

I continue to be struck by the fact that Dutch parties never expect to rule alone, and always have to keep in mind both the need to keep their voters from trickling away to adjacent parties on their own fringes and the need (if they intend to try to be in government) to be seen as a party that can be reliably negotiated with.

We haven't even begun, in this conversation, to discuss the role of the "informer" and "former"* (section 7.1 here). Which is another detail of their system that I find fascinating, both for its functionality and for the attitudes and priorities it seems to me to reflect.

--
* Or "informateur" and "formateur", as ppk notes.

#93 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 04:35 PM:

Raphael #87: Yes, I've always been a little fantasted by that old Google description. Although I think it was actually originally attached by them to my previous solo blog, Electrolite.

I don't completely run in terror from the label "libertarian"--I'm in favor of freedom! But I don't think that the modern American "libertarian" program is an especially effective way of creating more freedom for lots of people.

#94 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 05:00 PM:

SeanH @66: Sorry you considered that a diversion. I find the whole matter very interesting, and don't consider comparative studies of parliamentary governmental formation to be off-topic in this thread, even if the principal and initial subject is a different country.

The GG in Canada in the 1926 fracas did become the subject of personal criticism in the political campaign, as did the GG of Australia after the infamous 1975 constitutional crisis. But as you imply, a GG is not a monarch. Whether the Queen would be subject to such criticism in a similar case would have to wait until it happened, but such an outcome has certainly been feared in the past. George V tiptoed very cautiously around the 1910 crisis precisely because of the fear that he'd be seen as favoring the government party if he gave them the assurances they wanted. It was a very tough call.

Alex @91: If the US had a European-style political system, we'd know where we all stood much better, yes. In the European sense, the US Democrats and Republicans aren't really political parties at all, but huge arbitrary coalitions for running primary elections in. Party discipline in Congress, an essential in European parliaments, is very weak here, though it's getting stronger.

PNH @92: Your comment on how Dutch parties must both compete and cooperate strikes at one of my initial questions about how this system works. What arrests me is that the British, both press and politicians, apparently have no idea how a non-majority multi-party parliament works, even as they face the possibility of one*, despite having good seats to watch this situation play itself out all the time on the continent.

*I don't think it's going to happen. Either one party will win a majority, or struggle along with a plurality by cobbling ad hoc support from third parties and limiting the definition of a vote of confidence, until the opportunity comes to call another election and hope for a stronger majority.

#95 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 05:27 PM:

Heresiarch #84: That is worthy to be carved on tablets of stone.

#96 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 05:41 PM:

Earl Cooley III #71: The person whom you call "the Queen of England" is, in the first place, the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland, as well as sovereign of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey. She is also directly, the Queen of "her other realms and territories." That is to say, the Queen of the Bahamas, the Queen of Barbados, the Queen of Canada, the Queen of Jamaica &c. That adds up to a little bit more than the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with its big chunk in Europe, plus St Maarten, Statia, Saba, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao.


#97 ::: arwel ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 06:21 PM:

DBratman @94: What arrests me is that the British, both press and politicians, apparently have no idea how a non-majority multi-party parliament works, even as they face the possibility of one*,

What amazes me even more is that they don't even have to go out of the country to see a working version - the first Welsh Assembly Government (1999-2003) from 2000 onwards was a Labour/Lib Dem coalition (Labour had 28 of the 60 seats, LibDems 6), and the third one (2007-2011) is a Labour/Plaid Cymru one (Labour 26 seats, Plaid 15).

#98 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 06:46 PM:

DBratman @ 94: "In the European sense, the US Democrats and Republicans aren't really political parties at all, but huge arbitrary coalitions for running primary elections in. Party discipline in Congress, an essential in European parliaments, is very weak here, though it's getting stronger."

That's a good operational description. Interestingly enough, in the US a large fraction of that type of ideological discipline is applied to those party/caucus members by outside entities, rather than through the nominal party or caucus organizational structures. (Prominent among these entities are labor unions, business and professional organizations, certain types of religious organizations, and other highly focused interest groups.) Their primary "hammer" is typically the threat to withhold (or deploy on behalf of a politcian's rivals within his/her caucus) support in the form of PACs and other fund-raising tools, "get out the vote" efforts, and the like, at which the relatively weak nominal party organizations are not all that effective.

#99 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 06:53 PM:

arwel #97: Not to mention the first two Scottish governments.

#100 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 08:41 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #96: The person whom you call "the Queen of England"

Sorry, I was being terse rather than precise.

#101 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 09:45 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ #77:
I've seen flounces, but #74 comes closes to being the triple Salchow of flounces.

*peals of laughter*

heresiarch @ #84:

*awe* That is... there aren't enough synonyms for "impressive". In any language.

#102 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 10:39 PM:

heresiarch @ #84: Yes, that was quite an impressive flensing! ;-)

#103 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 10:42 PM:

If you're still reading, Mr Berger, I feel led as one of the few libertarians frequenting Making Light to answer your rhetorical question. Yes, libertarians like free speech and constructive argument. You seem to be misinformed as to the nature of both.

#104 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2010, 10:43 PM:

More of a Woodcarving than a Flensing, I'd say. Pretty Transcendent, either way.

#105 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 01:06 AM:

Xopher @104 - nice!

#106 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 01:43 AM:

I most closely match the views of the Irish Green Party. It's good to know there's at least a few people who officially share my views, I guess?

#107 ::: Branko Collin ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 02:55 AM:

"Some parliamentary-style governments are also nuclear powers; the relative nonchalance with which such governments can just fall scares the hell out of me: I suppose the military maintains nuclear control then, a sort of de facto junta?"

In the Netherlands (not, to my knowledge, a nuclear power) the current government continues as a caretaker government. As such it is supposed not to take any controversial actions, such as all-out global thermonuclear war.

"If the British sovereign refused to dissolve parliament when asked there would be the mother of all constitutional crises. It's just inconceivable."

In Belgium the king once refused to sign a law. On his own request, the cabinet sort of dethroned him, signed the law themselves, and then made the king king again.

Reminded me of all these A-Team episodes where they had to drug BA Baracus in order to get him to fly a plane.

"I get the impression from PPK's post 'The rules of the game' that Queen Beatrix has a similar power, although it's probably a lot less likely to be used in a system that's accustomed to forming coalition governments. Does she?"

Trix could be described as a very well-connected lobbyist. She appoints the guy (usually a guy) who will start the negotiations to form the next government, and she also regularly invites parliamentarians for tea and scones (not sure about the scones).

I don't know if she has much actual power, but she has a lot of access.

#108 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 04:42 AM:

Carrie@75, there are some of us here, but it actually _is_ possible to be both libertarian or even Libertarian and also be house-trained. (Alas, it wasn't universal practice even before our party was overrun by Republicans.)

The euprofiler didn't really know what to do with me, so it sort of punted me into D66 for the Netherlands, and decided on the EU level that maybe I would like the Pirate Party (yarr!) or maybe some countries Liberal Democrats or some such. Apparently I missed some litmus-test on environmentalism (which surprised me, maybe it was smoking in bars?) or EU power structure, but for the most part, most of the parties in the EU either believe in (IMHO) unsustainable welfare states or else offensive anti-immigrant policies and or excessive law&order, or sometimes both. So the closeness indexes tend to alternate me between not being a very good match with some liberal parties and some socialists that like immigrants.

#109 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 05:15 AM:

If I recall right, the big difference between the UK and the Netherlands is in how the monarchy started. While Charles II came close, it was a restoration of a royal line. For the Dutch system, the blame can be much more widely distributed. And, yes, Napoleon was a part of the process.

My skimming of the web suggests that before the French Revolution, the Netherlands was a sort of quasi-feudal republic--there could be some interesting ideas for fantasy novels in that history, replacing the common Hollywood-feudalism--and there are some slight similarities between, for instance, the House of Orange, and the Kennedy family. Wherever the original power came from, it tends to stick.

And the Dutch military does have troops trained in alpine warfare. The first time I heard that, I thought it was a joke.

#110 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 05:18 AM:

The last couple of times somebody asked me what my politics were, I said "Anarchist," and twirled my moustache.

#111 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 09:30 AM:

Some parliamentary-style governments are also nuclear powers; the relative nonchalance with which such governments can just fall scares the hell out of me

Britain is a nuclear power, but sleep easy. When a government falls, it doesn't just go away. It simply admits it can no longer legislate and arranges an election.

While all that goes on, the government continues to do governmental stuff like keeping tabs on the nuclear stockpile and collecting taxes. It only resigns once it's been agreed who is to replace it.

Also, the incoming Prime Minister is fully briefed on all nuclear issues, civil and military, before the old one hands in his papers. The time lapse between the old PM resigning and the new one being formally appointed is about half an hour.

#112 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 09:32 AM:

Much to my surprise, euprofiler has decided that I'm a LibDem. Campbell Bannerman is currently rolling in his grave.

#113 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 10:13 AM:

A fascinating poll in today's Guardian reveals that, while 18% of those surveyed think a Labour victory would be best for Britain, and 29% of people think a Conservative victory would be best - "victory" here meaning an outright majority - 44% of people think that a hung parliament would be best! So, counter to the received wisdom here that hung parliaments and coalition governments are unstable and ineffective*, a clear plurality of people actually want a parliament that better reflects the diversity of political opinion here in the UK.

*I actually remember learning in History that a system of proportional representation was one of the factors that made the Weimar Republic so weak and easily taken over by the Nazis.

#114 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 11:20 AM:

Bill:

Yeah. It has often seemed to me that libertarianism draws its most vocal self-appointed spokesmen from among its least informed and least rational adherents. Many of the most vocal libertarians on the net seem to be involved more in smiting the evildoers with their newfound Rand religion and applying very simple formulas to fix things than in actually understanding how the world works and how to make it better. As someone who thinks libertarianism has a lot of useful ideas and insights that could make our world better, and that the broad direction of libertarianism is a good one for us to move in about 80% of the time, this seems kind of tragic to me.

I suspect this applies to other movements, too, but libertarianism is the one that's the most visible to me.

#115 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 11:35 AM:

I think of myself as a small-"l" libertarian.

As albatross just said, there seem to be some useful ideas there. And, I think, some definite nutcases.

I do not think of this as a particularly libertarian neighborhood.

I've never read Rand; it sounds horrid when described both by its fans and its detractors, so I really feel no temptation.

#116 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 11:43 AM:

Branko Collin @107 the current government continues as a caretaker government. As such it is supposed not to take any controversial actions, such as all-out global thermonuclear war.

That one almost got my keyboard.

#117 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 11:49 AM:

Xopher #104:

evocations show
netherlands' health-care woes, if
dutchmen have six legs

#118 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 11:55 AM:

David Dyer-Bennet #115: I've never read Rand; it sounds horrid when described both by its fans and its detractors, so I really feel no temptation.

Play BioShock at 3am in an empty house with the lights down low; that experience contains the essentials of what you need to know about Rand. heh.

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 01:54 PM:

Michael 105: Thank you for noticing.

#120 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 02:01 PM:

SeanH #113:

Me (in a graduate seminar discussion of the strengths & weaknesses of proportional v. single-member-constituency systems): What about the Weimar Republic?

Arend Lijphart: What about the first Nigerian Republic?

Lijphart's point was that it wasn't proportional representation that brought down Weimar any more than it was the Westminster system that brought down Tafawa Balewa. Certainly, no one is suggesting that the Westminster model doesn't work because of its spectacular failures in places like Ghana, Nigeria, or Sierra Leone.

#121 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 03:48 PM:

Note, if you haven't been following ppk's blog* that he's done a profile of Wilders' PVV now.

My personal view of Wilders is that he's a troll†; indeed, my first draft of the original post used that term explicitly. (Then I got polite.) I first made the connection watching the recent debate. About the time that Wilders explained how only he "durft te zeggen" (dares to say) something about the Muslim community in the Netherlands, I was all but overmastered by the impulse to leap to my feet and shout "BINGO!"

But joking aside, the comparison is apt, and I stand by it. He really does want to be the center of the conversation, and says deliberately outrageous things to make certain it is. Fitna was a perfect example of this strategy, a film whose controversy was more talked about than real.

It's unfortunate that he's made it impossible to have a reasoned discussion about the nature of race and immigration in the Netherlands, because the country really needs one. And that's the harshest think I can think to say about him as a Dutchman: in this country conceived in compromise and dedicated to the proposition that any problem can be talked through, he's damaged the possibility free and honest discussion.

----
* and after I explicitly told you to, too!
† note the tuft of unnaturally colored hair

#122 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 04:13 PM:

Xopher #104: Well, some folks won't ken that joke, but steel, it's important to remember the good tines....

#123 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 04:42 PM:

David@122, a few butterflies and it's total chaos and hexapodia.

#124 ::: Jeff R. ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 06:25 PM:

Being strongly anti-EU would seem give one a choice between two gangs of utter lunatics, which makes me wonder: Is there actually a large segment of the Netherland electorate who are both sane and euroskeptical and who have no party to call home, or is EU-friendliness a poor choice of second axis on that poll? (Or at least has a misleading choice of origin and/or scale?)

#125 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 06:50 PM:

SeanH @ 113: It annoys me every General Election that the first-past-the-post system means that (a) someone can get elected with, say, 30% of the vote; (b) the LibDems keep getting about 30% of the vote but only a tiny proportion of seats. And if everyone stopped saying "well, I'd vote for the LibDems if I thought they had a chance" and actually voted for them, they might just have a chance. Never going to happen, of course. Hung parliament would be great. Compromise. Consensus. Please. And a Labour party which isn't Tory-light. While we're at it, turn the clock back and save John Smith from his heart attack. Now that might have been a worthwhile Labour government.

#126 ::: ppk ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 06:51 PM:

The EU-friendliness axis is chosen because it's an European election tool. In general it is not used.

But yes, there are a lot of Eurosceptical voters without a fixed political abode. How they divide over PVV and SP remains to be seen, and is one of the most important questions of the elections.

#127 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 09:21 PM:

I'm glad people enjoyed my troll-flensing! It was fun.

chris y @ 111: "Britain is a nuclear power, but sleep easy. When a government falls, it doesn't just go away. It simply admits it can no longer legislate and arranges an election. "

I get the sense that in parliamentary systems the phrase "fall of government" is something of a term of art, free of the nigh-apocalyptic connotations that Americans might assume it has. It's certainly bad news for the ruling party, but doesn't imply any larger breakdown of social order. Would I be correct in this?

#128 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 09:49 PM:

Heresiarch @ 127: "fall of government" translates into US English as "fall of administration". For example we speak of the Bush adminstration rather than the Bush II government.

#129 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 11:00 PM:

Allan Beatty @ 128: ""fall of government" translates into US English as "fall of administration""

I don't think so--"fall of administration" isn't a phrase Americans normally use at all when discussing American politics. The only time I can imagine hearing it used to describe an American political situation is in the context of something like the Watergate scandal, when an administration collapses in a non-electoral fashion.

#130 ::: J Meijer ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 11:13 PM:

Fall of government is used as a shorthand for a loss of confidence/support for the government by a majority in parliament. In the Dutch situation it is usually a result of a conflict between the parties that make up the governing coalition.

In the Netherlands it works approximately as follows. The parliament is still stable, and whatever remains of the coalition ministers will stay in place to take care of running affairs. This is not much of a problem since this already similar to the situation we have between elections and the formation of a new coalition and government. The negotiations for a new government can take several months in a normal situation, the current record is 208 days.

In principle a new government can be formed based on the same parliament, but if the fall of the government was based on a conflict between parties a new election is usual.

#131 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2010, 11:16 PM:

David 122: Not to mention the peregrinations of pilgrims like abi.

#132 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 12:04 AM:

J Meijer @ 130: In the Netherlands, when a government falls and either some or all of the coalition's ministers no longer have the confidence of Parliament:
(a) Are those ministers automatically booted out of office, or is it merely traditional that they resign?
(b) How long does the process typically take?
(c) Is there a general tradition / practice that, in the absence of a politically appointed minister or sub-cabinet level agency director, the senior career civil servant in the agency steps in as "acting" whatever-the-title-is, until a new political appointee is designated?

#133 ::: J Meijer ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 12:43 AM:

@Leroy F. Berven

I had to look this one up to check my impressions, and I might be wrong in some points.

If the parliament officially decides it does not trust a minister anymore there is a specific vote (Motie van Afkeuring).
a) It seems there is an unwritten rule that either the minister has to resign (and is replaced by someone else) or the whole government has to offer its resignation (fall of government). Since any policy of a specific minister is intertwined with the rest the latter is the more common solution as far as I can tell. Since the King (official designation of our Queen in the constitution) appoints the ministers officially, I do not think the parliament can send them packing technically. I assume that is why this unwritten rule is in place.

c) When the conflict is between parties in the government (as in the current situation) often one of the parties withdraws its ministers and the remaining ministers take responsibility for all policy. When a specific minister was the cause, even if the government resigns, they often resign immediately. Again in this case some other (sub-)minister takes over the responsibilities.

b)A new government can be formed based on the same parliament, no idea whether there are any rules for this. In case it is decided there will be new elections they have to be within a fixed time after the resignation is accepted. Dutch wikipedia suggest there are 40 days for the parties to get their candidates and 43 after that is determined before elections.
b_sub)it seems the time negotiations after an election is usually between 50 and 100 days,

All this time, until a new government is in place, the (remainder of the) previous one will be doing their old jobs, but any decisions they make are limited to subjects the parliament decides are non-controversial.

#134 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 01:15 AM:

J Meijer @ 133: Thank you -- most interesting. Although a lot of the details apparently differ, I perceive some fairly close parallels in the way things actually seem to work within the Netherlands, UK, and US national government ministries. (And I mean "parallel" in the sense of "same basic principles, applied in different ways, leading to similar practical outcomes.")

I also get a definite sense of "Those who do not play well with others are rather less likely to be invited back, to play again" being applied to ministerial appointments and resignations here.

#135 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 03:32 AM:

Heresiarch @127, yeah, I think it's sort of like if the President could get voted out of office (and a new one elected), or control of Congress could change hands, at arbitrary times instead of predefined four- or four-year intervals.

I think maybe the closest we came to that was when Jim Jeffords left the Republican party in 2001 to caucus with the Democrats as an independent, throwing off the balance of the Senate.

#136 ::: Branko Collin ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 06:58 AM:

Coalitions work with a sort of business plan: the problems we foresee need tackling in the next four years are such, our common grounds are so, let's steer around unsafe issues.

The current coalition fell because two of the three partners decided to stay in Afghanistan (the Christians), while the third wanted to stick to the business plan and pull out of Afghanistan (Labour).

This was all discussed during a nine hour meeting, at the end of which the PvdA ministers (Labour) declared that they could no longer be part of the government and would send their resignation letters to the Queen at the nearest possible occasion.

Prime-minister Balkenende (CDA) then thoughtfully provided them with sample resignation letters.

#137 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 08:50 AM:

heresiarch #129: American administrations so rarely fall that it isn't a term that's normally used in US politics. On the other hand, in European politics governments may emerge and fall with surprising frequency. The French Third and Fourth Republics were renowned for having short-lived governments that fell regularly in between elections, with cabinets being reconstituted with great frequency. Italy is very well-known for revolving-door cabinets. At one point, as I recall, they averaged about 10 months in office. Indeed, cabinet durability (the length of time a government stays in office) is one thing that political scientists measure. In the French Fourth Republic, it was only a few months (ranging from about 18 for one Mendès-France cabinet to one day for the unfortunately named M. Pflimlin, his successor was the last premier of the Fourth Republic, one General de Gaulle, everyone should have heard of him). In general, short-lived cabinets are the result of coalition breakdown and the need to rebuild coalitions from among the parties in the parliament.

In general, coalitions will be constructed from a limited set of parties, since there are a limited number of ways in which a coalition can be constructed. Not all parties are "coalitionable". Some are unlikely ever to be included for one reason or another, but may possess what Giovanni Sartori calls "blackmail potential" by being large enough to block the formation of a coalition even though they won't be included.

#138 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 10:03 AM:

The only american government in history to 'fall' in the European sense that I can think of was Nixon. And mutatis mutandis, the process wasn't all that different. The legislature lost confidence in the executive and took the constitutionally prescribed measures to boot it.

This is how governments fall in parliamentary systems too - parliament passes a no confidence motion of some kind, but in countries where complex coalitions are the rule, the executive usually sees the writing on the wall and quits before they have to, as recently in the Netherlands.

Whether this leads to an election or not formally depends on whether a new government can be formed which has parliament's confidence without one. In Britain this usually can't be done these days, although it was fairly common in the 18th century. Conditions in the Netherlands and some other countries make in more likely.

#139 ::: ppk ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 10:40 AM:

This is how governments fall in parliamentary systems too - parliament passes a no confidence motion of some kind, but in countries where complex coalitions are the rule, the executive usually sees the writing on the wall and quits before they have to, as recently in the Netherlands.

This is half of the story. The other half is that a party can decide to quit government, and this is what the PvdA did recently. The details are slightly different than when parliament passes a motion of no confidence, mostly because the quitting party's ministers resign and successors have to be found.

All in all a party quitting government happens more often than a vote of no confidence, because the parties are quite disciplined, and a parliamentary fraction supporting a vote of no confidence while that party's ministers want to continue the coalition just doesn't happen very often. The last time that happened was in 1986, when VVD ministers and the VVD fraction in parliament disagreed.

#140 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 11:59 AM:

Avram @ 135: "yeah, I think it's sort of like if the President could get voted out of office (and a new one elected), or control of Congress could change hands, at arbitrary times instead of predefined four- or four-year intervals. "

I feel as though the closest American analogue of the status of a fallen parliamentary government is a Lame Duck administration--while still in possession of political office, the knowledge that they will soon lose power corrodes their ability to get anything done. It's not exact, of course--it happens before rather than after elections, and can come out of the blue--but in terms of the allocation of political power and how surprising it is to the electorate, I think it's pretty close.

chris y @ 138: "And mutatis mutandis, the process wasn't all that different. The legislature lost confidence in the executive and took the constitutionally prescribed measures to boot it. "

The big difference, I think, was the near lack of precedence in Nixon's case. Something that happens once or twice a century has a much more outrageous and disturbing air than something which happens every few years. In terms of regularity, falling governments in parliamentary systems seem to happen about as often as presidential elections in the US. I think Americans (read: me) tend to hear "fall of" and think of a situation like Thailand, where for a while there the government really was collapsing, falling into a military dictatorship, rewriting the constitution, etc. every few years. (Or, in an even more extreme misunderstanding, thinking of the fall of the USSR or the fall of the French monarchy.)

#141 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 03:49 PM:

Part of the difference is that "government" refers to an entirely different object in a parliamentary system vs. the US system. In parliamentary systems, the "government" is the ruling coalition in Parliament and some set of cabinet ministers; in the US system, the term refers to the entire state structure - the legislature, executive branch, courts, armies, etc. So "fall of government" over here refers to something on the order of a military coup or revolution, while in Western Europe it's normally just the lead parties losing a political struggle and needing to call new elections which some of them will lose. Thailand is a case where a parliamentary system seems to be having a US-definition-government collapse, where the military takes over (but the King seems to still be the official figurehead, because any attempt to get rid of Him would be rejected by the people, and the King knows to shut up most of the time.)

In some cases, the heavy kind of falling government seems to be institutionalized - the reason Costa Rica doesn't have a military is that a century and a half or so ago, their President figured out that the main purpose of a Latin American military, other than stealing land from the Indians, was to overthrow the civilian government, and he was able to get rid of them. The rest of Latin America unfortunately didn't learn that lesson, except for Mexico where one party successfully remained in control for ~70 years and had a peaceful transition to other parties when it finally lost.

The US doesn't have Nixon-level Administration failures very often, but we get milder kinds of failures more often, such as the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 under Democrat president Clinton, or the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 under Republican president Bush. In the 1994 case, it significantly limited Clinton's ability to do health care, but increased his ability to balance the budget, and we had to put up with the spectacle of all those tacky divorced Republicans impeaching Clinton because of his sex life, which was essentially a failed no-confidence vote. Since the 2006 rejection of Bush, though, the Democrats have still been paralyzed by fear of the Republican minority and Republican propaganda, and unable to rule effectively even though they now control the Senate, House, and Presidency, and I suspect we'll see them losing ground in this year's election.

#142 ::: modallist ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2010, 04:10 PM:

Avram @ 135: "yeah, I think it's sort of like if the President could get voted out of office (and a new one elected), or control of Congress could change hands, at arbitrary times instead of predefined four- or four-year intervals."

heresiarch @ 140: "In terms of regularity, falling governments in parliamentary systems seem to happen about as often as presidential elections in the US."

I'm not sure if this has been made sufficiently clear, but even though a falling government happens rather more often in the Netherlands, they are still considered crises in government. A cabinet is supposed to serve out a four-year term, after which new elections are held. This is still the preferred route, even though of the past nine cabinets, only four (if I remember correctly) have completed it.

#143 ::: John D. Berry ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2010, 12:15 AM:

I haven't followed any of your links yet, though I may well do so; and if I do, I'll be interested in Dutch politics for its own sake, not as something mappable to US politics. But I absolutely love the image conjured up by this: "...explained clearly and amusingly by someone whose training as both a historian and a user experience expert pays off." Quelle formation!

#144 ::: Jurie ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2010, 03:34 AM:

Thanks Abi. I moved away from Netherlands at 19 and have always wanted to dive back (well, into, I guess) the politics of my home country. This looks like it's a great resource.

#145 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2010, 09:13 AM:

What does it say about me that, upon reading the name of the author of #143, all I can think is to wonder if he has a really pretty book somewhere in his house?

#146 ::: Froukje ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2010, 09:28 AM:

@ Patrick Nielsen Hayden

I think you asked about what happens to ministers who leave office when a cabinet falls? Someone correctly answered that most of them have other careers to fall back on, but more importantly, anyone who has been in parliament or in office as a minister, has the right to "waiting money" - a social benefit system which basically provides them with an income while they wait for new elections (the idea is that they cannot start a regular job becuase they would have to quit when re-elected in parliament).

Some financial details (note: I say salary, but it's called a "schadeloosstelling/damage compensation" which basically means that they are being compensated for the financial damage caused by not being able to hold a job when in parliament, rather than paid as an employee. I think it has certain tax benefits for them as well...):
salary of a parlementarian: nearly 93.000 euros per annum, incl. holiday pay and other benefits.
Salary of a minister: 132.000 euros per annum incl. benefits and holiday pay
Salary of a prime minister: (this is also the basis of the "Balkenende norm", the idea is that no one in a public function should make more money than the prime minister, since they are being payed with taxp-payers' money") 132.000 incl. everything, but excluding some extra compensations, which can add up to thousands of euros.

waiting benefits:
Upon leaving parliament - for whichever reason, that doesn't matter - the ex-parliamentarian gets 80% of the last payed salary during the first two years, and 70% after than. The benefits last as long as the person was a member of parliament, but with a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 6 years. If the membership was shorter than three months, the benefits last for six months. When you are over 50 when leaving parliament, and have been in the palriament for 10 out of the last 12 years, the benefits runt until your pension-age of 65.

The benefits end when a parliamentarian finds a new job that makes enough (they don't say how much) money. Any income is subtracted from the waiting benefits.

In other words: Wouter Bos can actually do nothing for a few years and be well-payed for it. People think he will get a good job at some bank though...

information from parlementenpolitiek.nl

#147 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2010, 09:55 AM:

John D Berry @143:
But I absolutely love the image conjured up by this: "...explained clearly and amusingly by someone whose training as both a historian and a user experience expert pays off." Quelle formation!

I do like it when people pick up on these things I say.

What I meant by that comment was that ppk combines a historian's ability to hold the big picture and the tiny details in his head at once, and relate them together, with the user experience expert's understanding of what it's like not to know something and how to deal with that condition. One comes away from that blog feeling smarter; not every explanation of a whole new world does that to people. (Patrick's example of incluing is another way of saying the same thing.)

As a software tester, one of the things that I have to work hardest with my dev colleagues on is the assumption that their users already share their frame of reference. ppk's professional expertise in not making this assumption pays off here.

#148 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2010, 07:54 AM:

Dagnabit, why did I not discover this thread days ago?

Abi, 121: the idea of Wilders as a troll is incredibly perceptive; his whole election strategy ever she he realised that just by hammering the Muslims he could become famous has been trolling for votes. He doesn't want to be in government because that would undermine his claims, as he would be forced to take into account actual existing reality, instead of being able to shout about a headscarve tax...

Several people have mentioned the matter of factness with which the Dutch parliament handles coalition governments and the handwringing about it in the UK. Especially for readers from the latter, I put together hung parliaments for beginners.

Wouter Bos' resignation may be for personal matters, but I remain convinced it had partially to do with the messy political situation likely to emerge out of the elections, as I explain here. It's going to be hard to form a government, hard to keep it together and I can't fault him for thinking it wouldn't be worth it. It was also a brilliant stroke to replace him with Cohen, hated by a lot of Wilders supporters for his "soft" image, but quite appealing to centrist/left voters frightened by old frightwig.

#149 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2010, 07:59 AM:

Martin Wisse @148
Dagnabit, why did I not discover this thread days ago?

I don't know; I figured titling a post with a Dutch translation of a Monty Python tagline would be irresistible cloggiebait. Next time do I have to email you directly?

#150 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2010, 08:27 AM:

Froukje, #146: It wasn't actually me who asked "what happens to ministers who leave office when a cabinet falls," but thanks for the explanation anyway -- I was in fact curious.

#152 ::: Amy Sterling Casil ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2010, 02:00 PM:

HA HA HA Swedish Pirate Party 83% match and I also am a "Swede" as my "secret nationality" on Facebook. This is all entirely true!!!

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