Despite coming second and increasing his number of MPs by a third, much of the media Thursday morning claimed Geert Wilders and his brand of populism had been “crushed” in the Netherlands.
Mr. Wilders and his Party for Freedom won 33 per cent more seats than at the last election, with his rival, the liberal/centrist Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his VVD party losing 25 per cent of theirs.
“Well done to our liberal allies @VVD and @D66 in Dutch elections. Looks like a victory for liberalism over politics of fear and division,” tweeted Tim Farron, leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrat party.
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) March 16, 2017
The pro-EU EFinancial Times declared: “Voters crush the hopes of populist Geert Wilders as Prime Minister Mark Rutte looks certain to win.”
One of their own reporters and columnists, however, saw it differently. “Kinda odd that an election in which a far-right party comes 2nd & the winner aped its rhetoric is hailed as triumph 4 moderates,” tweeted Tom Nuttall.
Mr. Nuttall is not the first to point out how Mr. Wilders has influenced political discourse in the Netherlands. One week before the vote, the mainstream conservative party demanded all school children sing and “respect” the national anthem.
In January, Mr. Rutte published an open letter calling for a return to “common decency” and demanding migrants “act normal”. “If you don’t like it here in this country, get out, get out!” he added.
Yet, at a victory party in The Hague last night, Mr. Rutte hailed his win as an example of voters saying “no to the wrong sort of populism”.
BBC News reporters swallowed this line, claiming Mr. Rutte had “comprehensively” defeated Mr. Wilders and “bucked the trend” of rising populism in the West, despite Mr. Wilders’ significant gains.
However, if Marine Le Pen can also increase her vote by 33 per cent in next month’s French presidential elections, she would jump from around 18 per cent to nearly a quarter, and would almost certainly secure a place in the second round of voting.
Mr. Wilders sought to represent the result differently to Mr. Rutte and the media. Writing in an email to campaign supporters, the PVV leader reflected:
We were the third biggest party, but now we are the second biggest party in the Dutch Parliament and a major political force. I promise you: Next time we will be first! The genie cannot be put back in the bottle.
I assure you: We will not stop trying to save our beautiful country, the Netherlands, our European civilization and our Western freedoms.