Dutch poll seeks to fill vacuum left by Lubbers: Immigration and the welfare state loom large in Tuesday's elections, writes Sarah Lambert in The Hague

THE NETHERLANDS is preparing to end an era. The Prime Minister of 12 years, Ruud Lubbers, is stepping down, leaving a political vacuum that the contenders for power in Tuesday's national elections are struggling to fill.

Polls suggest that, for the first time since 1945, the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDA) may not muster enough votes to form part of the ruling coalition. For the Dutch this possibility opens up a range of uncertainties. The voters are depressed by the politicians' message that the cradle-to-grave welfare state has to be dismantled, and are beginning to blame their problems on immigration. The tolerant liberalism on which the post-war political consensus was founded faces a dangerous threat from the extreme right.

In Rotterdam, the extreme-right Central Democrats (CD) doubled their electoral score in the March municipal elections and took 14 per cent of the vote - a phenomenon reproduced in The Hague (12 per cent), Amsterdam (10 per cent) and Utrecht (10.2 per cent).

When politicians from the ruling coalition took to the stump in Rotterdam they were barracked. 'They were badly shaken by the experience and that they should have had that reaction demonstrates how far removed from the electorate they have become,' one voter said.

The CD's leader, Hans Janmaat, is notoriously uncharismatic, which many believe has limited his support. It is hoped the protest vote registered at local level will not be mirrored in national elections. In the far north, where there are few immigrants, one local municipality returned Communists to the local council.

Yet immigration is now the election issue. Even Mr Lubbers has declared that 'immigrants cannot merely expect to be looked after, they are going to have to go out and look for work'. His chosen successor, Elco Brinkman, has courted criticism with the suggestion that social integration would be helped by 'bussing' immigrant children into schools.

Mr Brinkman, 46, will have to fight hard to inherit Mr Lubbers's mantle. Once welfare, culture and health minister, he is now party manager - a low -profile job. He has been waiting in the wings so long that the novelty of his nomination has worn off. He is tough on the need to maintain economic austerity. This has dictated the unpopular freeze on social security and pension payments.

The electorate is wary. The party's Catholic grandees mistrust his Protestantism and fear he may prove too liberal. In the Netherlands, where the art of political consensus and compromise is so refined that personality counts for much, Mr Brinkman's greatest handicap is that he is not Mr Lubbers, still the man most people would like to see prime minister. The Lubbers factor is worth an estimated 10 parliamentary seats and Mr Brinkman will have trouble holding on to them.

Suggestions that the country faces an identity crisis as it deals with the recession and the changing role of Germany, its closest neighbour and main trading partner, provoke scorn. But the huge fall-off in support for traditional parties reflects a profound sense of national insecurity.

(Graphic omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower