British veteran politician Tony Benn, an old-school socialist, once posited that social progress was made by two flames that burn in the human heart: of anger against injustice and of hope you can build a better world. However, look at present-day Dutch politicians and you will be hard-pressed to find even the smallest trace of this inspiration.
What I generally see is cynical politics determined by focus groups: well-rehearsed hand gestures, rent-a-crowds, rolled-up shirt sleeves and meaningless sound bites. Even the “spontaneous” grass-roots movement which enticed Lodewijk Asscher to stand for office was established by an advertising agency.
On an ideological level, too, the traditional political parties have begun to resemble each other a lot. Not that they have all moved in the same direction. No, rather the leftist parties are increasingly veering to the right. For instance, GroenLinks, which was once born out of a merger between pacifists and communists, years ago presented a manifesto proposing to make it easier for employers to fire people. The party also agreed to a military mission to Afghanistan and to the bill proposing that students borrow their tertiary education tuition fees.
In many countries, the fact that the established parties are increasingly alike has caused a countermovement on the fringes of the political spectrum. The United Kingdom has Jeremy Corbyn on the left, and until recently had Nigel Farage and his UKIP on the right. The USA had the self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders on the left, but ended up with President Trump.
However, here in the Netherlands, the only opposition is presented by Geert Wilders. For some reason, there is no successful popular movement on the left, partly because Dutch politicians are less inclined to appeal to primary emotions such as hope and anger, for fear the media will label them daydreamers or frustration professionals.
Even so, I feel anger is an excellent catalyst for a vibrant leftist movement. Civil rights movements would not have achieved as much as they did if they had politely requested that the powers-that-be take their feelings into consideration ever so slightly. This strategy of mobilising angry people has proved effective on the right side of the political spectrum. The public debate is being dominated by Wilders and Trump.
So when you enter a polling station, please take some time to consider what is really arousing your anger. And when you fill out your ballot paper, please do so with clenched fists. You never know – it may help.
Giorgio Touburg is a PhD candidate at the Rotterdam School of Management