“A lot of the people in my programme are aware of my political inclination, but it’s not something I state openly.” It’s Friday morning, just before noon, when Vincent speaks about his fellow Law students in Rotterdam. You’d almost forget he’s still a student. That impression comes not just from his perfectly pressed suit and the maturity he displays, but it’s also because Vincent has an unusual job on the side for a student: he is an elected representative for the PVV political party.
It all started with an appeal on Facebook, where Geert Wilders’s party said it needed young, talented politicians. Vincent, 15 at the time, decided to respond to the call. He subsequently attended PVV classes to quickly prepare him for a political career with the party: “Lessons covering our ideology, training in debating, media presentation: it’s not for everyone.” When he was 17, he was on the candidate list for the Provincial Council elections, and when a fellow party member withdrew, he took up the position, becoming the youngest member of a provincial council in the Netherlands. He combines his work in this position, which occupies his time for about 25 hours a week, with three mornings at the university. And now he’s eyeing a seat on the municipal council of ‘his’ community of Tholen.
Vincent is the leading candidate for the local PVV in Tholen. On this island in the province of Zeeland, the conservative Christian traditionalist SGP party monopolises the political landscape. But if Vincent has anything to say about it, this is going to change after 21 March: “In the national elections around 15% of voters in Tholen voted for us, so I expect we will win three to four seats.”
After a morning full of amendments, motions and interruptions, Vincent leaves the Provincial Council meeting and steps into his gleaming Audi. “A big part of my remuneration goes into this car, but if you’re driving three hours a day, that’s a good reason to have a luxury car,” he jokes during the drive from Middelburg to Oost Souburg. Here, he will take part in a live radio debate hosted by the provincial broadcaster Omroep Zeeland. His opponents? The SGP candidate in Tholen – ‘I have a son who is Vincent’s age’ – and the SP – ‘My daughter could be his mother’.
The three gentlemen debate election issues close to the heart of the predominantly Christian community of Tholen, such as Sunday rest. Later on, the SP calls the PVV’s election promise of prohibiting Islamic schools and mosques in Tholen into question: “Is this actually a relevant issue here?”
The islamisation of Tholen
On the way to the studio, Vincent had predicted that at some point the discussion would take this turn, and he now seizes the opportunity in what he refers to as a ‘home game’. He relates an anecdote of a conversation he had with a woman while handing out flyers: “They live to the right of me, to the left of me, they live across the street from me.” He then clarifies who he is referring to with ‘they’: “Tholen is overflowing with immigrants and asylum seekers.” His argument on what he calls the ‘islamisation of Tholen’ colours the rest of the debate. Just before the advertisement break, the SGP candidate warns listeners in Tholen that: “We shouldn’t be worrying about a non-existent danger.”
Vincent analyses the debate once we’re back on the soft leather seats in the car. The latest figures from Statistics Netherlands revealed that not even 1 percent of the residents of Tholen are Muslim. Isn’t it an exaggeration to then speak of ‘islamisation’? According to Vincent, that’s not the point at all. “I use that word mainly to describe a threat. In our election campaign we say that ‘We have to preserve Tholen’s Dutch identity’. You can’t call Rotterdam a Dutch city anymore and that’s why you see election posters there saying: ‘Bring back the Dutch identity of the Netherlands!’.”
Coffee with Geert
Living in contemporary times but longing for a bygone era: how does he explain this longing? Vincent grasps the gearshift and shifts down. He explains how much he values the fact that people in Tholen still greet each other on the street, that you still talk to your neighbours. “I don’t encounter this anymore in the large cities. Newcomers no longer want to assimilate and this is detrimental to our Judeo-Christian humanist values and, in the end, it is detrimental to our identity.”
Tholen won’t be changing anytime soon, but Vincent’s plans for the future extend beyond the dikes of Zeeland. His political ambitions have not escaped the party leadership’s notice in The Hague: last week he sat down for a cup of coffee with ‘Geert’ himself. “I really enjoyed it. We talked about our watches, German cars, and of course we discussed politics.”
The places a job on the side can take you – and it turns out you can apply for the job again in four years’ time.