Geert Wilders scored his greatest success back in January, when the electoral threat of the PVV forced incumbent PM Mark Rutte sharply to the right. With full-page adverts on 23rd January in all the national papers and an interview for tabloid Algemeen Dagblad, Mr Rutte had a blunt message for the Netherlands migrants and Moslems - Get Out if you don't like it. Rutte wrote "We feel a growing unease when people misuse our freedoms to spoil everything, when they have come to our country for freedom. People who don’t want to adapt, who attack gay people, who shout at women in short skirts or call ordinary Dutch people racist." Those who wouldn't adapt to Dutch social liberalism should leave. "Be normal, or Begone".
Rutte declared back then that yesterdays election was not about the EU, tax, economics or public services but national identity. "There is one question to be answered. What sort of country do we want?". Last night he had his answer. And I think that we should welcome the result, which I interpret as strong support for a Dutch identity that means freedom, liberalism, tolerance and above all, social congruence.
Rutte's view that the Dutch have rejected the 'wrong sort' of populism is, I think, correct. His own declarations from January were the 'right' kind of populism. Voters like his strong message, but also trust him to be fair. And Wilders was given just enough encouragement to ensure he continues to act as an effective prybar, keeping the new centreground levered to the right, and most importantly keeping the question of Dutch national identity to the fore.
The Netherlands is a smart little country.