Walking past some Dutch election campaign posters the other day, I noticed that if there was a picture of – say – Labour leader Job Cohen, it would be on one of his own party’s posters with an upbeat slogan about what the party stands for. Then I listened to the news and gathered that the major political parties were already giving thought to the sort of coalition they might form. Quite calmly. And weeks ahead of the elections.
Sound perfectly normal to you? Sure, yet it's a far cry from the way the recent election campaign was conducted in the UK, where I come from. There, if you saw Labour leader Gordon Brown's face on a poster you knew it would be one of the opposition Tory party's, and part of a no-holds-barred attack on his political record. And a picture of Tory party leader David Cameron would feature on a Labour party poster doing him down. As for coalitions, isn't that a dirty word? The rising popularity of Liberal leader Nick Clegg raised the spectre of a hung parliament. Which, if David Cameron was to be believed, could cause the total political and economic collapse of British society. Democracy takes many forms, to be sure. I have heard British democracy described as 'Vote as you like and do as you're told.' Back in the seventies, African democracy was typified as 'One man, one vote. Once.' How could we describe Dutch democracy? 'Terribly well-behaved', suggested a (Dutch) colleague. Maybe, but at least Dutch politics is conducted with more dialogue and fewer slanging matches than we've been used to on the other side of the North Sea. But now that coalition talks are under way in the UK (and the world has not ended), maybe British politics will get off the bi-party see-saw and 'go Dutch'. Long live the polder model, I say./Clare McGregor, translator with Resource