Ronald van Raak – The success of Mark Rutte now seems to be his weakness


After Willem Drees, Mark Rutte is for me the most influential post-war Prime Minister. And not a day goes by that I don’t regret this. Rutte has been prime minister for ten years and I read remarkable analyzes about this in the media. For example, that this prime minister would have no ‘vision’. Well, that seems strong to me, for a politician who has dominated politics so much for so long. Every party that ruled with him, from the CDA to the PvdA, was decimated in subsequent elections. All parties that worked with him, from the PVV to GroenLinks, were then politically slapped on the wrist. That would certainly not have happened if this prime minister had no vision. Rutte is not only the most influential, but also the most ideological prime minister since the old Drees. A politician who has not chosen an ideology, but seems to have become one. As a personification of market belief and an icon of neoliberalism.

‘To me Rutte is the personification of the neoliberal thinking that has dominated politics in The Hague for so long’

The young Mark was once one of those typical JOVD balls, one of thirteen in a dozen. In 2002 he became State Secretary and in 2006 leader of the VVD. Mark Rutte became politically hardened after a fierce battle with his number two Rita Verdonk, who challenged his leadership after she received more votes in the elections than her political boss. This was more than a struggle for power, it was also an ideological struggle. Between the popular rightist Rita Verdonk, of the politics of ‘law and order’ – and the neoliberal Rutte – of market belief. A hard fight that also ‘tectylated’ him, as it is called in cycling terms. The toughness and toughness he needed to become such a successful Prime Minister from 2010 – successful for the VVD. With a neoliberal policy of more market and individual responsibility. The idea that society can be better organized by market forces than by democratic decisions.

During the 2011 General Discussions, Emile Roemer asked the new Prime Minister about his political vision on society. The answer was telling: “We trade with the whole world, we are thrifty.” And: ‘We are in the process of getting the finances in order.’ He also spoke of politics as ‘making money together’. Market thinking is perfect for Mark Rutte. But it is also an outdated idea, as the credit crisis and the corona crisis have shown us. To me, Rutte is the personification of the neoliberal thinking that has dominated politics in The Hague for so long. However, it is also a politics that is wearing out and that most political parties will distance themselves from in their upcoming election manifestos. This also makes Mark Rutte an icon of the past. Could this prime minister be able to pursue a different policy in the future, without denying himself?

‘The success of Mark Rutte now seems to be his weakness’

I also put this question to the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening during the debate on the budget of his Ministry of General Affairs. This led to an interesting discussion in which the neoliberal prime minister spoke in favor of a ‘strong government’. Characteristic of the market are the entrepreneurs, the people who stand up and take risks themselves. If they are successful they can get rich, if they fail the business will go bankrupt. If we don’t want certain services to go bankrupt, they don’t belong on the market, I explained to the prime minister. Do we think hospitals should be allowed to go bankrupt or housing corporations? Or public transport or energy companies? Or large banks that always have to be bailed out by the government with tax money when they get into trouble? When is something private and when is it public? When is politics responsible and when not? And if politics is not responsible, who is it?

These are questions that Mark Rutte was unable to answer on Wednesday evening, after his cabinets had contracted, outsourced and privatized public services for ten years. The politician who has long been one with the dominant thinking in The Hague is in danger of becoming obsolete now that faith in the market is on the wane. Mark Rutte’s success now seems to be his weakness. I wonder if the prime minister decides to continue and I wonder if this leader can renew the VVD. I am especially curious whether this icon of market belief can credibly change course.

Ronald van Raak recently published the book Thinking on the dikes. The Netherlands of the philosophers.

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