Something extraordinary happened in yesterday’s provincial elections in the Netherlands. It wasn’t a landslide of any sort; in fact the right-wing liberals of the VVD held on to their lead. Neither was there a new populist movement – and the Netherlands have seen rather a few over the past 15 years – that took the provincial parliaments by storm. What was remarkable, and I believe unprecedented, is that none of the parties secured more than one-sixth of the vote.
That’s right. Overall the VVD secured the biggest number of seats in these elections with just shy of 16 percent of the vote. Five other parties each polled between 10 and 15 percent nationally. The combined vote share of the three most successful parties in these elections fails to even hit 45 percent. Indeed in ten of the Netherlands’ 12 provinces, a minimum of four parties are needed to form a majority government.
The fragmentation of the political landscape in the Netherlands has been a gradual process, punctured by various shock results. The country’s undiluted proportional representation system has accommodated a tradition of political diversity, with new parties finding few obstacles on their way into parliaments. Often the political lifespan of such new parties has been short, particularly if they ran on a single-issue ticket. Having said that, some parties that made their entry into politics in my lifetime have become part of the fabric of Dutch politics with representation at all levels.
While the rise of new political parties is one aspect of a two-sided story, the decimation of formerly dominant parties is the other. In the general election of 1989, the christian-democrats (CDA) and social-democrats (PvdA) together obtained more than two-thirds of the vote. Yesterday’s result puts them on less than 25 percent combined. Oddly, this has not forced these former giants into the political margins. It would still only take a minor swing one way or the other for CDA or PvdA to be the Dutch voters’ top choice again – for what that is worth of course.
The 75 seats in the Dutch senate, which will be allocated on the basis of yesterday’s election results, will be divided between 12 political parties. Progressive liberals (D66), socialists (SP) and anti-immigration populists (PVV) will be present in similar numbers to VVD, CDA and PvdA. Other groups will include the animal rights party, the 50-plus party for senior citizens and two religiously-guided parties of protestant signature.
It will be worth keeping an eye on Dutch politics in the next few years. While the Netherlands have a long history of multi-party democracy, the balance of power has never been as delicate as it is now. Could this fragmentation be a blessing in disguise and result in greater representation of the electorate’s diverse priorities in decision-making, or will it expose the limitations of proportional representation?
Should the political parties fail to devise a credible way of working together constructively, how will voters respond: what would a vote against fragmentation look like?
Come on Bournemouth! And Derby. Or Leicester.
When in 2010 Hull City and Portsmouth were relegated from the FA Premier League it meant that two English regions lost their only team in the top flight.
Clubs in the English Premier League 2010-11 (Wikipedia)
Since a similar fate had struck other regions in the previous years, the season 2010-11 became a contest between teams from four regions only: two from the North East, five from both the West Midlands and Greater London and a whopping eight from the North West. It must have been a cheap and easy season for some supporters – those of Wigan Athletic had seven away matches within cycling distance.
During its first decade, the Premier League (formed in 1992) consistently included clubs from seven or eight regions. The number fell to six in 2002, fluctuated between seven and five in subsequent seasons, until the 2010 dip that marked the first and only time in the league’s history that the majority of regions were unrepresented.
Number of regions represented in Premier League by season
Then, Norwich City and Swansea City came to the rescue and got themselves promoted from the Championship. This was remarkable, as the East of England had been deprived of Premier League football for four years, and no team from Wales had ever achieved the ultimate promotion.
Teams of the 2014-15 Premier League on a map (Wikipedia)
Sure enough, in the next few years clubs from other regions followed their example and currently the number of regions with Premier League football is back where it once started, at eight.
Yet, that is still eight out of a possible ten – Wales plus the nine English regions. Interestingly and unexpectedly, a scenario for full regional representation is currently presenting itself. Here’s what it looks like.
The two regions currently without a club competing in the Premier League are the East of England (Norwich City sadly went down last year) and the South West. The latter has been without a top level contender since 1994, when Swindon Town were relegated. Amazingly, with seven rounds to go, Bournemouth, the only team from the South West in the Championship, top the table, a position that would grant them their first ever promotion to the Premier League. With Norwich City, Watford, and Ipswich Town all in the top six, the East of England has three clubs well-placed for promotion.
In a way, the promotion of sides from the South West and the East of England is the easy part of the scenario. The difficult bit is getting the East Midlands to cooperate. Their only Premier League team, Leicester City, are hopelessly glued to the bottom of the table and have nine matches left to close a seven-point gap to safe 17th. In the likely case of a Leicester City relegation, the Championship would need to provide a regional replacement to secure a ten-region Premier League season in 2015-16.
Nottingham Forest have failed to keep promotion spots within reach, but Derby County are still hanging on, currently occupying 5th, which would qualify them for promotion play-offs.
So there’s the scenario in full: Bournemouth and one of the Eastern clubs to take the two top spots in this season’s Championship, then either Leicester to stay up or Derby to win the play-offs. Oh, and we can’t have Hull City go down, that would spoil everything. If, like me, you would quite like to see an all-region Premier League for the first time in its history, now you know what to do. Cheer for Bournemouth, and for Derby (or Leicester), and for Norwich (or Ipswich or Watford, but not for all of them), and a little bit for Hull. Easy!
Posted in Blog, Commentary, Football, Sports
Tagged Bournemouth, Championship, Derby County, diversity, England, Football, Hull City, Ipswich Town, Leicester City, maps, Norwich City, premier league, promotion, Regions, relegation, representation, Wales, Watford