As you may have gathered, the plug has been pulled on the Dutch government. It’s been quite an exciting few days this week. There was an emergency debate in the Dutch parliament on the evening of June 28th – and it went on through the night until 04:30 on June 29th. The subject was l’affaire Hirsi Ali and did she or didn’t she have Dutch nationality.
The debate was televised live on Dutch TV and I found myself riveted by it. Even though I found it difficult in places to follow, I kept watching until 02:30. The debate contained high drama and low humour. The humour was provided by the minister of finance, Gerrit Zalm, called into the chamber at 01:00 from home. He apologised for the delay in getting there, but, as he explained, he lived in Scheveningen and his chaffeur lived in Voorburg.
The drama was stoked by the minister of immigration, Rita Verdonk. What struck me was that minister Verdonk (Lovely Rita, as I cannot help but ironically call her) was finally hoist by her own petard and as a result brought down the government. She refused to bend or to admit any of her own shortcomings in the debate (nothing new there, then). She had engineered an agreement that Hirsi Ali had to sign in order to get her passport back (Hirsi Ali quite rightly called this a "political deal"). It seemed to me (and to the D66 party who withdrew their support from the government as a result) an abuse of her political power.
It was interesting to watch the debate where members of parliament asked about the facts in the case. Verdonk stonewalled, but prime minister Balkenende let slip (at around 02:15) the fact that a political compromise had been reached, i.e. Verdonk had included an admission of guilt on Hirsi Ali in the statement that Hirsi Ali was put under pressure to sign (in order to get her passport back). The admission of guilt says that Hirsi Ali had “wrong-footed” Verdonk. It became clear that the agreement was not so much a simple piece of legal formality but something designed to absolve Verdonk of any error of judgement.
Once that particular cat was let out of the bag by Balkenende, then a censure motion was put in place by Femke Halsema of the Groenlinks party, and Lousewies van der Laan of the D66 party went in with guns blazing. The upshot was that the three ministers in the government of the D66 party resigned, and hence Balkenende said that the whole cabinet had to follow.
Balkenende has today said that he blames D66 for the fall of his government. It seems to me that they hold the moral high ground in the affair, painful though it has been. If Balkenende really wants to blame someone, then he could do worse than consider Rita Verdonk, whose "lady’s not for turning" persona has been the catalyst of this whole bizarre affair.