Cure for boredom

Observations - Murder in Holland

The Netherlands is in a state of shock. For decades, the ruling class provided stability, consensus and dullness. The ruled thanked them with their vote. The main parties might combine power. They might alternate it. But essentially nothing really changed.

The Netherlands symbolised an arrangement that dominated Europe. Its three main parties, not dissimilar to ours, Christian Democrats, Labour and the Liberals, shared out the spoils.

Then a bald gay man of no fixed conviction came along and ruined it all. The rise and fall of Pim Fortuyn has been much commented on by the politerati. But the search for answers lies surely more in psychoanalysis than political science. What drove the assassin is not hard to fathom. But what drove the supporters of the slain man? What drove one of the best-informed, best-travelled and most comfortable electorates in the world to reject conventional options and go for an alternative whose best-known policy was a freeze on Muslim immigration as a means of protecting a liberal state?

For many Dutch, Fortuyn's emergence over the past nine months shows that their society is not what they thought it was.

"What we have now is an explosion of rampant individualism," says Jaap Roell, a member of one of the country's most left-wing governments in the 1970s. "People are bored."

Fortuyn, like a drug, provided relief from that boredom, that stultifying reasonableness. He tapped into genuine concerns. In Rotterdam, where his party took 17 out of the 45 council seats in March, immigration is at its highest.

Fortuyn was essentially a nihilist whose appeal lay in destroying the soggy consensus, the assumption that the social market, the multicultural state and pro-Europeanism are a moral good.

It added up to very little. He had no idea how to change things in detail, but that wasn't the point. And that presumably won't be the point when his grouping receives a sympathy vote as the elections take place on schedule next week.

There are several possible outcomes. If the List Pim Fortuyn does spectacularly well, it could become the largest group. If that happens, the mainstream parties would be under pressure to enter into a coalition with it. If they refuse, they could club together and form a majority government. And if the main parties stick together, what kind of coalition would it be? For the last eight years it was called "purple". It included the leftist party D66 as well as Labour and the Liberals but not the Christian Democrats. Shuffle the pack again and you couldn't tell the difference.

If it had not been for the martyrdom of "Le Pim" he, too, would surely have been ground down - in government or even in parliamentary opposition - by the tedium of conventional politics. But the reasons for his rise would have remained. In the Netherlands, as elsewhere in Europe, our post-political, fractured societies crave easy answers, immediate action and, above all, the appeal of the colourful personality. Not the grey, dull and reasonable men of the post-war compact.