Just over three months from the European elections, a major new poll in the Netherlands shows that Geert Wilders’ right-wing Freedom Party is now the country’s largest political party – and would be in a strong position to form a government if an election were held tomorrow.
Individual polls in recent months have shown the Freedom Party eclipsing prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals. Yesterday’s “poll of polls” – a weighted average of the country’s four main political polls – confirms Mr Wilders’ dominance as the Liberal-Labour coalition languishes in the mid-term doldrums.
There are local elections in the Netherlands next month, but Mr Wilders has taken a strategic decision to run candidates in just two strong locations – The Hague, the seat of political power, and the country's "youngest" city of Almere, 25km east of Amsterdam.
This means the first significant test of his new standing will be when he pushes his anti-EU message in the run-up to the European Parliament elections towards the end of May, as part of a pan-European alliance with Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France.
Up from 2012
The poll shows the Freedom Party would take between 25 and 29 seats in the 150-seat parliament, up from 15 in 2012, if an election were held tomorrow. This would put its share of the vote at between 16.6 per cent and 19.3 per cent, up from 10.1 per cent two years ago.
By contrast, Mr Rutte and the Liberals would take just 20 to 24 seats, a sharp drop from 41 in 2012, giving them between 13 and 16 per cent of the vote compared to 27 per cent in 2012.
However analysts suggested last night that their support has “stabilised” at a mid-term low.
The worst news is reserved for the junior coalition partners, Labour, who have borne the brunt of electoral dissatisfaction for their perceived failure to soften the impact of austerity budget cuts since joining the Liberals in power.
The poll suggests Labour would take between 14 and 18 seats or 9 to 12 per cent of the poll, compared with a high of 38 seats and 24.8 per cent of the poll in 2012 – essentially halving their presence in parliament and placing a question mark over leader Diederik Samsom. Interestingly, the poll shows the middle ground of Dutch politics now inhabited by the Socialists, with between 20 and 24 seats, and centre-left D66 with a solid 20 or 21.