The Dutch are a commonsense people, so they were surprised last week when, having consigned Geert Wilders to third place in the European elections with a 20 per cent drop in his share of the vote, he appeared at the side of a beaming Marine Le Pen in Brussels playing the role of victor.
There was a marked difference too between the type of coverage the Wilders-Le Pen outing received here and in other European countries, where their plans to “wreck” the EU from within and “block” further integration easily overshadowed their failure to form a new group in Strasbourg.
The Dutch headlines were less forgiving, with the word "flop" widely used to describe the fact that between them the French National Front leader and Wilders managed to form an alliance of just five right-wing parties – two short of the seven parties and 27 MEPs they need for a new group.
So, while it may not seem like it as he bathes in the reflected glory of Le Pen’s historic 25 per cent share of the French vote, in his home country Wilders has gone from heading the polls to trailing in them in the space of just three months. Not quite hero to zero but not far off.
Ironically, all the indications are that it is his alliance with
Le Pen that has convinced a sizeable number of Wilders’s core supporters the time has come to look elsewhere for a party that reflects their genuine opposition to budget cuts driven from Brussels.
While the Dutch pride themselves on plain talking, they're not naturally given to extremes. They reacted badly to Wilders's anti-Moroccan chanting after the local elections in April, with one high- profile commentator saying that while he had previously been sceptical he could see for the first time why some people drew parallels between the Freedom Party leader and Adolf Hitler.
In that context, Ukip leader Nigel Farage hit the nail on the head as the European election results emerged and he absolutely ruled out joining the Le Pen-Wilders alliance, observing: "However impressive Marine le Pen is, the National Front carries toxic baggage."
For the Dutch, that “toxic baggage” is the distinct whiff of anti-Semitism, a sentiment totally beyond the pale in a country still deeply ashamed of the fact that from 1940 onwards some 110,000 Jews were deported to Hitler’s concentration camps, from which fewer than 6,000 returned.
Destruction of Dutch
Jews A report commissioned by the Dutch government took 15 years to write, documenting what its author, Dr Jacob Presser, described as "the destruction of Dutch Jewry, from isolation to deportation and, ultimately, extermination", carried out, he said, "with organised malice and forethought.
It was the realisation of just how toxic such baggage is in the Netherlands that persuaded the Freedom Party's most senior MEP, Lucas Hartong, to abandon the race for Strasbourg in protest at his leader's proposed links with the National Front and the FPÖ in Austria, in particular.
“I’m not at all surprised by the result,” Hartong said, surveying the collapsed vote. “It’s exactly what I predicted. Those parties have a tendency towards anti-Semitism, and that’s why so many Freedom Party voters didn’t come out – because they were concerned.”
Intriguingly, he added: “I think there will be internal dissent now – because it’s inevitable that some people will want to drop Le Pen and work instead with Farage. Most Freedom Party supporters would be happy to work with other effective anti-Europe campaigners like Ukip.”
Esther Voet of the Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel, who has criticised the avowedly pro-Israel Wilders for “compromising his principles” by moving towards the extreme right in search of popularity, agreed that he had finally come up against the “political taboo” of anti-Semitism.
“I’m sure a lot of people who were planning to vote for him changed their minds for exactly that reason,” she said. “It’s a slippery slope.”
The question now is how Wilders will attempt to rebuild his party at home while supporting Le Pen and their new alliance abroad.
His effectiveness in opposition has also been defused by the refusal of other parties to work with him since the anti-Moroccan chanting incident. He is famously reluctant to take counsel, even from his closest allies. And, domestically at least, those are in dwindling supply.