How to explain that a prime minister who has led governments for 10 years and, shortly after another resounding election victory finds himself back, in full view on national TV and after a 9-hour parliamentary massacre, with a censure motion that was supported wall-to-wall.
Wall-to-wall here means: supported by all parties, except that of the prime minister himself. In the US or the UK, that would not be unusual. In the Netherlands, with 17 different parties in parliament it is. The numbers of parties in parliament are forcing the Netherlands, like most European countries, to form government coalitions. A wall-to-wall motion of censure of the leader of one party results in his de facto exclusion from becoming prime minister.
Again: how can we explain that Prime Minister Rutte let things get that far, in the early hours of April 2, 2021? I have seen the whole drama, and think that of all the mechanisms that could have led to such a result, it is a misunderstanding of what mixture of white lies and invoking quod licet jovi non licet bovi is still considered acceptable.
On January 15, 2021, the government resigned due to the child allowance affair. The elections were held on 17 March. Exploratory talks were held between 17 March and 1 April. On March 25, the meeting agenda was visible in a photo. It contained the name of the Member of Parliament who uncovered the affair that led to the government’s resignation. Not only was that name on the agenda, it said “position elsewhere?” It was suggested that discussions were being held about sidetracking a bothersome, but recently with great support re-elected representative of the people . The interest of the press was aroused:
- When asked, Rutte stated in the press on 25 March that the agenda item had not been brought up by him in the exploratory discussions (a white lie to protect his own reputation and that of the Member of Parliament?).
- By whom then? became a trending topic (an unforeseen side effect of (1)?).
- On March 31, the interview reports were requisitioned by Parliament and obtained on April 1. And the documents requested made it clear that the only person who had discussed said Member of Parliament was the Prime Minister (an unexpected side effect of (2)?)
- His response was that he could not remember and had conscientiously (really, really) forgotten what he had put forward a week earlier about a prominent threat to an ongoing coalition, repeating that until he could not turn back (relying on a quod licet jovi reception?).
- Parliament refuses to believe (4) based on (3).
It is surprising that in phase 1 Rutte could have said without any problem that discussing a prominent threat to an ongoing coalition is a reasonable course of events in a political exploration. One explanation may be that he underestimated how much his ingrained use of the white lie had affected the willingness to dismiss such as quod licet jovi in full vision any longer.