Netherlands

▶ Dear Egbert Lachaert, your party evaporates because it is considered irrelevant

Dear Egbert Lachaert

The world is ablaze. It’s as if we’ve recently stumbled across the threshold of a new era—younger colleagues, who have hip and resilient brains, are hinting at a so-called vibe shift† The newspaper yields to the heavier news, we serve our readers – out of a sense of duty, but sometimes reluctantly – a sum of scary calamities every day. War and Peace, Life and Death, Climate and Inflation, Amber Heard and Johnny Depp. That starts to weigh you down in the long run.

And so it is that this week, in a letter to the chairman of Open Vld, I want to address a somewhat more frivolous issue – in order to start the weekend with a cheerful smile on my lips. I would like to talk to you, Mr Lachaert, about the slow collapse of liberalism in Flanders. For you that is of course a grim prospect, for the uninhibited observer it will be a moment of relaxation and distraction – in 2024 I will be sitting in front of the TV on election night with a bag of popcorn.

amusement

Normally I wouldn’t bother you with all that gloating just yet, but when I came in on Wednesday Knack When I read the interview with your party colleague Bart Tommelein, I knew that history had been made. In a double conversation with Johan Vande Lanotte, Tommelein uttered this truly historic sentence: “I am and remain a liberal, but I wonder whether a purely liberal party still makes sense, and whether we as traditional parties are not better absorbed in a larger whole that puts the interests of the people first.”

Although I am a day older and quite unhip, when I savored that statement I experienced something that you can only describe as a vibe shift. In any case, I had to hold on tightly to the edge of the table until the confusion was over and I re-read what it said: your party, along with the other traditional naps, must be absorbed into “a greater whole” that “the interests of the people ” presupposes. Tommelein finds.

First those interests. At first glance, this is a noble idea. Grand in all its simplicity. Commendable too. On closer inspection, it’s utter nonsense. No politician will ever argue otherwise, so it is a hollow, meaningless statement. You can only score in politics if you make proposals that others disagree with. There is also the banal insight that “the” interests of “the” people do not exist. Tell me, whose interests do you think Tommelein had in mind? That of Marc Coucke, or that of the single father with four children who delivers the mail every day?

World of difference.

Whatsapp groups

You are now gritting your teeth, because you didn’t think that interview with Tommelein was smart either. I read that there has been quite a lot of swearing in a number of liberal WhatsApp groups. You are just working on the Liberal Fire operation, to focus the ideology, because a liberal party – pardon a slight yawn – is certainly needed today more than ever. Or so. If the marketers can convince you to put a lot of money into your pocket, you will soon also throw in a new name. Your party will be spared nothing.

Mind you, the nation owes you gratitude. If you hadn’t pressed the accelerator just before the second wave of covid to form a federal government without N-VA, the disaster would have been incalculable. They will no longer take that political goal from you, although your relationship with Bart De Wever has since been comparable to that of Heard and Depp.

But as party chairman you are interchangeable with Joachim Coens of cd&v. If you ever literally swap places with him, we wouldn’t notice right away. Yes, you sound more coherent, but with the listener everything goes in one ear and out the other immediately. Neither of you can do what De Wever, Rousseau and Bouchez can do: put yourself at the center of the debate, make sure it’s about you and your party.

Kindergarten

Just like Groen, who will detonate himself with an unknown and inexperienced chairman duo, Open Vld and cd&v will be brushed off the stage by the voter in no time. They want an accurate answer to the big issues of our time, not some lame talk about how everyone “who works and does their best should improve” – society is not a kindergarten. You don’t vaporize because you are in the middle, but simply because you are considered irrelevant.

It is the citizen who reallocates, Mr Lachaert, you will never do that yourself. A merger or cartel of Open Vld and cd&v would not work, by the way: the whole would be less than the sum of its parts – 1 plus 1 would not be 3, but 0.5. The stubborn voters who remain now run away screaming when there are Tsjeven on the list. And vice versa.

No, except for a famous one vibe shift aren’t you going roaring twenties.

With encouraging greetings

Joël De Ceulaer, senior writer

▶ Dear Egbert Lachaert, your party evaporates because it is considered irrelevant
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