Let parliament hire and fire

“Liberal democracies need political structures that are capable of governing”, argues Gisela Stuart from the Vote Leave campaign. Indeed, and therefore they should not come from political parties. Instead, they should be known for their talent to govern and elected by all members of parliament. Only then you have a structure capable of governing. Obviously, political parties are not structures designed to select those capable of governing. They are clubs of nepotism where either the power hungry or the most loyal are rewarded by its members with the privilege to execute the will of the party.

This is not democratic by far. A parliament is supposed to represent the diversity of the population and discuss rationally all possible courses for the country. The executive branche then follows up on this or first enriches the discussion. In the end, the ministers should be trusted by the parliament to govern according to their will, which is after all the representation of the will of the people. 

Instead of selecting ministers from its own ranks the population should be asked to nominate capable and talented candidates based on the job description for each post in the cabinet the parliament collectively agrees upon. Similar to what ordinary civilians are subject to throughout their career. Should the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care have a formal training as medical doctor (like the first Minister of Health) or someone with a track record managing complex bureaucracies? Certainly not someone from the pharmaceutical industry. 

Parliament has many details to work out for the perfect candidate for each post. Committees writing a collective document is nothing new and daily practice, a job description is a small task for them. Once they are published any citizen can send a confidential letter suggesting another citizen. The nominees that score the most points for each requirement are then visited for a surprise interview with a delegation of frontbenchers from parliament. Once asked, the talented candidate will recognise the call and will be able to answer questions on what to do in which situations with hesitation and with convincing precision.  

After all, the talented leader and manager surfaces in practise, following the management course is not enough. Certainly a good education is required, but only in practise after a number of years you can see who leads with integrity and support from the people they work with.

A political structure with these people will be stable and capable. Most importantly, it will be a government of the people (through the nominations) by the people (their representation in parliament). Individual Cabinet members can be fired by a majority of parliament. If parliament is undecided about how to steer the country the Cabinet is not restrained by some party accidentally in majority. Actually, members of parliament can disagree freely within their party without any consequence for a stable government. A majority vote on an issue can cut through parties but still give a clear direction for the Cabinet. Now that would be democratic. 

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The Dunning-Kruger effect

While discussing the incompetence of Trump in the New York Times, David Brooks mentioned the Dunning-Kruger effect. Also Politico writes about it. Wikipedia explains:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, by mistakenly assessing their ability as greater than their actual capability.

More importantly in this context, and an important reason why we should select our leaders with a normal competence based vetting proces like a job application rather than elections, is that those who are compentent tend to underestimate their competence.

In a test performed with psychology students:

students of high ability tended to underestimate their relative competence. Roughly, participants who found tasks to be easy erroneously presumed that the tasks also must be easy for others; in other words, they assumed others were as competent as, if not more competent than, themselves.

And now think of what you a political candidate needs to do during a election campaign. Certainly not underestimate their competence! Luckily, political parties tend to preselect competent candidates and many political campaigns seem to be more about discussing the issues at hand rather than the competence of the candidate.

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Obama: ‘It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about’

In a speech to class 2016 of Rutgers University Obama makes a case for professional politicians. He also does not distinguish between the executive and representative politicians, unfortunately. We can savely assume he meant the executive.

(…) it’s interesting that if we get sick, we actually want to make sure the doctors have gone to medical school, they know what they’re talking about.  (Applause.)  If we get on a plane, we say we really want a pilot to be able to pilot the plane.  (Laughter.)  And yet, in our public lives, we certainly think, “I don’t want somebody who’s done it before.”

Read the whole speech at whitehouse.gov.

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The European Parliament and how we find the president and commissioners

As the head of the European Parliament Bureau in the Netherlands argued, national politics should see the European Parliament and how the government is formed as an example. Yes, but we still have a lot to wish for. Now that the elections in Europe are over and the European Parliament got the Commission president it wanted, there is one major objection. The parliament cannot send him away.

Next are the commisioners. Candidates come from the member states. Is this what the parliament wants? If not, then the parliament can block the entire European Commission. There will be a public hearing with the candidates the president selected from the candidates put forward by the member states. Parliament did not draw up a list with wishes for the positions. Few citizens can be candidate since member states make a pre selection. After the Commission is installed, we are stuck with them. Parliament can not send individual Commissioners away.

What should be improved?

  • Parliament should be able to replace the president if there is a majority in favour.
  • Each European citizen should be able to reply to the vacancy of Commisioner.
  • The vacancies for the Commissioner jobs should be written by the Parliament, not the member states.
  • Parliament should be able to replace individual Commissioners if there is a majority in favour.

Apart from obvious changes like the right for the parliament to take the initiative for legislation.

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How to let eldermen apply?

Let’s suppose you are an elected council member and you want to realise this. How to proceed? There is no procedure laid out for you, but at least in the Netherlands there are no formal obstacles. You do have to take the initiative though!

  1. Write the job descriptions for the eldermen. This is good to do anyway, because anyone can then compare your dream candidate with what you will actually get. Also when a traditional coalition takes place with eldermen chosen in an untransparent way.
  2. Publish the job descriptions online and send out a press release about it. The news story should be what we wish for in the eldermen and what we eventually get. Again, even when the traditional path is taken, the news story can be about how it compares to the profile for the candidate.
  3. Ask the other parties to publish their own versions of the job descriptions. Also the parties involved in the coalition should have an answer to the question what their profile is. Opening up at this stage makes them more accountable. If they refuse to answer this when journalists ask about this will make them look secretive.
  4. Once the profiles are published, they have to be merged into profiles acceptable to all. A perfect compromise in which only those requirements survive the majority of parties are in favour of.
  5. Applicants to the vacancies should have their anonimity assured until the last moment. You could have them apply anonymously describing their job history in the most general terms. Attention seekers will claim publicly they have applied for the job, but make sure to not release any information about the applicants. Especially the good applicants might be damaged if their intention become public before they have an actual chance to get the job. The attention seekers meanwhile will fuel the discussion on which applicants are good, what the requirements are.
  6. The coaltion partners are meanwhile negotiating behind closed doors, but with the alternative discussed publicly, the pressure on the outcome of this process increases. It might even become part of the negotiation.  The weaker party has an alternative to being asked by the ‘winner’ of the elections. Together with the opposition they might form a coalition on this process. They loose the chance to propose their own eldermen in the coalition, but on the other hand others will not get their own either.
  7. Once a majority of the council prefers this model to a traditional coalition the applicants are asked if they would like to reveal their identity. Possibly first only behind closed doors to representatives for each party in the council, but ultimately in a public hearing.
  8. The public hearing should be as public as possible, preferably with live television or at least webcast. Questions for the applicants will be about which policy they think will find support from a majority, but also on their expert knowledge and how transparant they work. This is the moment to demonstrate their communication skills and openness in decision making.



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Roles of Political Parties in Democracy and Development

The following is taken from page 50 of the OECD report by the Development Assistance Committee on 29 June 2012 (DCD/DAC(2012)28).

If they function well, political parties can play a number of fundamental roles in democratic politics, including:

  • aggregating citizens’ views and interests;
  • providing structured political choices to citizens;
  • engaging citizens in the democratic process;
  • training and socializing political leaders;
  • developing policies and taking responsibility for implementing them; and facilitating coordination within legislatures and between branches of government

Now, what remains of these roles once the access to government is cut? The first, second and third will improve and the last two disappear.

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Elections in Amsterdam in 2014

There is a good opportunity to test the proposal of this blog for real after the next elections in Amsterdam. The 45 seats in the Council go to some 10 different parties. The biggest party is always de PvdA (social-democrats) with something between 12 and 20 seats. The next three biggest parties usually have some 6 to 10 seats. The other parties have a few or just one seat. This makes the PvdA the inevitable coalition leader. See the graphic below from Wikipedia or the historical data on the composition of the Council since 1962. In other words, the results are already known before the election. The question to be answered by the elections is: who will the PvdA make a coalition with?

College Amsterdam

Now, what if there are no coalitions and a majority of the council agrees to draft job descriptions for the 6 to 8 eldermen? Then the electorate of the four big parties can spread their votes freely over all the 10 (or more) parties. This improves the representation of the city and the grip of the big, inevitable PvdA on the city politics will disappear.

The six, seven or eight eldermen on the other hand then have to please the majority of the 45 seat Council. They can not count on their coalition majority, but also have to listen carefully to the wishes of the smaller parties. At the same time, the eldermen will strive for consistency of their policy and will strive to stay within their budget. Not any wish can be granted, good and informative debates about the issues themselves are required.

In order to prevent a coalition to form I have joined one of those second-biggest parties: D66. I will plea to not form a coalition with PvdA and call for the rest of the Council to not support a coalition to be formed. The list of D66 candidates for the election D66 will be 30. I am placed at position 44. Members of the party can vote me up in an internal procedure until September 19. If I make it on the ballot then I need a few thousand individual votes in the elections to get in the Council. Only with the help of (national) mainstream live television talkshows this is feasible.

D66 stembiljet

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Reputation damage

A reason to not run for public office is the damage this may cause for your reputation. You might not ever get a job in the private sector again. Damaged goods.

This also works in other ways I noticed when a befriended journalist joined the elections for a new candidate for a new mayor of Paris inside the party of the Greens. One of his employers called him with the announcement that his contract has ended because of this. You are not supposed to engage in politics as a journalist. The fact that only three party members voted for him did not matter. From a party that only makes a chance when the others leave the race.

If you lose your current job in the private sector simply because you show an interest in running for public office as Elder or minister, this means a large reservoir of good candidates are now excluded.

For this reason the selection of governors should get an adapted procedure. Once they do not come from political parties and apply to the job opening, this selection procedure should protect their anonimity. Applicants should be able to indicate nobody should know about their intention until the last selection round is reached.  Only then the identities are revelead from the candidates who chose to remain anonymous. Just before this happens they get the choice to revoke their candidacy. For example because they carefully studied the anonimised profiles of competing applicants. Or they can ask the selection committee to have another candidate contact them to establish among each other who is likely to be the best candidate and who should step back.

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Long term policy

During the opening of the new academic year the ‘rector magnificus’ of the University of Groningen, Elmer Sterken, made a remark about politicians. NRC Handelsblad quotes him (7 September 2012) with: “Because of the terms of their service in office politicians are ‘blind’ for arguments relating to the long term.”

Now, if our governors are no longer politicians but appointed by politicians, they can outlive their parliament. After all, if they do well, they do not have to step down after elections. They can just continue as long as parliament trusts them to do their job well.

This post is also available in: Dutch

Transcription BNR Nieuwsradio interview 20 August 2010

On 20 Augustus 2010, after the Dutch elections of 9 June 2010, but before the Rutte government starting 14 October 2010, I was interviewed on BNR Nieuwsradio by Paul van Liempt (MP3, 10 minutes and 40 seconds in Dutch).

Paul van Liempt: Now another gentleman is joining us, Mr ReindeR Rustema. Hear what he came up with. He says: “The Netherlands can be more democratic. Ministers should apply for their position. Not political background, but governing capacities should be decisive. A cabinet filled with technocratic ministers without a political party and a parliament as a selection committee. That would be the outcome. Sounds revolutionary, looks like it at first glance, but according to Mr Rustema not even the law needs to be adapted for it. It is his idea, ReindeR Rustema. He is a teacher in new media at the University of Amsterdam and the initiator of the website petitie dot nl. Mr Rustema, good morning.

ReindeR Rustema: Attention please, it is petities.nl with an s.

Paul van Liempt: ReindeR Rustema, that is ReindeR and then at the end of ReindeR the R is capatilised. Why?

ReindeR Rustema: I am active online often and then you want to leave something like a signature. Like this it is possible.

Paul van Liempt: Successfully, it sticks. PetitieS also, well done. Ministers should apply is your proposal. It is does not matter what party you are a member of, governing qualities are what matters. Not your background; party membership is not even required.

ReindeR Rustema: Preferably without party membership even. Only 1 or 2 percent of the people in the Netherlands are member of a political party, so the chance to find a good governor with a party membership are very slim. And besides, the ideal governors do not really like politics much. It is often idealistic and populistic, dogmatic while a governor prefers to consider all sides of an issue and wants to choose the right direction.

Paul van Liempt: Idealism is nice for representatives, for parliament members, but not for governors. So not for ministers?

ReindeR Rustema: Make a distinction between representatives and governors. Now you often see people being elected as representative, often individually with very few votes, who then all of a sudden become minister. Not that they have such a good track record as governor. They are good inside the political party and they ‘won’ the elections.

Paul van Liempt: A strong argument you name is “there are so few people member of a political party”. Take a look at that, all those people member of a party, if we have to choose from those, we have a small pond to fish in.  But you know how this goes, some people are called for, not a member at the moment they are called for, dormant member or once voted for that party and still can become minister. There are many possible examples I think. Is this not sufficient?

ReindeR Rustema: Still you have ministers who need to be loyal to that political party. Before you know it they say something which very rational and necessary and very sensi… But they can not, but it is political undesired in that party. And that minister will stumble. Or they let him stumble sooner or later. This is something you do not want, you should just let this governor do his work. When parliament is of the opinion this is not the way to go, you can fish this individual minister away and replace by another one for as far as I am concerned. But do not call upon the entire country for new elections and such craziness.

Paul van Liempt: In your plan the country should be governed by the best people. That is what it comes down to. The best people should do the job. The best governors on the best positions. But well, who are those? Are those only just technocrats?

ReindeR Rustema: They can also be intellectuals who also have the trait to dislike the dogmatism of ‘this is the way to go’ and ‘these are the solutions’ and we are going to fix things in this country and so on. No, they see the complexity of the matter and will answer to a populist representative ‘yes, it is not that simple, because consider this…’ Then you have a nice division of labour. Parliament says ‘we want this, we want that’ and the minister says ‘yes, sure, but where do you find the money, it is inconsistent, there are treaties, we have this…’ That kind of ministers I would like to see.

Paul van Liempt: But you know how this goes. People who list to this story will think ‘great, I would like to go along with a large part with mr. Rustema, except when it comes to the democracy. Because we live in a democracy and that is important. Then you exactly need people who are affiliated to a certain political party. And they become minister.

ReindeR Rustema: The latter reasoning I never understood well. I agree about the representatives, those you elect, those represent if all goes well, the 150 of them, each 1/150th part of the country more or less. But those governors, they do a completely different job. In my ideal world, it is parliament that elects those, based on their merits. Democratic is that the entire parliament, not just 76 members, should elect the ministers. Based on a profile first and later on you find the individuals to match. Not first the candidates and then vote, no.

Paul van Liempt: So this democratically elected representation, that’s what matters, and subsequently we have the best governors. It seems like a splendid plan. You probably need to change the Constitution, or don’t you?

ReindeR Rustema: I looked it up and found out there is a lot of tradition and unwritten rules on how to do it. What you need, is not any structural changes, no governmental renewal certain parties can debate endlessly, what you need is a large part of parliament supporting this.  Hopefully a few are listening and know how to work on this.

Paul van Liempt: Well, you present it as new, but this is not the case. It could be that some hear this and think ‘great, let’s do this’, but you go around with this idea for longer. Never you got a massive response.

ReindeR Rustema: Yes, I find that surprising.

Paul van Liempt: You have enough self confidence in any case. “Such a good idea? Have they gone mad?”

ReindeR Rustema: Yes, I have become member of five different political parties and went to their congresses and shook many hands.

Paul van Liempt: Hang on, you are member of which parties?

ReindeR Rustema: Let me think, that is the liberal party, the greens, the democrats, a European party ‘Newropeans’, is starting, the Pirate Party has asked me to help them build their organisation. So I know what it is like inside political parties.

Paul van Liempt: One could say you are everybody’s friend like this. Being member of so many parties.

ReindeR Rustema: I study them. I find it extremely interesting. How things go there. I also found out that these political parties, which are so deeply routed in our political system, they are not mentioned, they are a political association, which is not described by law.

Paul van Liempt: You are a member of all these parties, you have did your rounds, looked around, dropped the idea of course.

ReindeR Rustema: …and I mostly meet there who also have the ambition to become governor. If you operate well inside the political party, when you are elected then you can eventualy, as the cherry on the pie, become governor. And I thought one should become political representative. Out of idealism and so on. There are some who become member because they should. But those are a relatively few. It is mostly carreer politicians, which is a pity. To want to become represenative is something different.

Paul van Liempt: Dat begrijp ik. Je zou dus tegen u zeggen. Geweldig allemaal, u loopt bij die partijen rond, u heeft het idee gedropt, zijn er 10 of 20 kamerleden die hebben gezegd ‘het lijkt me aardig’, hier wil ik wel eens naar kijken. Hoe hoog schat u dat aantal in?

ReindeR Rustema: Tot voor kort was dit geen kwestie omdat het op de traditionele manier nog heel goed ging. Maar nu is het politieke spectrum zo gefragmenteerd dat dit eigenlijk nog de enige manier is om eruit te komen, om een goede regering aan te kunnen stellen.

Paul van Liempt: Een goed moment dus zou je zeggen. Dat betekent stel dat het doorgaat, dan heb je daar mensen nodig, bestuurders, technocraten, intellectuelen, mensen die op de hoogte zijn, niet gehinderd door partijpolitieke belangen, dat zijn over het algemeen ervaren mensen natuurlijk. Over het algemeen ook oudere mensen. Ik zie dan wel een soort kabinetsploeg op het bordes staan van zestigplussers in uw plan.

ReindeR Rustema: Ja, en die zie ik eigenlijk toch te weinig in de maatschappij.

Paul van Liempt: Te weinig? Ik zie ze allerwegen.

ReindeR Rustema: Ik zou graag hun ervaring op die plek willen en dan kan je de andere kant, de volksvertegenwoordiging wel gebruiken om ze op te zwepen tot grote prestaties. Maar die ervaring is echt waardevol. Dat moet je niet opzij schuiven.

Paul van Liempt: Dus u zegt, mensen als Ruud Lubbers, 71, die raakt ook meer losgezongen van zijn partij, die mensen zou je daar neer kunnen zetten?

ReindeR Rustema: Deze persoon, dat is typisch een politicus. Ik heb het over bestuurders.

Paul van Liempt: U heeft gelijk, slecht gekozen, maar qua leeftijd, qua ervaring, dit soort mensen, in die hoek moeten we het zoeken?

ReindeR Rustema: We kennen die namen ook niet omdat juist deze bestuurders zich verre houden van politiek. Want die doen niet mee met al die politieke partijen.

Paul van Liempt: Als ik het goed begrijp wordt u plan daar nog sterker op ook. Het zijn mensen die heel goed zijn. Maar zich om allerlei redenen, ook om dit soort redenen, afgewend hebben van de politiek, die niet met partijpolitiek te maken willen hebben. Die komen juist wel terug in dit plan.

ReindeR Rustema: Precies. Dat is de manier om die mensen te mobiliseren voor ‘de publieke zaak’.

Paul van Liempt: Dat houdt uiteindelijk dus in dat we uiteindelijk met een ploeg van, ik probeer het even voor te stellen, 60/65+ers zitten, een volksvertegenwoordiging die heel jong is, ik probeer me ook voor te stellen waar dit bestaat. Dit idee, is er al een land waar dit ten uitvoer wordt gebracht?

ReindeR Rustema: Ik weet ook niet zeker of het per definitie ouderen zijn. Want het is aan die Tweede Kamer om te zeggen hoe oud die mensen zijn. Ze kunnen in hun profiel zeggen ‘we willen op die post juist een jong iemand’.

Paul van Liempt: Maar gewoon logischer wijze denk ik als je dit soort profielen schetst dan…

ReindeR Rustema: … laat dat over aan de Tweede Kamer.

Paul van Liempt: Laten we dat even terzijde schuiven, gewoon het idee op zichzelf, bestaat dit ergens, dit idee?

ReindeR Rustema: Heel veel landen hebben een districtenstelsel. Dat is een grote hindernis. Dat is heel lastig. In Amerika bijvoorbeeld daar worden heel veel bestuurders rechtstreeks gekozen. De sheriff in elke county wordt gekozen enzovoort, dat moet je ook niet hebben, omdat je dan niet een democratische manier hebt waarop die persoon gekozen wordt. In mijn opzet wordt eerst uitvoerig het profiel van die persoon besproken en daar solliciteren mensen op. Dat is wat anders dan een populist die zich als burgemeester of wat dan ook gekozen wil laten worden.

Paul van Liempt: Even voor de duidelijkheid, dit idee is zeker geen losse flodder. U bent er al een tijdje mee bezig, we gaan u zeker van nabij volgen, kijken wat hiervan gaat komen, misschien is heeft u wel het juiste moment, en op dit moment, toepasselijk hier in de haven, de wind in de zeilen. Ik dank u voor uw komst hier naar de Amsterdam Harbour Cafe. Reinder Rustema.


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Debater as minister?

Today Paul van Liempt  asked his guests in his radioshow on BNR Nieuwsradio wether the debates on television before the elections will result in the best debater to win the elections. The best debater will then become prime minister. Many voters are undecided until the last moment and winning a debate can make the difference.

But is debating the most important quality for a minister? During campaigning for elections and in parliament it is important. But when a minister can not rely on a majority of parliament to proceed with his or her policy, it is crucial to listen to all objections from parliament. Such a minister is always looking for a majority and needs to ask good questions, rather than defend a certain position.

This is an extra reason not to have ministers directly elected by citizens, but indirectly. Let them go through a selection process in parliament. In the end, parliament has to work with the minister. Let them find one that can listen, rather than discuss.

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Zowel de G500 afgelopen weekend als Wijffels in een uitzending van Nieuwsuur afgelopen vrijdag, maken een vergelijkbare analyse over de vastgelopen politieke cultuur. Ook leveren ze hoopgevende vooruitzichten over hoe het verder moet na 12 september. Hoe moeten we een regering vormen in dit gepolariseerde en gefragmenteerde politieke landschap? Waar Wijffels een minderheidsregering voorstelt die telkens zoekt naar meerderheden per onderwerp, wil de G500 graag zien dat de Tweede Kamer ministers uit het land aanstelt die geen deel uitmaken van een politieke partij. Wijffels stelt voor dat de ‘winnaar’ van de verkiezingen, degene met de meeste stemmen, het kabinet samenstelt. Omdat ook bij Wijffels het parlement moet instemmen met dat kabinet kunnen dat geen politiek uitgesproken bestuurders zijn. De G500 wil eerst een ideeformatie die coalities rondom ideeën oplevert. Daar worden dan ministers bij gevonden in het land. In beide voorstellen blijft het onduidelijk waar dergelijke ministers aan moeten voldoen. Daarom de vraag: wat moeten de Tweede Kamerleden in de vacature voor een minister zetten?


Een vast gegeven is dat de Kamer het praktisch nooit unaniem eens is over een maatregel. Dat is het bewijs van een gezonde democratie. Dat maakt het wel lastig om een kabinet samen te stellen die het eens is over een bepaalde richting. Dat is fnuikend voor het debat de jaren daarna. Daarom is het zaak om juist niet, zoals de G500 voorstelt, eerst over de inhoud te gaan praten en deel-regeerakkoorden te gaan afsluiten. Wijffels benadrukt dan ook dat dergelijke inflexibele oplossingen niet meer in deze snel veranderende tijd passen. Per onderwerp zal er de komende tijd telkens opnieuw gesproken moeten worden over de richting. De ideale minister moet dit goed kunnen faciliteren en volgen. Bij voorkeur moet dit iemand zijn die veel van het onderwerp af weet, maar ook iemand die de vaardigheid heeft ontwikkeld om draagvlak in te kunnen schatten voor een maatregel bij een verdeelde achterban. Dit is een taakomschrijving die totaal niet lijkt op die van de zogenaamde ‘daadkrachtige’ ministers die zich gesteund weten door de meerderheid van een coalitie.


Denk dan eerder aan de woordvoerders en leiders van economische sectoren die intern verdeeld zijn. Sectoren als het onderwijs, de zorg, het midden- en kleinbedrijf, de werkgevers en dergelijke kennen allemaal interne verdeeldheid op verschillende punten. De creativiteit die nodig is om in een dergelijke situatie vooruit te komen kan je ook herkennen bij de leiders van multi-nationale organisaties (zowel commercieel als ideëel). Zij hebben te maken met aandeelhouders, werknemers en landen waarin geproduceerd en verkocht wordt. Uiteindelijk zijn er mogelijk honderden goede kandidaten.


Dergelijke bestuurders, noem ze desnoods technocraten, houden zich doorgaans verre van de politiek omdat ze gruwen van de uitspraken die daarin normaal zijn. Zonder oog voor de conflicterende belangen en complexe technische werkelijkheid die zij wel goed kennen profileren politici zich immers bij het grote publiek met algemeenheden. Dat publiek weet wel ongeveer hoe de wereld waarin ze willen leven eruit moet zien, maar val ze niet lastig met de weerbarstige werkelijkheid. Een technocraat smult juist van complexiteit en conflicterende eisen. Dat doet een beroep op zijn of haar kennis en creativiteit om een oplossing te verzinnen, met de medewerking van een ministerie met duizenden ambtenaren. Ambtenaren die dan weer kennis van zaken moeten hebben. Inhuren van kennis en de politiek slim bespelen werkt onder een dergelijke minister niet meer. Zowel Kamer als minister dienen wordt dan het credo. Leiding kunnen geven aan het ministerie als een directoraat-generaal hoort dan ook bij de taakomschrijving.


De vraag van een journalist aan een kandidaat-minister zal dan ook niet zijn “hoe gaat u dit oplossen?” De ideale kandidaat zal elk antwoord beginnen met: “als je ziet wat technisch en financieel haalbaar is en waar draagvlak voor lijkt te zijn in de Tweede Kamer… ” De jacht op goede kandidaten is geopend. Als u een goede kandidaat kent dan kunt u de redacties van de grote tv-talkshows of uw krant tippen. De kans is namelijk groot dat ze nu nog onbekend zijn bij het grote publiek.

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A minister’s political party

10 March 2012 Douwe de Joode wrote a letter to the editor of NRC Handelsblad asking why his newspaper always mentions which political party a minister is from. “Ministers from the cabinet. Though coming from political parties, they are primarily governers and no longer politicians. They work for all citizens.” The editor completely agreed in the context of constitutional law. But “the moment a minister loses support from his own partij (…) it stops. Unless this minister receives enough support from other factions, but this is seldom the case.” As a second reason to mention the political party is because parties see their minister as advertising. Thanks to a minister you are visible as a party. This could just as well be a reason for the newspaper not to mention the political party. It is free publicity for the party as a ‘brand’.

This shows why it is good to not have ministers come from a political party. Which does not mean such a person should not say what he or she votes or is part of. The most important is to receive and keep the support from a majority of the parliament. This works best for an independent minister by not following any party doctrine or coalition agreement, but the wishes of a majority of the parliament.

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After the elections

After the elections in the Netherlands on 12 September 2012 a coalition government needs to be found. According to the opinion polls this will be very difficult. No majority is possible with less than three parties. The biggest problem is the polarisation; the biggest parties will not agree to be in a coalition together. With the remaining parties it is hard to reach a majority.

Since March 2012 the parliament has given itself more freedom in forming a coalition. Within a week after the elections parliament will convene and decide how to proceed to form a government. Previously, this initiative was in the hands of the monarch. We can expect parliament to appoint someone to investigate the willingness of parties to form a coalition together. This formation is likely to take weeks if not months.

My proposal is to let parliament vote on a motion to appointment a government consisting of extra-political ministers coming from the citizenry if there is no coalition within a month. This will at least put extra pressure on the formation process. There now is a deadline, it can no longer last endlessly.

Secondly, journalists can start finding good candidates. All likely candidates can answer the question, ‘would you be a good minister?’ Usually during the formation there is no news to report. With this option open every candidate found can become news. These candidates can then explain how they would deal with parliament. Which compromises and middle ground solutions will receive a majority?

Typically, good candidates are not political figures. The required skill is to find support for a measure from a diverse, even divided, constituency. This is the position leaders of an economic sector find themselves in: education, health care, retail, production and so on. Their constituencies are often not unanimous about proposed solutions or positions. It is their skill to find the band-with they can operate in. Also managers in multinational organisations need this skill to satisfy both shareholders, employees and the legislators of the countries they produce or sell in. They often take great pleasure and pride in pragmatically advancing concrete measures within the constraints given to them. Unlike politicians who are elected for their convictions and their skill to argue that those are the best.


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More Democracy

“We should react with more democracy”, said Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway, in reactie to Breivik’s actions. More democracy through more direct democracy instruments, like referenda, does not mean people feel better represented. In the discussion about the representative democracy we find the implicit assumption that citizens vote to get power, to become the winner. Although this might be true for many political leaders, their constituency does not necessarily follow in this. Voting to be heard and to feel represented is more realistic. When I was campaigning in 2009 I spoke with many PVV-voters. The said they mostly wanted to be heard; “to punish the social democrats”, but did not want to see Wilders become prime minister. They mostly wanted to break the power of the social democrats which let them down.

“But of course we want to win to carry out our plans” is what I hear from party members in different parties. “Politics is about power and only when we are big we can achieve what we argue for.” Unfortunately, in a coalition you do not dictate. Nobody gets to have that power. Citizens seem to understand this a lot better than politicians.

Breivik and the likes of him should therefore certainly be properly represented in parliament. A functioning representative democracy has parties at the extremes to function. The assassin of Pim Fortuyn did not like this idea at all. He wanted to ‘rescue’ the country after he saw a televised debate in which Fortuyn succesfully attacked the leaders of the major center parties. Very undemocratic.

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No more coalitions

With a more polarised political spectrum it becomes more difficult, or practically impossible to create a coalition government. With more votes to the extreme left and right, the parties in the center are taking the blows.

This is not a bad thing for the representativeness of the political system. With votes evenly distributed over the political spectrum it is more likely that people feel properly represented. Good. It poses a problem for the creation of a government in the traditional way.

In the Netherlands a minority government was created in 2010 with support by one extreme party. This coalition was not stable and fell after two years.

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