The anti-immigration pol who wants to lead Dutch
Geert Wilders faces trial for inciting hatred against Muslims and ethnic minorities
Geert Wilders, the anti-immigration Dutch politician banned from the UK last year for being a threat to race relations, could soon be prime minister of the Netherlands following the collapse of the Dutch coalition government at the weekend.
The government's fall, following a disagreement between the dominant Christian Democrat party and its coalition partner, Labour, over extending the country's Nato commitments in Afghanistan, means that a general election will have to take place within the next three months.
The most recent opinion polls suggest Wilders, leader of the populist, anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV), will claim up to 25 seats in the new parliament, making it the second largest party after the Christian Democrats. Labour would get around 21 seats.
Of course, a lot can happen in three months, and Labour, which has benefited from its opposition to keeping Dutch troops in Afghanistan, could see its new-found popularity melt away in the heat of a general election campaign. The controversial Wilders, meanwhile, has reason to believe two high-profile brushes with authority over the next three months could increase his popularity among voters.
Wilders, who is described by the Muslim Council of Britain as "a relentless preacher of hate", is best known here for being banned from entering Britain in February 2009 when he was invited by two members of the House of Lords to a showing of his 17-minute "anti-Koran" film Fitna in the Palace of Westminster.
As a result of publicity from the ban, Wilders's party moved in to first place in opinion polls. He challenged the travel ban and had it overturned in October; he has since accepted a second invitation to the House of Lords and will address members on March 5 – which should do no harm to his poll rating in the run-up to the election.
Meanwhile in his home country, Wilders is on trial for inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and ethnic minorities – a trial he calls "a lawsuit against freedom of speech, democracy and the truth".
Wilders began his parliamentary career as an MP for the centre-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, before leaving to found his own party when he found himself at odds with the party line that Turkey should be allowed to begin accession talks with the EU.
Wilders went on to found the PVV as a right-wing, mostly libertarian party. Policies include a smaller state and lower taxation; a focus on education and more accessible healthcare; and elected mayors, police chiefs and prime ministers (currently, as in Britain, the Dutch vote for a political party). Perhaps the PVV policy most worrying for British tourists who enjoy weekends in Amsterdam is the party's harder line on recreational drugs.
But the PVV's flagship policy is its anti-immigration stance. The party proposes the ending of immigration from non-western countries – along with official recognition of the primacy of Christian, Jewish and humanist traditions.
Most of Wilders's racial policies are directed at Islam, which he sees as fascistic. He spent two years in his twenties working in Israel, during which time he travelled widely in the Arabic world, where he was reportedly deeply affected by the absence of democracy. In contrast, he sees Israel as a "true friend" and admires its Counter-terrorism policies.
Two years ago he told the Guardian: "I have a problem with Islamic tradition, culture, ideology. Not with Muslim people." However, he does promote a policy of repatriation for immigrants who offend.
Despite seemingly sharing many beliefs with far-right European parties, such as the BNP, Wilders rejects fascism. His criticism of homophobia, at least, sets him apart from such organisations. "My allies are not Le Pen or Haider. We'll never join up with the fascists and Mussolinis of Italy. I'm very afraid of being linked with the wrong rightist fascist groups," he says.
Politics aside, Wilders's courage is not in doubt: he has been sentenced to death by al-Qaeda and has a permanent police guard because of regular death threats from within the Netherlands. He sleeps at a different location every night and can only see his wife once a week. Wilders describes this regimented lifestyle as "a situation that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy". He certainly has a lot of those.