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‘Woolly’ King's Speech reflects broad coalition

The 2018 King's Speech was a string of statements containing little or no substance. It was obvious that, in an attempt to keep all the coalition parties happy, the speech covered more issues than in 2017. This is confirmed by an analysis of the speech carried out by public administration experts Gerard Breeman and Arco Timmermans.

Given all the commotion about the proposed abolition of dividend tax, you might well be surprised to learn that only 36 per cent of the text contained sentences that formulated a concrete intention relating to new policy. 'This puts Rutte in second place in the Woolliness Index,' according to Breeman.  The Van Agt Cabinet II, that only lasted for a year, holds the crown with just 27% consisting of meaningful sentences. 

A list of cabinets and their score on the Woolliness Index.

Together with Timmemans, Breeman has analysed all the Speeches from the Throne since 1945. The lower the number of meaningful sentences, the higher the score on the Woolliness Index. 'Confidence in the future is work in progress,' is an example of a woolly sentence used by King Willem-Alexander in this most recent King's Speech. As a comparison: the Speeches from the Throne under Den Uyl (1973) and Balkenende I (2002) with 74% and 72% of sentences expressing policy intentions were far more concrete.

More balanced Speech

The Speech from the Throne is a good barometer of the issues that the Cabinet believes are important. 'The sentences are weighed beforehand like gold,' Breeman says. He and Timmermans coded all the sentences according to subject. The speech this year was much more balanced in terms of themes than last year's speech when there was no cabinet in place. Foreign policy and the macro-economy were the main issues in that speech, while this year many of the key issues of the broad coalition were mentioned, such as healthcare, education, culture, trade, work, agriculture and defence. At 178 lines, the speech was also a lot longer than last year's 121 lines.  

Coalition agreement

Breeman and Timmermans compared the text of the King's Speech with the coalition agreement. Almost a third of the subjects mentioned by the king were in line with the  share of the subjects from the coalition agreement. As a comparison: under Balkenende I there was a correlation of around 70%. Culture and defence were paid relatively more attention in the 2018 King's Speech than in the coalition agreement. The military were thanked several times, almost 'American style'.  

Concerns about Europa

The foreign issues touched on showed where the government's concerns now lie. Last year there were references to the terrorist attacks of IS; this year the focus was more on Europe. Brexit was mentioned, concerns about the rule of law in Europe (implicitly referring to Hungary, Turkey and Poland) and international uncertainty in a world where old alliances are no longer self-evident.

Cliché

This year there were also a lot of references to historic events in the Netherlands: the introduction of voting rights, the Ruijs de Beerenbrouck Cabinet and the Second World War. 'All a bit clichéd,' in Breeman's opinion. ‘All this talk about history diverted attention  from deeper and more current issues.' 

Text: Linda van Putten
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