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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
At home with 'Professor Pim'
It was an imposing house on an elegant garden square in Rotterdam. The butler opened the door - stained glass with the owner's name Pim Fortuyn emblazoned over a windmill.
"The master is running a little late," he explained. "I can bring you tea in the garden while you wait."
I followed him down a long yellow corridor taking mental notes about the decor; marble floors, modern art, large black and white photos of my host, framed magazine covers of him and naked men - lots of them.
It wasn't long before the man who has taken Dutch politics by storm bounded through the French windows to greet me.
Very shiny bald head, tall and slim wearing a well-cut pin striped suit, pale pink shirt and matching tie. Under one arm he is cradling a King Charles spaniel, which is licking his face vigorously.
'No Le Pen'
"Professor Pim" as the Dutch refer to him, is in a bad mood. Journalists keep on ringing him and comparing him to France's Jean-Marie Le Pen.
"We have nothing in common," he says banging the table. The Wedgewood cups shake, and the small dog quivers.
"What about your opposition to immigration?" I reply. "Surely you share those ideas?"
"No, no, no," shouts Mr Fortuyn.
"All those who are here can stay. I don't say send them home like he does - I just say the Netherlands is a small country.
"We are already overcrowded, there's no more room and we must shut the borders."
There is another crucial difference between the blustering former French paratrooper and the leader of the Dutch new right. Pim Fortuyn is gay, openly so and proud of it and this is crucial to understanding his politics.
He fears that the influx of Muslim immigration into the Netherlands is undermining the ultra-liberal, permissive values which made his the first country in the world to fully legalise same-sex marriages.
"Muslims have a very bad attitude to homosexuality, they're very intolerant," he says. Jabbing his finger aggressively towards me, he goes on: "And women. For them women are second class citizens".
I try to open my mouth with a response but am cut off.
"What we are witnessing now is a clash of civilisations, not just between states but within them," and he thunders on. Indeed that sort of characterises our entire conversation - every time I try to speak, he cuts me off and rants.
The finger jabbing and shouting reminded me of the time I had taken tea with Jean-Marie Le Pen ... that and the dogs.
Pim Fortuyn has two little well coiffed King Charles spaniels called Kenneth and Carla. Monsieur Le Pen has two sleek black Dobermans - called Gauloise and Gitane.
The Dutchman even has a rather garish family portrait of himself and his dogs hanging in his study. Both men are wealthy with large beautiful houses and butlers. They also share a taste for statues.
Mr Le Pen has a tall black statue of man holding a bowl of fruit in his hall - the only difference is that he's wearing a loin cloth whereas Mr Fortuyn's statues do not.
Mr Le Pen has a Vietnamese manservant who I tried to corner in the pantry and asked whether the leader of the National Front was a good boss.
He politely ignored me asking instead whether I took my tea with lemon or milk. My attempt to extract information from Herman the Dutch butler was met with equal discretion.
Professor Pim has a lot of books in his house whereas I didn't get the impression Mr Le Pen was a big reader:
In fact he positively detests intellectuals who he blames for much of France's ills. The only reading material I spotted chez Le Pen was a tabloid newspaper.
The Dutchman on the other hand revels in his reputation as a thinking man.
He's an ex-sociology professor, a former Marxist who then became an opinionated right-wing columnist and a political consultant to Dutch Christian Democrats before setting up his own political party less than three months ago.
Pim Fortuyn and Jean Marie Le Pen may be very different men, but the reasons people vote for them are the same: fear and alienation.
Fear of outsiders, fear of crime, fear of change and alienation from the old political elites.
When you ask people on the streets of Lille or Rotterdam why they vote for them, the answers are the same. "He says what other politicians won't," "I trust him," "he understands the concerns of ordinary people."
Very few explicitly mention immigration - everything is couched in terms of crime or "insecurity" as the French call it.
"You may not be a racist but the people who vote for you are," I said to Mr Fortuyn.
"So what?"came the reply."Why they vote for me is irrelevant, but if they do they're in safe hands." And with that he smiled a big, slow self-satisfied smile.
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