Ouwehand also does not reveal the back of her tongue in the College Tour
“How are you?” is the opening question from presenter Twan Huys College Tour to the party leader who has been in the news for days, but has hardly commented himself.
“I have no idea,” answers a nervous Esther Ouwehand of the Party for the Animals, who has just reached the stage through a room full of applauding students. “It has all been so hectic, a real rollercoaster.”
“Shall we say ‘u’ or ‘je’ to each other,” Huys asks. “I like you and you best,” she chooses.
For the first time in her life, Ouwehand had to call in lawyers, she said in front of the cameras at the Paard pop venue in The Hague on Wednesday afternoon. And then to defend itself against her own party leadership, which put Ouwehand aside as party leader on Saturday after reports of possible integrity violations.
Just as she was about to cycle to the train for the College Tour taping, her campaign manager – who had actually resigned from his position this week – called. The party board had informed Ouwehand’s lawyer that she would still be nominated as party leader. A 180 degree turn, but “only” because of all the fuss, according to a press release from the board. Ouwehand still thinks this is “not suitable” to become party leader for the next four years, “with the responsibilities that come with it.”
College Tour is on top of the news, with Ouwehand as the provisional winner of a painful, internal power struggle. The entire board has decided to tender its resignation on Thursday. It appears to be a silent protest from the board, which was under great pressure. There was massive support for Ouwehand, and without her as party leader, MPs Christine Teunissen, Frank Wassenberg and Eva van Esch no longer wanted to be on the candidate list.
The College Tour with Ouwehand was planned a long time ago, long before the crisis became public. As an exception, journalists are allowed to attend the recording – but not ask questions – and College Tour will be put online on Wednesday evening, instead of Sunday.
Also read: Power struggle ignites at a very unfortunate time for the Party for the Animals
The editors of College Tour have heard all kinds of stories about Ouwehand, says Huys. She is said to have behaved “Stalinistically” so that people feel “unsafe” and has made a “coup attempt” to take over the party. “No, no reports have been received against me,” Ouwehand insists. She did have a conversation with the party’s integrity secretary last week, she says. But that was about a report against “someone else” and “not about serious matters.”
Ouwehand has always wanted to solve problems “internally, openly and directly,” she says. Is she referring to an employee’s leaked action plan?, Huys asks. This contains strategies for removing a board member from the board and getting the rest of the board “in the right groove.” “To do what you want, there are strong terms in it,” says Huys Ouwehand.
“What you have in your hands there, which has been released, is an email that was taken from my mailbox,” says Ouwehand about the faction document. She thinks that this subsequently reached both the board and the media.
Huys notices that Ouwehand starts calling him ‘you’ when the questions become difficult. Sorry, she says, and it becomes you and you again.
Ouwehand’s story is that she had to wage a protracted battle against the board. To ‘further develop’ as a party, to take ‘steps’, and for a ‘healthy democracy’.
She does not make it clear what exactly Ouwehand means by that, and what happened. Huys doesn’t ask further. And the board is not on the College Tour stage to defend itself, and says it is in any case bound by a duty of confidentiality regarding the integrity reports.
This way, College Tour does not become a revelation after an internal power struggle that has just reached its climax. It is a shadow play in front of a full house. A relatively safe media appearance, in which Ouwehand can also answer questions from committed students.
“What are you going to do about the accusations,” they ask. “I don’t know yet,” Ouwehand answers. She will think about this further after this recording. How come she can express herself so well in debates, a student asks. How come she looks so fit, despite everything she has been through now and before: burnout and overload, the death of her father this summer. “How sweet!” says Ouwehand. She runs, enjoys going to concerts and meditates every day.
“Are you now convinced that there is nothing going on within the party around Esther Ouwehand,” Huys asks a critical student towards the end. “No, absolutely not,” she says. Such a report about an alleged violation of integrity “comes from somewhere”, she thinks.
“Thank you for your honest answer,” says Ouwehand. “I think you can identify what the damage is.”
A version of this article also appeared in the September 14, 2023 newspaper.
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