SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 162 October 2012

Dutch Socialist Party stalls

THE DUTCH elections on 12 September resulted in a victory for the Liberal Party (comparable to Britain’s Conservatives), with 41 seats (26.4%), and the Labour Party, with 38 (24.7%). The Dutch Socialist Party (SP) remains on 15 seats. Geert Wilders’ far-right, racist Freedom Party lost nine seats (from 24 to 15).

The elections were called after the last government fell in March. That was a coalition of the Liberal Party and Christian Democrats, backed by the Freedom Party although it did not take any ministerial positions. This coalition fell apart over a new cuts programme. It had agreed to €18 billion-worth of cuts, but later claimed that a further €12.5 billion was required to ‘stabilise state finances’. An additional austerity programme of €25 billion is now considered ‘necessary’. The Christian Democrats and the Freedom Party lost eight and nine seats respectively, while the Liberal Party gained ten. In this sense, the previous right-wing coalition lost the election.

The Labour Party’s eight-seat gain was largely because of the collapse of the Green Left, which lost six seats, leaving it with just four. Last May, after the fall of the government, the Green Left helped the caretaker government of Liberals and Christian Democrats carry out a new round of cuts. It had also played a key role supporting a police-training mission in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan.

The failure of the SP to make its promised breakthrough is the most startling result. It won 9.7% of the vote, down 0.2% from the previous election, ending up with the same number of seats it held in the last parliament. After polling close to 40 seats during the election campaign, and with reports that SP leader, Emil Roemer, could become the next prime minister with the SP as the largest party, the result was a major disappointment for SP voters and members. (The SP had won 25 seats in the 2006 elections, falling to 15 in 2010.)

It appears that many who supported the SP in polls in August ended up voting for the Labour Party. The main reasons for this change of heart seem to have been over the SP’s position on pensions and the EU. Initially, the SP said that the pension age should remain unchanged at 65. It then agreed to increase the age to 67 in 2025, ‘to balance the budget’. This shift in position was carried out by the leadership to prove the party’s ‘financial solidity’ to possible coalition partners and the media.

In the earlier stages of the election campaign, Roemer also declared that he would not pay any fines to the EU for overshooting the 3% of GDP budget deficit target. His remarks were seized on by the capitalist establishment and media, and condemned as ‘irresponsible’. He then vaguely retracted the statement. Bowing to the political pressure of the EU, pro-cuts parties and mass media led many workers and youth to lose faith in the SP.

SP leaders persistently stressed their willingness to compromise and form a coalition government, which would include pro-cuts parties. They openly declared that they wanted to take over the role of social democracy. And, in the end, many voters decided to vote for the real thing – Labour. The election campaign was almost entirely focused on TV appearances and personalities, and Labour Party leader, Diederik Samsom, cut a sharper figure than Roemer. Samsom was widely seen as the main challenger to Liberal Party leader, Mark Rutte.

The SP’s result is not an irreversible defeat. Nevertheless, given the failure of the previous right-wing coalition, and the role that the Labour Party has played in previous governments – helping to introduce the euro, bail out the big banks at the workers’ expense, and setting major privatisations in motion – it was a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Liberal and Labour parties will most likely form a coalition. Together, they hold 80 of the 150 total seats. They lack a majority in the upper house, so will probably need to include the badly-bruised Christian Democrats. This will mean a government of the traditional ruling parties, which are responsible for the political and economic disasters of the past 20 years.

The new coalition government will be full of tensions from the start. Rutte is associated with German chancellor Angel Merkel’s plans to strictly adhere to austerity measures to force down the country’s deficit. While Labour also agrees to cuts, there can be sharp disputes between the coalition parties over the timing and depth of austerity.

Samsom calls for spending on job-creation programmes, and is regarded as wanting to follow French president, François Hollande’s policy of increasing some spending and taxes on the rich. He claims he will bargain hard in coalition talks. "The course must be changed because the right-wing policies of the past two years cannot continue", he said. Developing working-class opposition to austerity can put huge pressure on these coalition fault-lines and make the government much more vulnerable than it appears now.

Nonetheless, the new government, whatever its exact composition, will impose huge cuts on health and education, will force people to work much longer, and will cut pensions by 10-15%. Young people will be hit by low incomes, unemployment and high rents. Trade union resistance is largely blocked by the union leadership, at the moment. Political resistance is frustrated by the impotence of the SP leadership.

Socialist Alternative (CWI in the Netherlands) argued that a major victory of the SP would have been the best possible outcome, and campaigned for such a victory. A strong SP result would have inspired the working class to fight the cuts, oppose the EU elite and its endless demands for austerity, and to seek solidarity with other European workers in struggle.

The Dutch trade unions are involved in a complicated reorganisation, and their leaders are seen as more supportive of the Labour Party. This may initially dampen the prospect of trade union struggles when the Labour Party forms a government, as is likely. The SP needs to support the struggle against all cuts, in order to start to make a comeback. It should have an open debate on the lessons of the election campaign and result.

The main lesson for the SP rank and file and wider supporters is that bold policies are needed to win over decisively the support of working-class and middle-class people who will be hit hard by new austerity measures. By adopting genuinely open and democratic structures, and with a socialist alternative to capitalism in crisis, the SP can attract new layers of workers and youth, and be part of the fight-back against the new government’s cuts.

The left will have big possibilities to make gains and to establish the basis of a new mass party representing working-class people, the youth and the hard-pressed middle class. As well as resisting attacks on pensions, the SP can win support from working people, the unemployed and youth by boldly opposing cuts and the erosion of the welfare state, and by putting forward a clear socialist alternative: jobs for all, properly-funded education and health services, decent and affordable housing, opposition to imperialist wars and so on. By bringing the big banks and main planks of the economy into public ownership, under the democratic control and management of working people, the huge resources of society could be employed to meet the needs of working-class people.

Such a socialist programme is needed to ensure the continuing decline of the populist, far-right. The election emphasised, once again, the volatility of big parts of the Dutch electorate. Polarisation can take place to the left and right. Big swings by sections of the population in either direction have been a hallmark of Dutch politics over the last decade or so. The Freedom Party is now licking its wounds after a poor result in the elections. But unless the left and the unions provide a credible alternative, decisively leading resistance to cuts and appealing for working-class unity, the populist, anti-immigrant right can make a comeback, posing a real danger to workers’ unity.

Pieter Brans,

Socialist Alternative (CWI in Netherlands)



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