SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 207 April 2017

Dutch election defeat for austerity government

The Netherlands elections saw a colossal defeat for the outgoing austerity coalition government of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (the conservative-liberal VVD) and the Labour Party (PvdA). Labour lost 29 seats and the VVD eight, more than half the number required to form a government (75). The result is a clear indictment of the austerity policies of the past period. The VVD and the media will present its 33 seats (21%) as a ‘victory’. But the VVD lost seats and its coalition partner, the Labour Party, has been reduced to a rump party of nine. Neoliberalism has suffered a serious election setback.

Although it came second, the extreme right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, got stuck on 20 seats. Even with the strong winds of the asylum seeker crisis of 2016, Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in its sails, the PVV failed in its aim to become the largest party. It has more seats than in 2012 – when it supported the outgoing government – but in comparison with its high point in opinion polls (37 seats predicted in January 2016) the results were disappointing for Wilders.

He poured out endless hateful racist tweets and remarks during the election campaign, including his shameful call for ‘fewer Moroccans’ in the Netherlands. His campaign consisted of tweets and flying visits to a couple of cities. He did not try to organise a mass rally. More often than not there were more security people and press than PVV supporters around Wilders during his visits. His bluff was called in a televised debate with the VVD leader, Mark Rutte, when Wilders admitted that his demands for policing the use of the Koran would never materialise.

The promised right-wing springboard has turned out to be a balloon of hot air. But the lack of a big breakthrough by Wilders does not mean that the danger of the far-right is over. Other parties adopted some of his clothing. An ‘ordinary’ right-wing party, Rutte’s VVD party, and Wilders’ PVV, are now the two largest parties in the Netherlands, so the right-wing threat remains.

Three parties profited from the mass exit of voters from the Labour Party and the VVD: GreenLeft (GL), Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and Democrats 66 (D66 – liberals). GL, now a liberal party with a green edge, profited most, partly through the popularity of its new young leader, Jesse Klaver. Its vote jumped from 2% to 8.9% – its previous highpoint was 7.3% in 1998. GL helped the previous coalition government to win majority votes in parliament, for instance, regarding a Dutch military mission to Afghanistan. In this election, however, GL put forward policies to end tax breaks for corporations, end ‘flexibility’ in firing procedures, and for more money for higher education. It also announced policies for improving the environment and closing coal-fired power stations. All these demands are popular among young people.

GL is mainly based on people with higher-education qualifications based in west Holland – young professionals and intellectuals. Although the former Communist Party was one of its co-founders, the GL does not put forward clear pro-working class policies let alone talk about socialism. Workers are not enthusiastic about it. One of the reasons is that it has been part of the political establishment for years. The many Dutch workers who have experienced the downside of globalisation and neoliberalism are concerned with the notion of ‘progress’ under capitalism that GL espouses. Many fear that, after being presented with the bill for bailing out the financial and banking sector, they will now face another bill for ‘greening’ the economy if GL is part of a new coalition government or influences its policies.

On the other hand, the Dutch Socialist Party (SP) went down slightly to just over 9%, losing one seat. It failed to make any headway despite years of austerity government. Instead of providing a fighting socialist alternative, the leadership presented the party as a ‘normal’ opposition. The voters therefore failed to see the difference between it and the many other opposition parties, and it failed to make the significant breakthroughs it had in elections in 2010 and 2012. The potential for the party had been clear in 2006, when it won over 16% of the vote and 25 seats, and from mid-term opinion polls in August 2012, when it had been predicted to win 37 seats (it ended up with 15). This potential still exists, but to realise it the party needs to change course. A socialist programme is the only way to get the SP out of its present stagnation otherwise it will enter a phase of crisis.

In the coming period, a new government will have to be formed. That will take place under the leadership of the VVD, in spite of its loss of support, but it will be difficult to form a new coalition. More parties will be needed this time but how can they avoid disappointing their voters and escape the fate of the Labour Party? All possible coalitions have the disadvantage of involving complicated compromises and a lack of direction so new elections are not excluded. The VVD will also be concerned that it could lead to a comeback for Wilders, creating a new crisis.

The pressing problems facing the working class in the Netherlands – low wages, the lack of job security, poor working conditions and work pressures, high rents, health-care and education costs, expensive and limited public transport, environmental problems – will not ease with the election outcome.

While the trade unions have been weakened in the Netherlands, with union organisation below the average European level, a struggle will need to be organised against whatever government there may be. A militant approach on wages, shorter working hours, better conditions and job security is the best way to rebuild the unions.

Workers in the Netherlands lack political representation. In spite of its stated intentions, the SP leadership is failing in this respect. It is too eager to enter into coalition at local government level and makes little effort to mobilise against cuts. Either the SP continues on this disastrous path or it opts for a real future. A broad democratic workers’ party is needed, combining the defence of workers’ interests with the struggle for a socialist society.

A new government of pro-capitalist parties is not going to end the pressing problems of poverty, rising health-care costs, the threat of unemployment and loss of income, meagre social security, discrimination and racism, or the degradation of the environment. None of the 28 parties that participated in the election is going to change the system. Dutch workers and youth will have to do that themselves, organised in unions at work and in a broad political socialist alternative, locally and in government, linking up with worldwide protests against austerity, Trumpism and capitalism in general.

Pieter Brans

Socialist Alternative (CWI Netherlands)

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