Netherlands elections: Socialist Party polling strongly

Socialist policies needed to oppose austerity and to win majority support!

Opinion polls ahead of the 12 September national elections in the Netherlands show that after an initial surge of support the Dutch Socialist Party (SP) is now losing ground in the polls to the Labour Party. Many commentators compared the SP’s likely initial success in the polls to the electoral gains of Syriza in Greece earlier this year; all part of an “anti-austerity uprising” across Europe. Despite the severe limitations of the SP leadership’s policies, an electoral result for the party on this scale would ring alarm bells amongst Europe’s ruling elites and the Troika (ECB, EU and IMF). It would also send a strong signal to working people that building an anti-austerity, Left alternative is possible.

However following recent poor performances in TV debates by the SP leader, Emile Roemer, support for the SP has slipped and it is now tipped to win about 26 seats. In some polls, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party are now ahead of the SP. The Labour Party leader has shown that he is the more capable opponent of Prime Minister Rutte (Liberal Party). He has tacked slightly to the left on some issues, calling for more legal job protection and health care subsidies, no doubt to try and take support away from the SP. The media and Establishment are eagerly seizing this opportunity to promote the ‘moderate’ Labour Party ahead of the SP. If the SP comes in third place and does not do much better than in the 2006 elections, there would be disappointment among workers and possibly a crisis in the SP.

Emile Roemer, leader of the Socialist Party

But the underlying facts remain: there is no prospect that the traditional parties will bring improvements or real changes to the lives of working people and the traditional pattern of voting is being shaken up. The Christian Democrats, the “natural governing party” of the Netherlands since the 1970s, may get no more than 12 seats after the elections on 12 September.

The main parties only promise cuts, to be more ‘pro-European Union’ (i.e. pro-big business), to give aid to the big banks, less social rights, less education and very importantly, less health care. The pace of carrying out these policies may differ somewhat between the parties but they all share the same objective.

Geert Wilders’ populist right and anti-Islamist Freedom Party (PVV) has tried to also present itself as an alternative to the main parties. The Freedom Party is opposed to the European Union but it was responsible, along with other coalition parties, for the 18 billion euro worth of cuts in the previous coalition cabinet. Over the summer, the main election race was between the VVD and the SP, with the Freedom Party currently behind them both. Wilders’ party is now expected to take only 18 of the 150 available seats in parliament, down on the 24 it won two years ago. Following its record in office, the Freedom Party’s right wing, populist propaganda – for example, on tax and Muslim headscarves – is failing to make the same impact in these elections. As austerity hits working people and middle classes, the big issues during the Dutch elections are the economy, health, social services and the euro-zone.

Working people hope SP is different

Many working people hope that the SP is something different. The SP says it is against cuts and the austerity policies of the European Union. Its leader, Emile Roemer, has said he is opposed to the last government’s plans to bring the budget deficit below 3% by 2013, through savage cuts in health and by freezing wages. Roemer also pledges to stop the retirement age being raised from 65 to 67 years, to increase public investment and to raise income tax from the rich. While these are relatively modest they have already earned the ire of the Dutch bosses and the EU elite.

On Europe, Roemer says he will oppose a mooted ‘banking union’ and is against fining euro-zone countries that refuse to keep ‘balanced budgets’. Furthermore, Roemer claims he is prepared to confront Germany’s Chancellor Merkel and the European Commission on these issues.

Looked at in detail, the SP leadership’s policies do not amount to bold socialist policies. For example, according to the Dutch Central Planning Bureau, the SP’s deficit target for 2013 is 2.7% of GDP, which is not far off Labour’s deficit target. Nor does the SP leadership call for the cancellation of Greece’s enormous debt burden but just that Greece is given more time to cut its deficit.

But by stating that he opposes cuts at home and the Troika’s policies across Europe, Roemer has tapped into the mood of many Dutch working class people. A recent poll found that around 70% were against more cuts next year and instead want to see policies to invest in the economy. Support for Dutch membership of the EU has also fallen dramatically, from 76% in 2010 to just 58% now. The once seemingly strong Dutch economy, a key part of the German-dominated Benelux countries, is now looking vulnerable. It is estimated it will shrink by 1% this year. Unemployment rose from 4.3% last year to 5.3% today. Working people are hit by government spending cuts and tax hikes. House prices are falling steeply, further denting spending by Dutch households, which are burdened by some of the largest mortgage debts in Europe. The country’s triple-A rating on government debt is now under pressure, with Moody’s speculating that it may need downgrading.

A large victory for the SP would be a blow to the main parties and the interests of the ruling class. Socialist Alternative (CWI Netherlands) calls for a vote for the SP but also calls on working people to become active in the SP and to put pressure inside and outside of it, to insist that Roemer and the party leadership stick to their promises. This requires the SP adopting genuinely open and democratic structures if it is to attract new layers of workers and youth. The trade union movement has unfortunately failed seriously in the fight against the cuts. A large SP vote would be the most important obstacle, so far, to the austerity policy of any new government.

Ruling elite and media promote ‘reliable’ Labour Party

This is why the ruling elite and the media are trying to push the ‘reliable’ Labour Party as an alternative to the SP. They hope that people will have forgotten that it was former Labour leader and minister of Finance, Bos, who saved the big banks with hundreds of millions of euros in 2008. The leadership of the Labour Party is now in the hands of Diederik Samson, who is an effective debater. It has become very difficult to predict the results of the elections. In the absence of any substancial political debate, TV performances and incidents play an important role in determining peoples’ preferences.

But with a strong SP in opposition, the Left can benefit further. The SP could have the potential to develop as a real political alternative, particularly as voters get quickly frustrated with a cuts-making coalition. The SP can then take the lead in opposition to the cuts. The Freedom Party, with its racist ideas and its responsibility for making earlier cuts, is less attractive than previous. By leading the resistance against cuts, the SP can increase its mass support. Its electoral support can be converted to active support for the stated goals of the party, a ‘socialist’ society. In this way, a majority government of the SP, on the basis of a socialist programme, could be realized at the next elections.

Socialist Alternative calls for the Dutch Socialist Party to 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, a properly funded education and health service, 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 be employed to meet the needs of working-class people.

Working people have nothing to gain from the often chauvinistic manner in which the SP leadership presents its opposition to EU ‘bail-outs’ for Greece and other countries. Unless the SP puts forward bold socialist policies and the unions decisively lead resistance to cuts and appeal for working-class unity, in the Netherlands and across Europe, the Freedom Party or other right wing, populist, anti-immigrant forces can grow, posing a real danger to workers’ unity.

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September 2012