Dutch Elections: Labour Party makes a comeback in polls

Socialist Party reneging on retirement disappoints workers

A mood change has taken place in the Netherlands in the run up to Wednesday’s national elections. In polls, the Labour Party is now seen as the party that can stop Rutte and his Liberal Party from coming to power as the largest party. The Dutch Socialist Party, which was riding high in polls for months, has dropped behind both Labour and the Liberals, to 23 seats. The Liberal Party is now polling 32 seats and the Labour Party 31. As the 12 September polls looms, a two-horse race is now developing. The Dutch media eagerly seized on this change in voter intentions and presents the election as a choice between Rutte (Liberal Party leader) or Samson (Labour Party leader) for prime minister.

How has Labour Party made this late comeback? After all, the party was in a much-hated governing coalition with the Liberals during the 1990s and in another cuts coalition with the Christian Democrats during much of the early years of this new century. Furthermore, the Labour Party leadership stepped in to bailout the big banks in 2008 at the expense of working people.

Diederik Samsom, leader of the Labour Party in the Netherlands, in Utrecht

The return of the Labour Party seems to have two causes. One is that many voters had the impression that the Socialist Party was going to turn back the last government’s measures relating to the raised pension age. The SP previously campaigned on the slogan ‘65=65’. Recently, the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (an economic research agency) checked all the parties’ programmes for their financial ‘solidity’. This is done before every election and is an extra check on the political parties to ensure they will not exceed the economic limits set by the capitalist establishment. The results of this check made clear that the Socialist Party had abandoned its commitment to the pension age. The SP now proposes to increase the age of retirement to 67 years, in 2025, and to make further increases as life expectancy rises. Previously around 28% of voters in the 55-64 age group supported the Socialist Party but this has now dropped to only 19%, presumably largely on the basis of the party’s reneging on the retirement age. This is an important age group because of its relative size and its higher turnout at elections.

As well as this, the Socialist Party has made clear that it wants to play the role that social democracy played previously, i.e. managing capitalism, which in this period means overseeing austerity. It stressed its willingness to participate in government coalitions (a tradition in the Netherlands) and to compromise, if necessary. If the Socialist Party was going to do what the Labour Party used to do (that is, “sell out”), what is the point of voting for it, many workers ask.

Socialist Alternative (CWI in the Netherlands) still believes that a victory for the Socialist Party would be the best outcome of the elections for the working class. A strong victory for the Socialist Party would be an inspiration for an anti-cuts movement, which, as yet, is not developed substantially in the Netherlands. It would shake the self-confidence of the bourgeoisie and break the general pro-cuts consensus. Despite the willingness of the Socialist Party leadership to engage in a coalition with the bourgeois parties, a big vote for the SP would raise the expectations of workers and encouraged resistance.

But it now appears that the outcome of the elections will see the formation of a new coalition government that will return the same parties and the same type of government that allowed the economic crisis to develop. There will be a wave of austerity measures, as we have seen in other European countries.

Working class reaction?

How will the working class react? Strong opposition to cuts will emerge in the trade unions but, so far, it has been slow in developing. The union leadership has close links to the Labour Party, which will most likely be part of the next government.

Although the Socialist Party is still on course to increase its vote on Wednesday – which can be heartening for a section of voters – many SP members and supporters will most likely be confused and disappointed by the party’s results. They had high expectations just weeks ago, based on polls, and disappointment can develop if the party does not realize the big vote it seemed to have in prospect just a few weeks ago.

Though internal debate inside the SP is limited, there will most likely be discussion amongst members about the failed approach of the SP leadership. Sections of the SP membership and its supporters will conclude that they need to urgently organize to fight new cuts, as the only way forward for the working class movement.

Despite the willingness of the SP leadership to compromise with pro-cuts parties, it will probably be refused government participation by the other main parties for the second time (the last occasion was in 2006). As we wrote earlier, with a strong SP in opposition, the working class can benefit. The SP still has the potential to develop as a real political alternative, particularly as voters get frustrated with a cuts-making coalition. By taking a lead in 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’.

Lessons of elections

But the main lesson of the late falling away in support for the SP is that bold socialist policies are needed to decisively win over the support of working class and middle class people who will be hit hard by new austerity measures. Socialist Alternative calls for a genuinely democratic debate within and around the SP on the lessons of the 12 September elections. By adopting genuinely open and democratic structures and 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 a new coalition government’s cuts.

As well as resisting attacks on pensions, the Socialist Party 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, 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.

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