Netherlands: Socialist Party local election gains

Vote for SP can be the basis for a mass struggle against cuts

Three things are absolutely clear from the results of the local elections of March 19th. Firstly, the ruling national Liberal Party and Labour Party coalition has deservedly received a red card. Unfortunately the Liberal Democrats (D66), which is not in government but support its austerity policy, became the biggest party in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Secondly, Geert Wilders’ populist, anti-immigrant Freedom Party participated only in The Hague and Almere elections but lost votes in both cities. Wilders attempts to incite hatred against Moroccans during the campaign did not work. Thirdly, the Socialist Party (a party to the left of the Labour Party that attracts a section of workers) now has a stronger base in many municipal councils to fight austerity. In some cities, the SP is now the largest party. This means there should be a stronger platform to fight government cuts, often implemented through municipalities, in many cities.

It was clear from the beginning that whatever the results, cabinet policy would remain the same, unpopular as it may be. The collapse of confidence in the Liberal Party and the Labour Party was expected. But thanks to the D66, the cuts on a national level will continue and they will also be implemented on a local level, wherever that party has a strong position. Now that the Christian Democrats, formerly the main party of the Dutch ruling class, is getting smaller, the capitalist class have the consolation that parties like the D66 and minor Christian parties can play a role in keeping the government afloat.

The ruling elite can rest assured; their policy of unloading the economic crisis on the backs of the workers through cuts, rent increases, sales of council housing, cuts in care and so on can continue. Neo-liberal thinking remains safely anchored in Dutch Establishment politics and for the time being, cuts can be carried through at national, provincial and local government levels. But the continuation of the economic crisis, the long term perspectives for mass unemployment (9% currently and only expected to fall by 2024), the stagnation of the economy and the housing market will continually gnaw at confidence in the pro-capitalist parties.

During the election campaign, Geert Wilders showed that he does not shirk from any form of racist propaganda. At an election meeting in The Hague, Wilders led a crowd chanting, “Less, less, less Moroccans”. A German press agency compared him to Goebbels. Wilders later tried to say that he had meant “less criminal Moroccans” and had called for voluntary repatriation and forced expulsion of ‘criminal’ Moroccans.

Widespread indignation over racist remarks

Wilders is prepared to stir up any reactionary sentiment to gain media attention and votes. But there was widespread indignation among the wider population over his racist remarks. People went to the police in masses in some towns to complain file discrimination complaints. Some Freedom Party representatives, including MP’s, renounced their membership.

Wilders has no solution to the crisis facing working people, as seen by disappointing results for the Freedom Party in the elections. He did not gain any ground and the position of the Freedom Party as an opposition party has been weakened. Yet Wilders is determined to “soldier on” with the remaining “faithful”. He still has the support of many voters. Tons of moral indignation, justified as they may be, is not sufficient to stop Wilders. Ultimately, only a strong working class movement will be able to do that. The SP and the trade unions can win greater support by mobilizing mass struggles against the coalition government’s cuts; boldly opposing cuts and the erosion of the welfare state, and fighting for jobs for all, a properly funded education and health service and affordable housing 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.

The strengthened position of the Socialist Party in the elections forms an improved basis to fight the cuts and to broaden support for the party. Where the SP is now the largest party in municipalities, and in towns where the SP gained a stronger position, the fight-back can be made more effective. This gives the SP the potential to become the main opposition party. As a local SP leader said, “It is our duty to be the voice of resistance”. That would be the best outcome of the elections. A new developing union militancy around a campaign for a 3% wage increase and no job losses, the stronger support for the SP at local level and the growing mood against racism, all point to positive changes.

But to capitalise fully on this, the Dutch Socialist Party needs to adopt bold socialist policies. The SP has risen in the polls before only to sharply fall again after it disappointed workers by not putting forward a clear socialist alternative. The party needs to clearly reject any notion of joining with cuts-making parties in coalitions, either locally or nationally. The SP needs to campaign against cuts and to aim to win power on the basis of majority support and with a socialist programme. A big change in the internal life of the SP is needed for this to happen – ending the highly centralised, top-down control and building a party that is democratic and combative and therefore attractive to greater numbers of workers and youth.

Dutch Local Election Results

Local parties won 33% of the votes. The Christian Democratic Appeal became the largest party nationally, getting 14% of the votes. D66 (Liberal Democrats) and SP (Socialist Party) also saw significant rises compared to the 2010 elections, getting 12% and 7% respectively. The VVD (National Liberals), although still ranked third nation-wide, lost significantly compared to the 2010 elections, winning 12% of the votes. The undisputed loser of the elections, however, was the PvdA (Labour Party), getting 10% of the votes and losing its majority in Amsterdam. This means that losses were heavy for the parties that form the national government, the VVD and the Labour Party.

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March 2014