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The Dutch elections: From euphoria to red neoliberalism?

Hilde van der Pas describes how high hopes for a strong Socialist Party vote and a Labour majority gave way to a right dominated coalition with Labour, and draws out the options for the future

September 18, 2012
3 min read

Photo: harry_nl/Flickr

For a few months, it genuinely looked like the first left-wing government in over forty years would succeed the most right-wing government the Netherlands has had since the Second World War. The Socialist Party was historically high in the polls; expected to reach up to 20 per cent of total votes, and many left-leaning voters were said to be willing to strategically vote for the Socialist Party just to make sure that we could counter the neoliberal austerity policies implemented by the Rutte government.

The euphoria lasted until the campaigns officially started. Roemer, the leader of the Socialist Party, didn’t seem to be the dream candidate many of us had hoped for. He was unable to hold the floor, even though what he was saying was obviously right most of the time and people would consider him to be the most honest politician of all. Samsom, the leader of the Social Democrats (PvdA) did much better, coming across as a strong and charismatic debater who had no problems countering Rutte, especially with Roemer being much weaker and softer.

In the run up to the elections there was a clear scare-campaign being conducted by the biggest Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf, as well as VNO-NCW, the biggest employers’ organisation in the Netherlands. Their chairman, Wientjes, called the Socialist Party a disaster for the economy and employment, and stated that they have destroyed the so-called ‘poldermodel’. On 28 August, De Telegraaf headlined in the days leading up to the elections: ‘SOCIALIST PARTY COSTS JOBS’, on 29 August ‘ROEMER LIES’, and ‘THE LEFT KILLS SME’S’ on 11 September.

In the end it seemed like left-leaning voters played it safe and voted for Samsom. The Social Democrats gained 10 seats and is now at 39, and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) also gained 10 seats putting them at an historic 41 seats in parliament. This means that the most likely outcome will be a coalition between the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Social Democrats. On the other hand, the Socialist Party stayed at 15 seats and for the first time since entering the political arena, the Party For Freedom (a right-wing political party) lost seats, going from 24 to 15.

This outcome has led many to conclude that ‘the centre’ is back. But what they seem to forget is that the Social Democrats won with a clear left-wing message, with strong leanings toward the Socialist Party. At the same time, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy has adopted much of the language and ideas from the Party for Freedom.

The rise of populist right-wing parties in the Netherlands (first Pim Fortuyn and after that Wilders and his Freedom Party), like in other European countries, has partly been the effect of the ‘Purple’ cabinets from 1994 to 2002; which led people to believe that there really was no choice: voting for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy or the Social Democrats (the main parties in the purple coalition) would result in the same neoliberal policies. Now that both of them have been elected with clearly opposite messages and will have to form a coalition together, it seems like we’re going back to the nineties. The outcome of this ‘red neoliberalism’ will go one of two ways: a growing Socialist Party or a revival of right-wing extremism.

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