By Nicky Dempsey
Dutch voters go to the polls faced with a unique combination of the political and economic factors which have dominated Europe since the onset of the crisis.
As elsewhere, the right-wing coalition government collapsed after just two years over the implementation of austerity measures. The Netherlands is the only country in the so-called ‘core’ group of EU countries whose government has not adopted measures sufficient to support household incomes and consumption. As a result, there has been a general decline in living standards much greater than in the rest of the ‘core’ group.
Against this background there has been a rise in the popular support for the leftist Socialist Party (SP) which is opposed to plans to impose further cuts in government spending and tax increases on workers and the poor.
At various points this year the SP was ahead in the polls and looked set to become the largest party in the new Parliament. However, a number of more recent polls have it trailing behind both Liberal VVD and the PvdA Labour Party.
In particular a series of televised debates have been greeted with a chorus from the mainstream press that the debates have been won by Samsom, the leader of the Labour Party in a concerted effort to bolster its showing. By contrast, socialists and those battling against austerity will be hoping for a strong showing for the SP.
The offensive against the SP is important for three related reasons. First, Dutch governmental politics has for long been based on coalitions and it is vital for the continuation of current policies that the tame Blairite PvdA has a strong showing in order to play a role in government.
Secondly, a radical formation like the SP, which comes from the communist tradition and was formerly Maoist, cannot be allowed to supplant the PvdA as the main workers’ party over the medium-term.
Finally, under no circumstances could an anti-austerity party lead the government when it is imperative that all EU leaders agree with the need for further impositions on countries such as Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, with Spain or even Italy next in the firing line.
In fact there has been no major radicalisation in The Netherlands. The large strike wave of 2010 has been followed by a resumption of industrial quiet.
Opinion polls show that the overall support for the left, including the Green Left as well as the SP and PvdA has barely changed since the 2010 General Election at around 36 per cent. However, within that bloc, the SP has been able to make gains at the expense of both the other parties.
It is frequently asserted that Geert Wilders’ extreme racist and anti-Islamic PVV has been the major loser following its decision to quit the coalition government, as part of its posturing as an anti-austerity party.
But this may not be correct. Pollsters have shown highly divergent readings for all parties. Wilders’ support was trimmed as soon as the extreme racists entered government, but has barely changed and is now only recording support only two per cent or so below its 15.5 per cent support in 2010.
The PVV is highly unlikely to be invited to join the next coalition government. However, it will be then free to combine its anti-austerity posturing with increased attacks on immigrants and Muslims.
This highlights the real challenge facing the left in The Netherlands and beyond. Parties of the right will feed off the growing discontent of the mass of the population caused by declining living standards and direct it towards the most oppressed in society.
The alternative must contain a bolder economic programme which moves beyond opposing austerity towards solutions that transform the economic situation in favour of the working class and its allies. At the same time, the left must make no concession to racism, Islamophobia and other reactionary politics but confront these head on.