October 1st, 2012 • In a packed meeting room in De Moed, the new party headquarters in Amersfoort, the SP party council evaluated the recent election campaign. There was criticism and self-criticism, the most important amongst which was that the SP had been too cautious. There were compliments for Emile Roemer and for the host of active members.
An exciting campaign such as last month’s demands thorough analysis. During the last couple of weeks, in SP branches throughout the country, what went well and what did not go well have been reflected upon. The branch chairs brought this understanding along with them to the Party Council. While other parties conduct their post mortems behind closed doors and in committees far from the public eye, in the SP the media are always welcome.
Emile Roemer took it upon himself to answer questions and respond to remarks from the members of the party council. He was also self-critical, admitting that ‘the high poll ratings had a paralysing effect on me. I didn’t want to blow our lead and so didn’t want to make any mistakes. That’s why I myself, and we in the campaign, were too cautious.’ The branch chairs clearly agreed. When it turned out that the SP would have to take on the PvdA, the differences between the parties were insufficiently recognisable as a result of this cautious approach. One of the participants in the debate said that we wanted so badly to show that we were ready to govern, we forgot to remain ourselves.
A loss of control
A painful point for many was the amendment to our standpoint on the AOW, the state pension, a matter which took many members by surprise during the campaign itself. Contrary to the election manifesto, it appeared that that the SP had, prior to the evaluation by the Central Planning Bureau, added an adjustment, by which older people with a reasonable income would receive a rather lower pension. The party was accused of doing a U-turn, and the members didn’t know what to reply. On this point too, Roemer was self-critical. ‘There was a situation arising in which the governing parties and those which supported their austerity programme were forcing through the rapid increase to the pension age. We wanted to put that right in order to spare people in less well-paid and heavy work. Where we went wrong was that we didn’t bring this to the fore ourselves and so handed the pass to the government. Because the people who accused us of doing a U-turn didn’t at the same time admit that we were the only party that set aside 1.7 billion in order to spare those in heavy jobs.’
Criticism and compliments
A number of small, yet no less informative for that, critical points arose during the discussion. The poster of Emile which could not be seen clearly from a distance, the lack of TV ads, too few substantive election flyers, the underestimation of the effects of the second screen in televised debates, by which well-organised Labour and Liberal party people were able to influence the scores and thus the image in the media. But there were also many compliments paid: to Roemer, for example, for the way in which he repackaged himself in such difficult circumstances. For the party office, where this time the logistics were accurate and rapid. And for the SP members throughout the country, who distributed a record number of flyers, promotional sponges and other materials.
A robust but positive evaluation. Numerous branch chairs said that the fact that during the campaign so many enthusiastic new members had joined formed a fine basis for strengthening the party still further. Roemer recalled this when he came to answer. ‘This campaign has made me, Emile Roemer, and the SP, stronger, tougher and more militant,’ he said. The fact that Roemer himself, in front of the media, answered members’ criticisms of a disappointing campaign, is therefore significant. At the end of his performance, he received as a result thunderous applause from those present.