SP's new course will be more controversial

11 March 2008

SP's new course will be more controversial

The SP spent the year following its huge electoral success of November, 2006 in a period of reflective self-assessment, and is now ready to take on the government and to explain itself through the media and to the people. The government should not expect to be able to count on kind treatment. “From now on we are not going to be doing them any favours,” says SP leader Jan Marijnissen in this recent interview with the financial and business daily, Financieele Dagblad.

Jan Marijnissen

You have announced that you will wage constructive opposition. What are the merits of Balkenende's fourth government? (1)

At the start the cabinet borrowed much of the SP's vocabulary and analysis, such as the need for solidarity and community spirit. Since then it has been a great disappointment. The first hundred days it was like the school holidays, and nothing was achieved. And now it's once again lights out and silence. I can't name any policy area where anything has been achieved. Yes, okay, Cramer, the Environment Minister, pursues policies different to those of her predecessors, but the Neighbourhoods Minister, Vogelaar, is nothing but misunderstandings queuing up for their turn. Bos, Finance Minister, is doing next to nothing about the highest incomes and Donner is a disaster for Social Affairs. Really I don't see any worthy performance amongst them.

Ideal for the opposition. But what then have you achieved?

We've needed to take a year out for internal reflection. Twenty-five MPs, of whom seventeen are new, have had to find their place. We have been less visible, but will now put our efforts into a different course. This will be more controversial. It wouldn't have been fair to be tabling motions of no confidence in the cabinet from day one. We have been respectful, but this accommodating attitude is at an end. We are going to be coming to Parliament with our own plans. We won't be doing any more favours. Playtime is over.

Are you seeking a constructive cooperation with the PvdA (Labour Party) Parliamentary group?

This is going to be more difficult than when we were both in opposition. They didn't go along with their allies even when it came to organising an EU referendum.(2) The PvdA is following exactly the same policies as those of previous cabinets. Labour has become interchangeable with the VVD. They've turned nothing around.

If you had been in the governing coalition would the outcome as regards the EU referendum and the mission to Afghanistan not have turned out differently?(3)

Haven't you done your homework? Balkenende did not want to be in the minority with his Christian Democrat (CDA) ministers. For that reason the SP wasn't a suitable coalition partner. In the end we turned out to have twenty-five clear points of disagreement, moreover.

Then what are you achieving now?

There have never been so many motions and amendments from us which have been adopted by Parliament as in recent times.

Are your motions and amendments now more aimed at finding a consensus?

No, that's not the case. The rewards of opposition are greater because they can no longer ignore us. Certainly we're prepared to win ten points where we were wanting twenty. But we're not going to surrender our position in order to win a majority.

What would an SP Finance Minister have done differently to Bos?

We would also take 2% growth as our starting point and not budget on the cautious basis of 1.5%. But Bos's spending on education and health care is a long way from adequate. More money must be put into these. We would aim for an expenditure-neutral budget.

So taxes would go up?

I've never heard anyone on the shop floor complain about the difference between their gross and net wage. In general people in the Netherlands don't have any objection to paying taxes. I've never heard, either, a worker complain about social charges. People have always understood that tax moneys are needed if we are to have benefits. But they don't want the income from taxes to be wasted.

What have you to offer, then, to the hard-working Netherlands?

Everyone works hard. If you don't, you get fired. People want to live free of worries. They find it important to have good care for their children and parents, and in addition to have security with regard to their homes and secure livelihoods. There is now a total fixation on economic growth: the rate of employment must be raised, part-time workers must become full-time workers. Because of this we are putting everything out to tender: care for children, for disabled people, for old people, we're even putting food out to tender. Does this make you a more complete person? I want the organisation of health care, education, emergency services, assistance and contacts to be returned to the neighbourhoods.

A party with 25 seats is different from a party with nine seats. You are contending with the criticism and responsibility proper to a bigger party.

This last year has been a learning process. The media have torn into us. It is good that a party which has taken such a leap should be pursued critically. We have nothing to hide.

What are the risks of growth?

The threat of parliamentarianism. We have now got hundreds of local councillors. You have to watch out that you don't lose yourselves in local authority politics and administration and become just like the others. We arm new councillors and new branches against this. Every SP member must have the ability to be self-critical, to ask him- or herself, “What is the gain from what I am doing?” And the party isn't a vehicle for personal careers.

Doesn't growth also brings differences of opinion, and factions?

We're a model of unity. This grows out of the SP's ideological-philosophical character. We have twenty-five basic values, such as equality of worth of all people, and solidarity. We test these continually in practice.

This seems a paradox. The SP is strongly ideological and also pragmatic?

That is an important part of our ideology, the primacy of the practice is always above the theory. Positions and ideas have to work well in practice. We examine this continually.

In what areas can we expect a revision of positions?

In relation to integration, the struggle against traffic congestion, and personal security. In these instances we are holding our present positions up to the light and taking a good look at them. In recent years we have not been sufficiently present when it comes to these policy areas.

This is a translation of an interview which first appeared in the Financieele Dagblad, 14 February 2008.

  1. Jan Peter Balkenende has now been Prime Minister of four separate coalition governments in the last six years: a short-lived coalition between his party, the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the right wing populists of the LPF; a coalition with liberals of right (VVD) and centre (D66) from 2003-2006; a short-lived minority coalition of CDA and VVD, which followed the resignation of D66 ministers in mid-2006; and the current coalition with Labour and the small centrist Christian Union.
  2. Labour supported the calling of a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty when in opposition, then campaigned for a yes, a recommendation which most of its supporters rejected. It has refused to back calls for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
  3. Following the elections of November 2006, the SP, as the third biggest party in Parliament, had a right to be invited to coalition talks with the biggest party, the CDA. Although the differences between the parties were much too great for any coalition to succeed, the media used the process to attempt to discredit the SP, making it out to be unduly uncompromising. The questioner is here suggesting that the SP might have achieved more in government than out of it, for example keeping Dutch troops out of Afghanistan, a military adventure which the party has vigorously opposed.

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