SP leader Agnes Kant kicks off election campaign at National Congress

30 January 2010

SP leader Agnes Kant kicks off election campaign at National Congress

"The cabinet is ready to burst apart," SP leader Agnes Kant told 1200 members assembled this weekend for the SP's 16th National Congress in Rotterdam. "The chance that the Netherlands will go to the polls not once but twice this year is great," Kant said, referring to the possibility that local elections in March will be followed by an early general election later in the year.

Agnes Kant

Agnes Kant's speech is summarised below:

Today we've had a really good Congress. And we stand at the beginning of a special period. In the next year-and-a-half there will be three chances for change. In March, the local elections. Next year the Provincial elections, and then the parliamentary elections. Although these could come much earlier, because the internal tensions within the cabinet are growing, and the cabinet is ready to bust apart. The conclusions of the Davids Commission regarding the support for the war in Iraq are hard to dodge. And within the governing Christian Democrats and the other parties which supported the war, they have gone off like a bomb. The very first press conference after the report's publication almost led to a cabinet crisis. This promises somewhat more, should the debate lead to the need to apportion actual responsibility for this disgrace. Our country put its name to an illegal, criminal war. Someone must indeed be responsible!

Another political hot potato is Afghanistan. It is disappointing to see President Obama continuing this disastrous and hopeless war. He is sending still more soldiers, so the war will go on. More soldiers mean more violence, more resistance and more civilian victims. Our soldiers must come home from Afghanistan. Support Afghanistan - Stop the war!

The third stumbling block for the coalition is the massive sum by which they want to reduce spending. In this, nothing is excluded. There is absolutely no taboo. Or is there? Well, perhaps just a little one... We must not take anything away from those who have profited most in the last few years, and who could therefore certainly spare it.

Countless people have enriched themselves. Salaries and bonuses at the highest level are through the roof. Or take the multinationals. The higher their profits, the lower their taxes. That's when they pay them at all. Lost of firms which consist of nothing more than a post office box, but also Philips, Unilever and Shell pay hardly any tax on their profits. Not for nothing has Obama called our country a tax haven.

Why, Prime Minister, do you not have the people who share responsibility for the crisis pay for it?
Why do you let those who caused it go free, why don't you put an end to the bonus culture? Why don't you have the courage to ask those who can spare it to make a contribution? Why are you cutting spending on education and health care, and even on home nursing services?

This year you will make cuts of 90 million on these services. When we can all see and hear, and we all know, that health care is already gravely short of funds? Mr Prime Minister, with your Christian values of 'love thy neighbour', how can you still look in the mirror? Can you still sleep? Can you still look our old people in the eye?

Over one measure for the future, at least, is the cabinet in agreement, and that is the raising of the pension age. Labour leader Wouter Bos says in his defence, "Be happy that we are doing it. With a different cabinet it would be much worse." Well, Wouter Bos, that depends of course on who you choose for your political friends.

If you can and wish to work for longer? Great, go ahead. But we do not accept that the legacy of Drees (Labour Prime Minister of the late 1940s and 1950s under whose rule a strong welfare state was developed – translator's note) should be thrown out with the trash. We are a civilised country, and that means that we accord old people the peaceful life to which they have a right. That's why we say: 65 stays... 65!

For the last twenty-five years the cabinet has been a changing compilation of Christian Democrats, right-wing liberals, Labour and centrist liberals.

And just as before, with this cabinet income differentials will widen. Just as before, organised solidarity will de further eroded. And just as before, the public sector will be given over ever more to the market. And just as before, with this cabinet private wealth and public squalor will grow.

As the first and only political party who as early as the 1990s named, investigated and criticised neoliberalism, we took a stand against it. We presented alternatives. And in the mean time no-one can deny it: neoliberalism has failed.

Yet since awakening from the neoliberal nightmare, the politicians responsible have not sought an alternative for what has failed. Now the stock exchanges are picking up, the urgency for change is disappearing over the horizon.

Or might the Labour Party still see the light? In a speech this week, Wouter Bos appeared to distance himself from neoliberalism. He said that capitalism works in a disruptive way on society. He said that public interests must be protected from the market. And the question of social division is, as far as he is concerned, back on the agenda. So he says.

Fine new words, but the question is, will they be followed by new deeds? Saying is still not doing. We have two Labour leaders, two Wouter Bosses. The ‘media Bos’ and the ‘minister Bos’, and one of them says something different to what the other does.... ‘Media Bos’ says that bringing the market into health care hasn't worked out well. But 'minister Bos’ voted not long ago to bring the market into hospitals. ‘Media Bos’ says that you should demand more from those on the highest incomes and that the question of social division is back on the agenda. ‘Minister-Bos’ does nothing about the bonuses and makes cuts in the care allowance for those on the lowest incomes.

Will the real Wouter Bos please stand up?

The question now is, is all of this merely a camouflage suit that after the election will be once again removed? I hope not. Because this would offer opportunities for the future, chances which the Labour Party had in the past allowed to go by. The chance to combine social forces. The chance of a more humane society. The chance to put an end to years of right-wing liberalism. But for that to happen, Labour must show courage and must choose. Let's work together on the reconstruction of this country. Let's offer an alternative to yet another right-wing government.

We're ready!

The present crisis proves that fundamental change is truly needed. We have I-Phones, and now an I-Pad, but offering decent care to our grandmothers and grandfathers, that can't be done. A rocket has gone to the moon to see whether there's water there, but delivering clean water to everyone on the earth, that's asking too much. We can make advanced armaments, but we can't use advanced technologies to get rid of hunger in the world. Reckless bankers, instigators of the crisis, continue to dish out ample bonuses to each other. While partly as a result of their behaviour, between 200.000 and 400.000 children are added to the total of those who will die in poor countries. Profit maximisation, greed, and a fixation on the short term are the characteristics of recent times. This has not led us to a better world. It has led us to a crisis and diminished our faith in a better future.

Our choice is not for further cuts in social security. The SP is for a solidarity tax of 60% on the highest incomes. Not for cuts in health care, in education or policing. The SP is for a levy on banks. The banks are going to repay the costs of the social damage which they have caused. We want to see an end to a system which means the more you earn, the more mortgage relief you are entitled to, to the subsidy on expensive mansions. Our choice is not for running down services in the neighbourhoods, and therefore not for cuts in local authority funding. The SP is for a tax on profits and property, one which is reasonable and fair.

We are for a future in which people are concerned about more than their own interests.
We are for a future based on solidarity.
We are for a future in which growing prosperity will be put at the service of the wellbeing of all, in which good education and good health care are seen as investments in our civilisation.
We are for a future in which poverty will be combated, and everyone will be given a fair chance.
We are for a future in which the free market is curbed, so that it no longer leads to the exploitation of people and of the environment.
We are for a future in which the government does not look away, but sees people's problems as its own, and tackles them.

In our future democracy means more than going to the polls once every four years. We will give people a say in running their own neighbourhoods, and workers a say in running their firms. People who, with us, want to see such a future, regard us as their most important ally in the struggle for a better world. These people have placed their hopes in us. That gives us a huge responsibility. That's why we are active in neighbourhoods and workplaces, in schools and hospitals and clinics, that's why we are there at the side of police officers and youth workers. To listen to the problems, the experiences, the opinions and ideas of these people, and to base our proposals on what we hear.

From the numerous surveys which we have conducted in the public sector, the following points invariably stand out.

Put a stop to bureaucracy. To organised mistrust. Trust the workers, respect their professional pride. Put a stop to market-think and dehumanisation. Abolish layers of management. Put a stop to ever-increasing scale, and go instead for a human scale. And above all, put a stop the cuts and thus to decreasing provision and quality.

This cabinet has handed over control of the public sector - of health care, education, public transport, the police.

We will not allow ourselves to say that we are not interested in the things which belong to us all. We will take our education system back; we will take our policing back; we will take our public transport back; and we will take our health care back! Just as we have done with the home help service.

Agnes Kant then turned to electoral opponents, noting that the centre-right VVD, the centrist D66, and the far right PVV all belonged to the same neoliberal family, that their proposed solutions were in each case in keeping with neoliberalism.

Referring to the leader of the right-wing populist PVV, she said:

Let's not forget that Wilders came out of the stable of the VVD. Wilders' PVV stands for cuts to child benefits, against income-based health insurance premiums, for the abolition of development aid to the world's poorest countries. And against any attempt to deal with the question of mortgage relief. Even mortgage relief for the very biggest mansions.
I understand that people are looking for an outlet for their anger. For years their problems with nuisance in their neighbourhoods have been ignored. These problems must be addressed and solved. people have a right to peace in the places where they live. But you won't achieve that by setting people against each other and widening the differences between them. That is what Wilders systematically does. Geert Wilders pushes whole groups of the population away.

The PVV looks for scapegoats. The SP looks for solutions. The PVV is the party of censure, the party of hatred. The SP is the party of hope and of change.

The SP leader concluded by saying that the SP was "ready" – for the big campaigns to come, for the local elections, for the general election, ready to offer sturdy opposition to "cuts in social security, services in the neighbourhoods, in health care and education, in policing." Ready, too, to govern:

We are ready - after the coming elections - to take part in government to work together on the social reconstruction of the Netherlands.

Let's now look each other in the eye and face this: if we don't do it, who will? We are the hope for change. That creates an enormous responsibility, but it is one with which we can and will engage.

You – I – We – are ready!

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