‘A country is more than a plc, politics is more than management’

16 September 2015

‘A country is more than a plc, politics is more than management’

Foto: SP

‘We must make fundamental choices. Stark differences of opinion between VVD and PvdA (centre-right and centre-left parties which together form the governing coalition – translator’s note) mean that this government, in crucial matters, cannot deliver. So it has become an obstacle. The gifts have all been handed out, the spark has gone out of them. To major questions such as inequality and unemployment. So you have become a hindrance.’ So said SP leader Emile Roemer during today’s debate on the government’s plans for the coming year. ‘If people want to build a society which is constructed on solidarity and trust, then we must and we will answer this call. A country is more than a plc, politics is more than management. After years of crisis we must make room for a new, social politics, in which we can offer people renewed security. Society is crying out for solutions to huge social questions.’

Below are the main points of Emile Roemer’s speech:

Last week we had a debate here over the huge numbers of refugees now arriving in Europe, or already in Europe, the thousands, tens of thousands knocking on Europe’s door, in flight from war and misery. They are escaping the refugee camps in the region because the situation there has become unbearable. There are shortages of everything, of food, clean water and education. What would we do if we had to sit there in one of these camps? The likelihood is great that we too would go in search of a better life.

Everyone is struggling with this problem, because it raises a lot of questions and a lot of concerns. But concerns mean nothing; what we need are solutions, however difficult and complicated.

Can the Prime Minister tell us what was discussed in Brussels last Monday in relation to the reception of refugees?

And can he tell us how it is that the Minister of Foreign Affairs can speak of a tragic outcome, while the Prime Minister is quite content?

Was more discussed than the proposal that we accept 40,000 people, an agreement that had already been concluded in July?

Is it true that agreements have been reached aimed at quickly improving reception facilities in the region? What actions will be taken in the days to come, then, in order to achieve this?

If people want to build a society constructed on solidarity and trust, then we must and we will answer this call.

How we are dealing with the rapidly growing number of refugees is a symbol of the impasse in which European and Dutch politicians find themselves. So many tragedies, so much human suffering demands not squabbling amongst ourselves, but measures to be taken, solutions. To tackle the stream of refugees, we need to improve reception facilities in the region and not leave people who are here to their fate.

I hope that the Prime Minister is going to tell us that something is going to happen today and not sometime in October.

That brings me to our situation here in our own country.

Roemer goes on to criticise the government over a number of domestic issues: their claims to have returned to the top of the European economic league, or close to it, were undermined by the state Central Planning Bureau, which said the country continues to lag; their further claim that the country’s wealth was now more evenly divide was also demonstrably false, when people on relatively high incomes had seen those incomes rise much faster than those on the minimum wage; and their boast that they would hold to the same course, when that course had proved so disastrous.

The country was crying out for a more social policy. Instead they were faced with:

A process of privatisation, marketisation, and liberalisation of the public sector; a process of growing inequality and increasing conflict in society; with a devaluing of the role of the community and the divorce of responsibility from politics.

What price has been paid for these policies? In health care they had led to the erosion of solidarity, to higher costs and even more bureaucracy, Roemer says.

What does this mean for pride in one’s work? And for the relation with the patient? What are the consequences for people’s conditions of service and their working conditions? What influence do people have over important economic decisions? And what’s left of our democracy, of people’s control over their living and working environment?

The market was suitable for many products, he continued, but

You can’t organise society via the market. The market knows no morality, no public interest and no solidarity. In a society, profit and greed should not be the main driving forces, but the public interest. Here short-term profit must not take centre-stage, but the sustainability of public services and their ability to serve the people.

Look around you – and see what has been done. A financial sector which is out of control, which has cost people billions and disrupted society; a ruined health-care system, in which health insurers are taking the place of doctors; where ever more people are losing the right to health care, or cannot afford urgently needed treatment.

Also on Emile Roemer’s list were what he said was the total mess made of the housing associations, which has contributed to

…rapidly growing inequality. 10% of Dutch people own more than 66% of the wealth. 60% have together less than 1%; more than 400,000 children live below the poverty line; more and more people suffer under towering debt; unemployment is increasing greatly, a government of ‘work, work, work’ has allowed unemployment to grow by 100,000 in three years. Ever fewer people have a secure job. Since the outbreak of the crisis in 2008, the number (of employees) with a fixed contract has decreased by 600,000. Young people, 18-year-olds, fired from supermarkets and told that they are too dear. That at 18 they’re too old!

Meanwhile we are seeing new developments in society. Society doesn’t stand still, but wants to move. Ever more people are understanding that a society can’t be built on egoism and self-interest, but revolves around concern for others and trust in each other.

That’s a mentality which we in politics should embrace and support. Increasing numbers of people have had enough of machismo and of managers who tell them why things can’t be achieved, who make them feel as if their opinions counted for nothing. Society is crying out for a social politics, which values people’s experience and puts its trust in people who know how to get what they want.

Without trust that won’t work, however. Trust of people in each other – and in the society; that we can count on the health care we need and on good education; that we can live in a safe neighbourhood and trust in a dignified old age.

Trust in an economy with real jobs, in which people can be reliably employed in an enterprise which is also theirs; trust that with a normal job you can make ends meet; that you will be valued for your work; that the boss doesn’t earn a hundred times more than you do; and where those who need a sheltered workplace will have that possibility.

Roemer goes on to call for a response to people’ calls for change, improvement and a more people-centred social approach to health care, education and policing, which respects in each case the workers in those sectors and provides the service that people want to see. Alongside this must come badly-needed reforms to the system of taxation:

The vast majority of the population wants to see a green system, one which makes our economy more sustainable and our country cleaner. But above all a fair system which makes the gap between rich and poor not bigger, but smaller. But what can these people expect from a government which refuses to introduce a decent tax on great wealth?

And isn’t it about time that the biggest firms, which profit in abundance from all of the services in our country, at last began to pay a fair share of the costs?

The SP’s plan is to introduce a ‘millionaire tax’ from next year, ensuring that those with the very highest incomes contribute to the cost of our country’s services.

A lower rate of VAT, Roemer says, would boost people’s purchasing power and stimulate the economy benefiting small firms in particular and bringing more jobs. He then turned to the environment:

People don’t want to see the planet damaged by oil, oceans polluted by plastic. They want political decision-makers to come up with something that will mean clean energy and less pollution. Yet that isn’t happening, or nowhere near enough. The laws of the market seem increasingly to stand in the way of the democratic will towards a sustainable society.

Society is seeking a sustainable source of energy while political decision-makers search, on behalf of major energy corporations, for further supplies of nineteenth Century energy sources. Our brightest minds aren’t looking to sustainable energy, but for sources of energy in the Arctic. Russia is sending war ships to the area, because they too want to claim their slice. How nineteenth century do you want it?

What’s needed is a government that has the courage to take the step to sustainability.

But we could make a start next year by ensuring that it isn’t only ordinary citizens, but also major consumers who pay a decent level of tax on the energy they use.

We can carry on waiting, but we could also move into action.

Roemer then turns to security issues, criticising the government for spending cuts which have led to deteriorating police pay and conditions and commend it for following the SP’s advice and reversing cuts in spending on the security services.

At the same time we can see that cooperation between security forces in Europe is as ramshackle as ever. Those who perpetrated the attacks in Paris, Copenhagen and Brussels, and most recently on the Thalys (high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris – translator’s note) were all known to the security services. Yet they could board a bus and a train with a Kalashnikov, and walk straight into a Jewish museum and an editorial meeting of a satirical weekly. We won’t catch Jihadists with detection gates for trains, but with well-equipped intelligence services who work optimally with services in other countries.

Roemer then returns to the subject of health care, where 800,000 people – out of a total population of just under 17 million – have signed a ‘Save health care’ petition demanding just the opposite of the increased marketisation that the government wants to see.

Switching subjects again, the SP leader criticised the failure to protect whistle-blowers:

The human scale must return to politics. And if something somewhere goes awry, people deserve our protection. And we can give it. Parliament voted across the board in favour of our proposal to offer better protection to whistle-blowers and make it possible to hold an independent enquiry into abuses.

SP proposals to tackle bonuses, reduce the influence of consultants over the government and limit top incomes in the public sector meet with ever growing support. They can even count on the prime minister’s support.

That’s great, but still not enough to win people back. More is needed for that. Bankers have destroyed people’s trust in the financial sector, yet these bankers are now, in our country, richer than ever.

Roemer complains of the explosion of bureaucracy in the public sector, and notes that ‘health care manager’ is the country’s fastest growing profession, and that party political appointments are now ’the order of the day’.

The SP leader approached his conclusion, saying that:

We stand at a crossroads. We must make fundamental choices. Stark differences of opinion between VVD and PvdA mean that this government, in crucial matters, cannot deliver. So it has become an obstacle. The gifts have all been handed out; the spark has gone out of them. To major questions such as inequality and unemployment, this government has no answer, so you have become a hindrance.

Society needs a government with an awareness of new social developments, of the need for social security, a society in which employers and workers look to invest in each other. And people want to take care of each other.

If one in five seniors is looking for the safety and security of a companionable retirement home, then we’ll ensure that such homes are available.

If thousands of workers are in need of a sheltered workplace, we’ll make sure that there are such workplaces.

And if we find that some children in the class need extra attention and guidance, then we must give teachers the chance to offer this – and schools the resources to pay for it.

If we find it unacceptable that in a wealthy country like the Netherlands, 400,000 children are living below the poverty line, then we will deal with that.

And if people want to tackle growing inequality, then we must heed this call – and reduce the differences.

If people want to build a society which is constructed on solidarity and trust, then we must and we will heed this call.

We are ready to do so.

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