XXIst Congress: We’ll do it
XXIst Congress: We’ll do it
Who’ll be the new party president? To outsiders, it seems that this is all the twenty-first SP Congress is about. And the departure of Jan Marijnissen, of course. But the nine hundred and forty SP representatives are gathered in the De Fabrique conference centre in Utrecht on 28th November to decide the party’s future. The contest between the two candidates to succeed Jan certainly gives a big push to the discussion around that future.
The venue for the conference, the events locale ‘De Fabrique' on the border between the towns of Maarssen and Utrecht, stimulates the imagination. The platform behind the stage puts one in mind of a heavy industrial landscape such as that around the chemical plant DSM in South Limburg or the Botlek tanker terminal in Rotterdam. The hall, in which almost a thousand people take their seats, looks also, with those tapered steel rafters in the ceiling, a bit like the upside down hold of a cargo ship. The Limburg SP representative Marleen van Rijnsbergen sends a photo of the place by twitter, receiving a reaction a couple of seconds later: ‘Have a good time in Battlestar Galactica'.
Continuing to make a difference
Fortunately things aren’t so futuristic during the XXIst Congress itself. Two hundred and thirty-seven amendments and nineteen motions, submitted by the party’s branches, would be voted on simply by sticking your hand in the air holding your voting card. Nevertheless, today is about the future. The future of the SP, and of the Netherlands, of Europe and the world. Issues and structures of increasing complexity; the growing gap between rich and poor, sick and well; migration flows; conflicts getting out of hand,; terrorism: in finding a solution to these problems, the SP wants to continue to make a difference. And the party will embark on that mission with a new executive and a new party president.
Always lead the way
It’s this Congress that sees the departure of Jan Marijnissen as party president. Despite all of the applause and the lengthy, rolling standing ovations, gratitude is the Leitmotiv of Jan Marijnissen’s short speech. Gratitude to his wife and daughter, Mari-Anne and Lilian, to his old comrades from Oss. And to the party. The party which, on the contrary, has so much to thank him for.
His leaving present suits him: a sum of money to make a documentary film. And a book, produced in the deepest secrecy and presented to him today, 'Altijd vooroplopen' – Always lead the way - on the Marijnissen era. A book that’s also given to everyone at the congress.
Future-proofing the party
The basis of the discussion at this congress is a resolution embracing decisions which have already been discussed for months in meetings of members and at regional conferences. On the basis of these discussions, adjustments are made. The congress is the place where branches and members who support amendments which have not yet been adopted can propose these to the delegates. There are also eighteen motions, proposals which don’t represent direct amendments to the resolution.
The proposals put forward by the branches to future-proof the party and ensure that it’s ready for the present day’s complex tasks comprise many elements. The Goes branch, for example, wants to see the number of members needed to establish a new branch reduced from fifty to thirty-five, in order to encourage growth by lowering the quantitative bar. De Bilt wants less use of words like 'aanvallen' (attack or challenge) and 'strijd' (fight or struggle) in SP publications, with the aim of making the party more approachable. And from Rotterdam comes the wish that the party operate ‘more intelligently and more effectively’. Whatever else, growth and strengthening form the biggest common denominators in the branches’ expressed wishes. The necessity is clear, the optimism great, as demonstrated by amendment 163 which was submitted by some forty branches and which included a doubling of the budget for ROOD, the SP youth organisation. To show that the youth were in earnest about this, many at the congress had the number 163 scribbled on their faces. Pretty? Not really. Effective? For sure, because the amendment is adopted to thunderous applause.
Another exceptional proposal which is adopted is the call for an annual peace day. Members and branches want the struggle waged by the recently deceased Karel Koster, of the party’s research department, to continue – the fight for international cooperation and peace, and for increasing the awareness of this. For this reason a peace day will be organised annually, together with SP branches and other organisations.
In the end 237 proposed amendments are adopted by the congress committee, nine are withdrawn and votes are takes on 152. Two of these are adopted against the advice of the congress committee: a proposal to give sustainable development a more prominent place in the resolution, and a proposal to bring a number of points together in a new chapter, ‘Creative and determined struggles and gains’.
Of the nineteen motions, one is withdrawn; from the eighteen which come to the vote, seven are adopted. The adopted motions concern amongst other things the war in Syria and Iraq, the refugees, the need to pay ample attention to sustainability, and a call on the government to halt cuts in spending on home helps and home nursing.
The new party president
And then indeed comes the election of the party president. As the result is read out, the professional smile (the horde of photographers and camera people are doing their utmost) from both Sharon Gesthuizen and Ron Meyer can’t completely hide their pounding hearts or the tension visible in their hands. Everything had been said, and often: two outstanding candidates, both of them SP through and through. Yet also indeed two SP activists who in the last few months have each developed their own style. Something has to give. And then the person in charge of the voting process, Remine Alberts, pronounces judgment. It’s Ron Meyer. With a little under 59% of the votes, the congress has elected Meyer to the position of president of the SP. In the chaos in the front row in front of the podium, Gesthuizen offers him her hearty congratulations. Meyer struggles past the pushing and pulling photographers, to receive congratulations from Jan Marijnissen, Emile Roemer and many others, and climbs up on to the podium.
‘Shoulder to shoulder’
In his speech, Mayer says: “To be elected party president in a factory full of socialists is an unbelievable honour. This means that I have to be modest, but it also means enormous effort and a commitment to serve. In the time to come I’m going to keep this up, together with you.’ On the contest with Sharon Gesthuizen, he has this to say: “Fellow party members, some of you will have had a different view. There have been sharp debates, sometimes razor-sharp, even occasionally too sharp. Let’s agree one thing. When shortly we leave through the gates of this factory, we’ll do it shoulder to shoulder. Because if one thing is clear, then it is that at the end of the day we have far more in common than divides us.” Meyer argues that a powerful SP is desperately needed. “It isn’t normal that a million people are hardly able to pay their health insurance; it isn’t normal that people waiting for affordable housing are played off against people fleeing from their home.” The hall applauds amid chants of “action, action, action!”
Later, after the end of the congress, Gesthuizen shows what a good loser she is – or rather, with some 41% of the votes, a second winner – and congratulates Meyer once again. “I don’t begrudge Ron his victory,” she says. “I’ve also got every confidence that he will match his words with deeds. Through the contest for president we have more than ever had an open discussion about where we want to go. I’m going also to assume that the new party executive, including Ron, will be listening to the people behind that 41%. Now we’re going to go forward together; by taking each other seriously we’ll forge the unity which the SP needs in order to change the world.” Gesthuizen will be happy with Meyer’s answer to the question of what was the very first thing he would do as president. “Listen,” he says. “People will still be thinking, ’what is this Meyer, so quiet?’ In the last few months I’ve been to a hundred branches. I see a great deal of strength in the branches. And criticism is part of that strength. My presidency begins above all with listening.”
‘Courage is resistance to fear’
SP leader Emile Roemer gives the closing address of the congress. Roemer says that he is aware that there seems to be little reason for optimism in the world: “No end to the conflict can be brought about in Syria just by dropping more bombs. For fifteen years it’s been shown that the aggressive intervention policy has been counterproductive. All it’s done is open the door to extremism and terror.” Of the results of that terror, Roemer says “’We must build dikes of courage to hold back the floods of fear.’ Those are the words of Martin Luther King, one of my greatest sources of inspiration. Courage is more than confronting your own fears, courage is about defeating fear; about resisting fear and winning out over uncertainty.” For the members whose proposals called for putting more distance between ourselves and the far right PVV, Roemer has a message. “Of course we’re not going to cooperate with extreme right and discriminatory parties such as the PVV!”
The SP can certainly cooperate, Roemer says, as other parties have noticed. We show ourselves to be “a reliable partner. But we do make a difference. Tackle local poverty, provide additional affordable rental housing, combat youth unemployment; home-based care is better where there’s an SP member on the council’s executive; on the local level, we prove things can be done differently. In less than a year and a half we’ll be having the next parliamentary general election; perhaps indeed earlier, if the government slips on a banana skin, which I’d love to put in its path. Today you’ve shown that we are ready for the next battle. We’re going to grow, we’re going to fight, and we’re going to win!”
New members of the party executive
The following people were elected or re-elected to the party executive:
- Ron Meyer (President)
- Hans van Heijningen (General Secretary)
- Rosita van Gijlswijk
- Maarten Hijink
- Bart van Kent
- Renske Leijten
- Vincent Mulder
- Ronald van Raak
- Tjitske Siderius
- Pim Siegers
- Lieke Smits
- Arjan Vliegenthart
- Patrick Zoomermeijer
In addition to these people, the party executive is made up of regional representatives elected at the regional conferences, and ex-officio members: the SP political group presidents from both houses of the national Parliament (Lower House and Senate) and the European Parliament.