With a united left, the question of power automatically returns to the table: who will be greatest?

Attje Kuiken in conversation with the press after Saturday’s party council.Statue Freek van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

Almost 80 percent of the members of the PvdA and GroenLinks have elected a joint senate group. A large majority in the PvdA also wants a common list of candidates next year. This result shows that the PvdA is finally drawing the consequences of the political and electoral failure it has inflicted on itself.

That it was precisely old ‘prominent people’ who were the first to bear responsibility for this failure, who turned against the collaboration (O&D, 4 June) was something to think about. But now that Congress has put them in place, it seems that the Social Democrats are finally looking at drastically changing the political course. To the left it could be.

More about the author

Frans Leijnse has been a former parliamentarian and cabinet minister, Social Democrat and PvdA member for over 50 years.


One of the most touching moments in the docu-drama Fortune years is the scene in 2002 where Wim Kok calls on PvdA party leader Ad Melkert to fight Pim Fortuyn not on the content but on his populist-xenophobic rhetoric. Kok adds to the war, but the main thing seems to be that Fortuyn’s critique of ‘purples of Purple’ casts doubt on the social character of Kok’s regime, and it was unpleasant.

Fortuyn condemns the poor housing situation in many urban districts, the poverty and impoverishment, the poor integration of minorities and the degeneration of the government into a soulless bureaucracy. ‘He takes over our message’, says Melkert, but Kok knew that it was no longer the PvdA message.

What the PvdA may not have realized in the spring of 2002 is that Kok’s leadership had radically changed the party. Since 1989, the broad left-wing People’s Party with radical wing of Joop den Uyl had not only thrown its ‘ideological feathers’ at a rapid pace (dixit Kok), but also discarded the classic Social Democratic commitment to everyday problems.

Recognizable Social Democratic views on work, income, education, housing, welfare and health care were replaced by the general neoliberalism in the Ministry of Finance. The elite thought Kok was an excellent minister and prime minister, but did the ordinary left-wing voter think so too? No, as it turned out in 2002.

Nevertheless, after 2002, the PvdA never really had ‘resources’ for the radical Social Democratic principles. They were parked at the scientific bureau and politically ignored.

For example, the Middle School disappeared silently from the stage, and with it the pursuit of equal opportunities and liberation, and education became mainly subject to budget cuts. Thus, social benefits went from a ‘sign of civilization’ to an uncontrollable budget line. In this way, sheltered employment could be put on the market. For example, the party considered it more important to curb housing associations through large taxes than to build affordable social housing.


Radical views of society became politically naive and an obstacle to the acquisition of government power. Those who wanted serious social change left the party or disappeared in the margins. Management did not consider this a loss in connection with the ‘renewal’.

But a People’s Party needs radical views to formulate an appealing vision for the future and appeal to a broad electorate. For one must do something about it, the PvdA always had an administratively oriented current that kept the party at the center of politics (Drees, Den Uyl).

Voters vote for a party because of that balance: because of an attractive vision for the future, but also because it can acquire the power to really improve everyday life with that vision. If the vision of the future is lacking or, when power is conquered, it is replaced by neoliberal realpolitik, the voter loses his composure. So in 2017, the settlement follows and the PvdA will still have 9 of Joop den Uyl’s legacy of 52 parliamentary seats.

Break with the past

The historical significance of the decision made by PvdA members on Saturday lies in the break with this past: it is finally a first step back towards the broad left-wing People’s Party. After all, GroenLinks has long since ceased to be a narrow climate party.

Ever since Paul Rosenmöller and Femke Halsema, the GroenLinks repertoire has been expanded to include the classic social democratic themes such as work, income, education, housing, etc. The political differences are therefore no longer noticeable, certainly not for the voter. It is striking, however, that within GroenLinks as a party there is much more room for political debate, radicalism and dissent, and that there is less administrative cynicism and central discipline than in the PvdA.

Politically, a merger with GroenLinks would be a return to the broad ‘Uylsk’ social democracy for PvdA members, and at the same time it would make party democracy and culture significantly younger, more vibrant and more radical. The New Left has actually been revived.

power factor

Unfortunately, it is not there yet. First, there will be a common Senate group, preferably based on a common list of candidates. This creates a left-wing political power factor on the Hague scene. That faction could easily become the largest in the Senate.

After this, it becomes politically more and more inconvenient to make two voices heard in the House of Representatives. The political reality will force one to act more often with one spokesman and thus meet more often together. No longer just defensively, not to let you play apart, but also as a more offensive political strategy because of the opponent in the Senate.

This development automatically leads to the conclusion that we are entering the election to the House of Representatives in 2025 with a common list of candidates for the United Left. Whether the party organizations then follow quickly after (amalgamation) or slowly (federation) is of little importance. It may also come later, as the CDA showed earlier.

Voter polls (first, June 11) have now amply shown that only such a common list allows for significant gains for the left in the election. The reason is that only a united left can convincingly ask the question of power: who will be the largest party and who will lead the next government? After all, in addition to the content, that is what will ultimately move many voters: Will we give the left the chance to translate its radical ideas into a truly effective approach to the everyday problems of ordinary people? That’s Pim Fortuyn’s lesson.

Let’s hope that on Saturday a first signal was given that the PvdA and GroenLinks have finally learned that lesson. The members are apparently ready, now ‘prominent’ are still there.

Frans Leijnse is a former parliamentary and cabinet informer, social democrat for over 50 years and a member of the PvdA.

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