Dutch Socialists Struggle to Claim Mantle of Left-Wing Purists

The far-left Socialists attempt to distinguish themselves from Labor by ruling out a coalition with the right.

The Dutch Socialist Party has ruled out joining a government led by the liberal prime minister, Mark Rutte, after the election in March, saying the differences between them are too great.

On everything from labor policy to health care to taxes, the two could hardly be further apart.

But that didn’t stop the Socialists from leaving open the possibility of forming a government with Rutte fours years ago.

The difference is that their competitor on the left, the Labor Party, formed a coalition with the liberals in 2012 instead. Now the Socialists seek to claim the mantle of left-wing purists.

Swipe at Labor

Labor is down in the polls, but the Socialists haven’t been able to draw many disaffected leftists to their side. They hover around fifteen seats in the polls, which is how many they have now. By ruling out support for another liberal-led government, they hope to boost their popularity.

In a swipe at Labor, Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer told supporters in Tilburg on Saturday: “If you want to mobilize socially-minded voters, you don’t play your cards close to your chest. You offer a real and fair choice.”

He called on other left-wing parties, including the Greens — who have gained from Labor’s collapse — to commit to forming a left-wing coalition if those parties win a majority of 76 seats or more.

The Socialists call for such a pact every election. Every time they are rebuffed by Labor, which can’t afford to scare away centrist voters.

Blue-red culture war

Despite Roemer’s rhetoric and his party’s less compromising platform, the Socialists have the same electoral problem as Labor: Both have not only lost voters to other left-leaning parties, notably the Greens and the liberal Democrats; they have both lost supporters to Geert Wilders’ nationalist Freedom Party and a new seniors party called 50Plus as well.

The Labor Party and the Socialists are both caught up in the that pits cosmopolitans against communitarians. Neither party has taken sides in this new political divide, as a result of which they satisfy no one.

Urban college graduates prefer the unapologetic internationalism of the liberal Democrats and the environmentalism of the Greens. Small-town and more traditional voters see 50Plus and Wilders as the more reliable protectors of the welfare state.

Competing on the wrong turf

For the Socialists to lure back such voters, they would need to emphasize their Euroskepticism and rediscover their former doubts about immigration.

Like the Corbynistas in England, however, activists in the Dutch Socialist Party seem more interested in social-justice issues that fail to enthuse the people they claim to represent.

The Socialists risk becoming the new Labor — but without the center-left policies to make them palatable to middle-class voters.

Of all the left-wing parties in the Netherlands, the Socialists still have the most credibility to compete with the nostalgics of the Freedom Party and 50Plus. But if those are the voters they’re after, they need to start competing on those parties’ turf.