The electorate of the Netherlands has severely punished the Dutch GroenLinks party. They no longer entrust their mandate to GroenLinks out of fear that their vote will be wasted on internal squabbling and incompetence. The message is clear: the party must put its house in order.

This article was originally published on Bureau de Helling.

All the surveys back this conclusion. The party is widely accused of ineffectiveness and a lack of leadership. It scores low on public confidence. André Krouwel, who developed the Kieskompas (a website which helps people define their political orientation), drew this conclusion from his data in an article in Trouw of 11 September: “The party’s failure to do well has causes other than its political platform.” It was not the substance but all the carrying-on that underlay their poor electoral performance.

Results from a voter panel on EenVandaag confirm this impression and amplify it. Potential voters apparently found the support that the GreenLeft coalition faction gave to the police training mission in Kunduz hard to swallow. The decision might have been forgiven had the party been more at ease with itself. But with Dibi, Van Gent and the dispute over a leadership referendum coming on top, it was all a bit too much for many voters.

Political Positioning

A lack of clarity about the political standpoint of the party also emerged. Following Halsema’s progressive liberalism, new leader Jolande Sap introduced some shifts of emphasis, but it was hard to sum up the differences. Undeniably she gave greater importance to green policies and fair sharing, but was that compatible with her support for changes to the dismissal laws in the interim Budget Memorandum?

Despite the poor score, GroenLinks must not forsake its ambition to achieve double figures in its Lower House representation; every political party goes through a bad patch at some time. An end must first of all come to the squabbling and organisational incompetence. Even if the defeat cannot be put down primarily to the election manifesto, the latter needs in any case updating to address current problems. Only then will double figures come within reach.

The deep business crisis afflicting this country boosts the urgency of the time-honoured left-wing tenet of fair shares in income, capital and employment. Jolande Sap has taken the first few steps in this direction, but the party’s social agenda is weak and it demands considerable mental gymnastics. Potential GreenLeft voters have more confidence in the PvdA and SP in this respect. Further work on this is an important task facing the party, as it is on the party’s critique of today’s globalised financial capitalism.

Green Politics and Ideology

Germany’s Green party is an inspiring example for the Dutch GroenLinks. They come across as modern, strongly rooted in society, reliable and competent. For the Greens, green politics form the core of their identity, while for GroenLinks, it is just one topic among many. It is illustrative that there is here rarely more one “green” representative in any municipal or Lower House coalition. Yet “green” is half of the party’s name. The party’s green ideology has barely evolved in recent decades, while the world around us has changed. For example, a host of DIY sustainability activists – in the domestic, neighbourhood, municipality and industry spheres – has emerged in the Netherlands in recent years. Their mentality and approach is new, yet the party has sought little connection with them. It would be interesting to engage with them and debate their concerns. Moreover, the “green dialect” must be held up to scrutiny.

There is absolutely no reason for despair. GroenLinks is indispensable and the party is alive and well. It has tens of thousands of members, a considerable number of municipal councillors and vigorous local organisations. The trick we must now pull off is to transform our disappointment at the national election results into energy for new steps towards a greener politics, with a stronger emphasis on fair sharing.

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