The Dutch nine-to-twelve-party system is sometimes hard to understand for foreigners; especially when the small parties come into play. Therefore I’m running a mini-series that treats all eleven parties that stand a decent chance of getting seats in the upcoming elections. We’ll go from largest to smallest.
Today we’ll continue with GL.
GL is comparable to the German Grünen, but its position in the political ecosystem is more complex and it has been invited to a coalition only once, and refused (mostly correctly).
GL first participated in the 1989 elections as a merger of four small left-wing parties, that formed a pretty mixed bag to begin with but were forced by the increasing pull of the PvdA to cooperate or die. The merger succeeded; when the PvdA went Purple GL became the sole heir to eigthies cultural socialism.
It has always been based on the West, especially Amsterdam, where it is the third party locally. (Nationally it’s more like sixth.) It is disproportionally popular among young voters and the cultural trades, and thus it is strongest in the student cities and cities with a lively cultural scene. (These categories tend to overlap.)
The party does not understand why the world does not understand it’s right. GL in part remains a witness party; a party whose function it is to allow members to bear witness to their GreenLeft faith.
GL had its best score in 1998, when it was the second largest opposition party and attacked the ruling Purple coalition from the left. (The largest opposition party was the CDA, and the CDA has absolutely no clue how opposition works. Thus GL could steal the show.)
Since then, however, the rise of the SP has sent GL into a slow decline. Those seeking for an alternative left of the PvdA now have a choice, and in the end the SP is of the common people, while GL represents the cultural elite.
In reaction, party leader Halsema declared in 2005 that GL was the only remaining “left liberal” Dutch party. Apparently, she is trying to move GL into the direction of the left-liberal niche in the political ecology, completely ignoring the fact that that niche is currently occupied by D66, which is doing quite well, thank you. (To be fair, when Halsema spoke these words D66 participated in a centre-right government and was heading for a disastrous loss.)
Personally I remain unconvinced by this move from an electoral perspective. It just won’t help get more voters. Still, from a coalition perspective it makes sense because it makes the party appear less radical to its potential partners.
For the first time in its existence, GL was seriously considered for the 2006 CDA+PvdA+? coalition, but refused because it had lost one seat in the elections. CDA and PvdA had also lost, and a coalition must contain an election winner.
This constitutionally impeccable behaviour topped off the major victory of being considered at all. GL has gained the much-coveted aura of government-worthiness.
Uniquely among the left-wing parties, GL does not have any outside lifeline to non-left voters. PvdA communicates with CDA, D66 with VVD, SP with PVV, but GL does not have any such connection.
It can pick up seats only when other left-wing parties are doing badly. Until the government crisis GL was doing well in the polls, but as far as I’m concerned that was mainly because it was available on the left while being neither PvdA nor SP.
Now that the PvdA is regaining its strength and has defeated the evil christian-democrats, it will start to suck seats from GL once more. The same goes for the SP if new party leader Roemer turns out to be attractive to hesitating left-block voters.
In summary, GL’s electoral position is lousy. It has its solid nucleus of supporters, but breaking through outside that group is becoming increasingly difficult, and wholly dependent on all other left-wing parties being tainted in some way.
Obviously, GL will be necessary for the formation a broad left-wing coalition if the left goes over the magic 76. Of all parties on the left, GL is the most sincere in its desire for broad left because it has little else to hope for.
Absent a broad left majority, GL’s best chance is to reinforce a lower-probability coalition. If PvdA+VVD+D66 Purple or PvdA+CDA+D66 centre-left become a serious option but have too few seats, GL is the most obvious candidate. To a lesser degree this goes for CDA+VVD+D66. GL is not really an obvious candidate to reinforce a centre-right coalition, but if the PVV is rejected by CDA and VVD and the CU by D66, GL is the sole remaining option.
Since it is the only left-wing party that cannot influence the creation of a broad left majority in any way, GL’s chances in the coalition market depend entirely on the score of other parties. Still, since the political space is so complicated these days, GL actualy has a decent chance of entering a coalition for the first time in its existence.
<— Housekeeping notes | The politics of succession; CDA and PvdA editions —>
This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.