The Dutch nine-to-twelve-party system is sometimes hard to understand for foreigners; especially when the small parties come into play. Therefore, just like in 2010, I’m running a mini-series that treats all eleven parties that stand a decent chance of winning seats. We’ll go from smallest to largest.
Today we’ll start with the only new party that could make it to parliament: 50Plus.
50Plus is a typical protest party for the elderly who fear for their pensions. As such it stands in a long, though generally not very succesful, tradition. Back in 1994 parties for the elderly won no less than 7 seats because the CDA stupidly decided to discuss pensions just before the elections, but they fell out, split up, didn’t accomplish anything, and disappeared without a trace in the 1998 elections. Whether 50Plus is any different remains to be seen, but the omens are slightly better.
50Plus is the brain-child of Jan Nagel, who can best be described as a political entrepeneur. There aren’t many politicians who’ve been involved in a revolution from the left and its counter-revolution from the right, but Nagel is one.
He started his career in the PvdA of the early sixties, and was one of the main founders of the Nieuw Links movement that aimed at pulling the party leftward. He was the main author of an influential pamphlet and a member of the PvdA board. Eventually Nieuw Links succeeded, the PvdA drew sharply leftward, polarised politics, and grew, sucking dry the old christian parties together with its opposite number on the right, the VVD.
Nagel was involved, but not at the top level. After serving in the Senate from 1977 to 1983 he became less active in politics. In 1993 he resigned from the PvdA and founded Leefbaar Hilversum (“Livable Hilversum”), a local party in his town of residence that called itself neither left nor right, but tried to focus on stuff that voters found important. As such it was succesful: it became the largest party in the Hilversum council three times in a row, and Nagel became an alderman.
The Leefbaar movement was copied in several other towns and cities, with the best-known offshoot being Leefbaar Rotterdam, which is still the main right-wing party in that city. In 2001 Nagel took the initiative for creating Leefbaar Nederland, a party that was supposed to bring the Leefbaar initiative to national parliament. Nagel became chairman and he was instrumental in selecting Pim Fortuyn as its political leader. Then Fortuyn started to bash Islam, Leefbaar Nederland fired him, he founded his own party, and the Fortuyn revolt was a fact. Leefbaar Nederland won 2 seats in 2002 against 26 for Fortuyn, and disappeared silently in 2003.
In 2005 Nagel teamed up with well-known crime journalist Peter R. de Vries for an abortive attempt at a (surprisingly left-wing) law-and-order and reform party. Via an earlier attempt at a party for the elderly focusing on pensions, Nagel arrived at 50Plus in 2011.
50Plus is not only Jan Nagel; other well-known members are Henk Krol, editor of the Gay Krant and one of the main forces behind the legalisation of gay marriage; Michiel van Hulten, a former PPR secretary of state under Den Uyl (1973-1977); chess master and writer Hans Böhm; TV personality Koos Postema; and Klaas Wilting, the former PR chief of the Amsterdam police.
50Plus was founded in early 2011, so it did not participate in the 2010 general elections. It did participate in the 2011 provincial elections, winning 9 seats in 8 provinces. These nine States members were easily enough to elect Jan Nagel to the Senate, and he returned to parliament after 28 years.
50Plus had more voting power than was needed for one seat, and decided to strike a deal with the OSF (Onafhankelijke Senaatsfractie; Independent Senate Fraction). This is an amalgam of regional parties from the outlying provinces, as well as the Greens (as distinct from GL), and it used to be able to win a seat by itself. However, the 2011 elections were harsh for the OSF member parties, and it needed help.
50Plus offered that help: several of its States members would vote OSF, on the condition that the OSF list was headed by 50Plus vice-chairman De Lange. Thus De Lange was elected for the OSF, and 50Plus considers itself to have two seats in the Senate.
50Plus will not participate in local elections, since there are enough local parties that don’t need yet another competitor. Besides, the pensions are decided on the national level, so that’s what the party should focus on.
50Plus shows up with one seat in nearly all polls. Recently it even had two seats. All this may change dramatically either way, but right now everybody assumes 50Plus will enter parliament in the next elections.
It’s unclear where its voters come from, but most of the well-known party members come from the moderate, old-fashioned left.
In any case, the economic crisis will make sure pensions remain a hot item for some time to come, so its main issue will remain interesting to many, mainly older, voters. Still, the SP also makes a great deal of defending the pensions, and that party is currently on a winning streak, too.
For 50Plus it would be best if the SP loses some attraction and people start wondering where else their pensions may be safe.
50Plus would only be asked to reinforce a coalition if there is a very splintered parliament, and some sort of (centre-)left coalition needed a few more seats. Although larger than zero, this chance is not very high.
In the short term 50Plus should focus on getting any seats at all and becoming a stable, though minor, factor in Dutch politics.
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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.