Party profiles — SP

There will be general elections next March, and the dozen-plus-a-few Dutch parties are preparing for them. It’s time for another series of party profiles. We’ll go in order from small to large according to the August 2020 polls.

Today we’ll continue with left-conservative SP.

Full name
Socialistische Partij
Socialist Party
Party leader
Lilian Marijnissen, since 2018
In parliament since
Protest party
Current seats
Polls (August 2020)

With the SP we start a long list of medium-sized parties that will continue until we reach the VVD at the top. We also encounter our first left-wing party. Unfortunately, things are not going well for the SP, which made a turn to left-conservatism that is not working out.

For more information and history please re-read the 2010 and 2012 profiles I wrote.

The SP entered parliament in 1994 as a left-wing alternative to the rapidly-changing PvdA, which embraced the free market and more right-wing talking points. As such the SP did well under its charismatic leader Jan Marijnissen, and it managed to break out of its southern heartland into Amsterdam in particular.

In the 2006 elections it unexpectedly grew from 9 to 25 seats. I feel that the SP being left without being conservative played a role here. In addition there was no clear leader of the rabid right in 2006 — Wilders only took on that role after the elections. Quite a few protest voters likely made a temporary switch to the left.

In the end the SP did not profit from this victory. The coalition negotiations did not go in its favour, and enthusiasm with the voters quickly flagged. In 2010 it fell back to 15 seats, which seems to be its natural size. Also, it lost Amsterdam, which went from well above the national average of SP voters to well below. Whether 2006 is a good template for future SP results is doubtful.

After Marijnissen resigned in 2008 for health reasons, the party had one disastrous party leader (Agnes Kant) and one promising one that in the end did not live up to expectations (Emile Roemer). When Roemer resigned in 2018 the party chose Lilian Marijnissen, Jan’s daughter, as its leader. Incidentally, this is the first ever parent-to-child succession in Dutch party leadership.

Still, the SP’s problem is not the person of its leader, it’s the inherent tension between leftism on the one hand and cultural conservatism on the other. From the start, the SP aimed to represent the working class, and that very much included its moderate opposition to large-scale immigration, which the party already questioned back in the eighties, and to the EU. During the later Jan Marijnissen years this cultural conservatism took a back seat, which led to western leftists, especially in Amsterdam, supporting the party enthusiastically. (I voted SP from 1998 to 2006 and again in 2012.)

In the later Roemer years conservatism made a comeback, although it seems Roemer personally was not much interested. Still, the other party leaders started re-repostioning the SP again. As a result, western enthusiasm flagged, and the SP’s seat count dipped.

Whether this return to left-conservatism makes sense from an electoral perspective is an open question. The SP not only competes with the other left-wing parties, but also with Wilders’s PVV. Now Wilders is a rightist at heart, but some of his voters do appreciate some left-wing talking points, especially with regard to the welfare state. Wilders occasionally mumbles something leftish in order to placate them, but the SP rightly sees itself as a better match when it comes to leftism. When it comes to anti-Islam conservatism, however, it doesn’t do as well as Wilders. And what do left-conservative voters prefer?

The SP is currently the only anti-EU left-wing party, but, again, whether this combination makes sense is an open question. Anti-EU left wingers already vote for the party, and they are a distinct minority, both among leftists and among anti-EU voters.

Thus, the pay-off for the left-conservative strategy, if any, lies still in the future. It currently seems unlikely 2021 will be the year of the SP.

Other than that there’s not really a lot to say. The SP is occasionally visible on its signature topic of health care (get rid of the free market), but hasn’t really capitalised on the Corona crisis. It does its parliamentary work competently, but the time that it could be seen as the great leftist hope is definitely behind it. If Lilian Marijnissen holds on to her current 14 seats she’ll have done well.

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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.

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