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Home Opinion It’s all to play for in the fight to lead Dutch Labour
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State of the Left Netherlands

It’s all to play for in the fight to lead Dutch Labour

Bart van Bruggen - 20 October 2016

The PvdA has six weeks to choose its leader before facing the country in next year’s general election

It’s game time in the Dutch Labour party (PvdA). With the polls putting the party at a steady low of between 7-10 per cent over the last three years and the general election coming up in just six months, firing up the party may be just what the doctor ordered. While all the other parties have appointed their party leader for this election cycle, all eyes are now on the PvdA’s leadership contest, running over the course of November and early December.

The shape this leadership contest takes provides for two novelties in Dutch political history. First, never before has the incumbent party leader been challenged in a leadership contest. Second, following experiences in the French Socialist party and the UK Labour party, the new leader will be elected in a contest that is open for anyone to vote in.To achieve this, the PvdA introduced a so-called ‘flash-membership’ at the price of €2. Anyone can now join the PvdA for a month and cast their vote in the upcoming leadership contest.

The deadline for candidates is not until the beginning of next week, but the field of candidates has already become fairly clear, with incumbent party leader Diederik Samsom and Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher as frontrunners. Their main challenger is likely to be Jacques Monasch, a former campaign manager and outspoken MP who has repeatedly rebelled against party lines over the past four years. Not an overly diverse field, one might observe.

Enter another complication. The PvdA’s coalition government with the Liberal party has not done the party much good in polls or in second order elections that have taken place since 2012 and both Samsom and Asscher have been key players in the coalition. This suggests a contest of style rather than substance, noting that there is indeed a considerable style difference between the two.

Asscher is generally seen as the more ideologically schooled of the two, as former chair of the PvdA’s thinktank. Samsom however is famous for his drive for campaigning. Under the tagline “fighting on”, Samsom has travelled around the country, visiting local PvdA branches in an effort to convince the party membership to vote for him one by one. It was only last Monday that Asscher launched his campaign “forward together” from a high school he worked to improve as city alderman in Amsterdam.

Polls show that Samsom still has strong support among the current party membership, while Asscher is the strong favourite among possible voters. The open contest may well thus turn out to be in Asscher’s favour, but with some seven weeks until the polls close, anything can still happen. Only time will tell the answer to the most important question: will the spotlights pointed at the PvdA in the coming weeks be enough to change the odds for the 2017 general election?

Bart van Bruggen is communications intern at Policy Network. He is the former chair of Dutch Young Labour

This article is a contribution to State of the Left - Policy Network's regular insight bulletin that reports from across the world of social democratic politics

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The Policy Network Observatory promotes critical debate and reflection on progressive politics. It is centre-left orientated but determinedly challenges social democracy. It is pro-European but restlessly questions EU institutions and practices.

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