Dutch Socialists enjoy surge of support as hostility grows to austerity deal


ANALYSIS: Three weekend polls have found public opinion swinging to the left as cuts hit home

THREE weekend polls indicate that the Netherlands is on course for a left-wing coalition government in the autumn – as the five parties who last month backed a €13 billion austerity package demanded by Brussels continue to receive a drubbing.

In a dramatic turnaround for the country previously regarded as Germany’s single most steadfast ally in demanding euro zone budgetary discipline, all three polls confirm a surge in support for the Socialist Party as dissatisfaction with the detail of the cuts continues to grow.

The largest of the polls, by Maurice de Hond, indicates that the Socialists will become the largest party, with 29 seats in the 150-seat parliament – a substantial four seats clear of caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals on 25.

The second poll, by TNS Nipo, places the Socialists neck-and-neck with the Liberals on 29 seats each. The third survey, by Ipsos Synovate, says that if an election were held tomorrow the Socialists would jump from fifth-largest party after the 2010 election to second-largest, with 27 seats against 32 for the Liberals.

However, despite this surge and accompanying boost for Socialist leader, Emile Roemer – now the country’s most popular MP – the Socialists would need a key coalition partner, most likely Labour.

The swing to the Socialists has eroded Labour support, but the two could still form the basis of a left-wing coalition government – believed to be favoured by Labour leader Diederik Samsom.

The Maurice de Hond poll puts Labour on 21 seats, giving a Socialist/Labour coalition a total of 50. TNS Nipo gives Labour 20, with a coalition total of 49. Ipsos Synovate, the worst poll for the Socialists, is actually best for a potential coalition, giving Labour 24 seats and a Socialist/Labour alliance a total of 51 – needing just 25 more seats from smaller left-leaning parties to form a working majority.

The fortunes of the parties are also reflected in polling on the changing public attitude to the austerity package, whose aim is to bring the Netherlands’ budget deficit below the euro zone maximum of 3 per cent of GDP next year.

Maurice de Hond shows that 53 per cent of those questioned are now dissatisfied with the so-called “Spring Accord” put together by the two government parties, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, with the support of GreenLeft, centre-left D66 and Christian Unity.

However, the true scale of electoral concern is most evident among Mark Rutte’s own broadly prosperous Liberals – where 14 per cent dissatisfaction in the immediate aftermath of the deal has trebled to 41 per cent today.

The most scathing criticism came from the Liberals’ elder statesman, Hans Wiegel, who said that Mr Rutte had made “a huge mistake” in calling an election and forming the five-party alliance to push through the measures. Instead, he argued, the government should have put its own proposals to parliament – win or lose.

Mr Wiegel also spoke the almost unspeakable when he said the Liberals should not rule out “governing with” Geert Wilders’ right-wing Freedom Party (PVV), placed by Maurice de Hond yesterday on 24 seats – the same as after the 2010 election.

“If we totally rule out governing with the PVV then we hand ourselves over to the Left – and why would we do that?” he asked. The former deputy prime minister was also critical of several of the austerity measures, such as the plan to scrap the tax break on travel expenses – which, alone, would reduce the spending power of millions of commuters by 1.5 per cent.

“This would hit not just the guy with the cigar and the big car, but also the tradesman driving his van to a job and the office worker taking the train.”

In fact, the travel allowance controversy illustrates the disarray in which the supporters of austerity now find themselves.

Four of the five parties that first backed it – the exception being D66 – are now trying to distance themselves from it in advance of the September 12th election.

This would mean that even if the Socialists and Labour do not form a government after the election, the austerity package may still have to be renegotiated – a process that led to the collapse of the last coalition after seven fruitless weeks of talks.