Party members, don’t get stuck in nostalgia. We are ready for a breakthrough on the ‘left’

Lilianne Ploumen (PVDA) and Jesse Klaver (GL) find each other during the cabinet formation.Statue Freek van den Bergh

Only if you know where you come from, you can map out where you want to go. For 150 years, Social Democrats have been giving substance to their ideals of freedom, equality and solidarity. Much has been achieved in that time. It is a legacy to cherish, which provides guidance in this confusing time. Like our descendants then, we have a duty today to meet new challenges with new answers, with the past as our support, with our eyes turned to the future. The end doesn’t change, the means do. After all, ideals are like lampposts: they light the way we should go. But if you cling to such a pole drunk with nostalgia, you will not get any further.

If we want to give freedom, equality and solidarity content that will enable us to eradicate injustice, fight inequality and replace egotism and cynicism with solidarity, we will have to choose a clear social and green course. In this way, Social Democrats in a whole range of European countries and cities have regained the confidence of many citizens and been given the mandate to translate that course into policy.

With instead of against

The PvdA was founded in 1946 by three different political movements that wanted to break through the pre-war rigid relations. Socialists, liberals and progressive Christians found each other in the idea that together they could achieve more than alone, that together would work out better than against each other.

It took a while before it would succeed, old forms and thoughts simply die a slow death, but in the past almost eighty years this new movement has made a decisive contribution to building the Netherlands as a welfare and welfare state. We’ll never know what would have happened if nostalgia and non-progress had prevailed in 1946, but continued progressive division would have played into the hands of conservatives then too, that much is certain.


The challenges we now face are no less great than those in 1946, even though our highly developed society too often suggests otherwise. The increasing fragmentation of the political landscape makes political control slow, half-hearted, unclear and increasingly inimitable for people.

The challenges we face are so great and sometimes so menacing that greater unity and focus are desperately needed. Pandemic, climate crisis, war, increasing inequality and decreasing livelihoods together form a literally unprecedented challenge for all societies, including the very richest like ours.

More will be asked of politics and government than we have experienced in generations. This means that the most relevant political question now must be: how do we ensure that we as a society find credible and forward-looking solutions to the major challenges, without the law of the fittest becoming dominating?

Talks about left-wing cooperation were already held in 2006.  But GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema and PvdA leader Wouter Bos went less far than Ploumen and Klaver.  Statue Martijn Beekman

Talks about left-wing cooperation were already held in 2006. But GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema and PvdA leader Wouter Bos went less far than Ploumen and Klaver.Statue Martijn Beekman

Mixing colors

The political fragmentation in the Netherlands stands in the way of this. In order to be able to govern, so many colors have to be mixed that all that remains is a gray slurry where citizens feel less and less represented. This plays into the hands of conservative forces, amoral ‘managerialism’ and radical voices.

First, because the belief in change disappears, because real solutions are not forthcoming. Second, because belief in the value of ideals of progress evaporates, because they are proclaimed too little and too weakly. Third, because increasing discontent without progress turns protest from means to end. As a result, the appeal of extreme persons and parties increases, not because they offer real solutions, but because they respond to increasing despair.


We need a breakthrough to move the country forward. And such a breakthrough can only be forced by united forces that believe in progress and solidarity. By putting your shoulders together.

We believe that far-reaching cooperation, and even connecting with GroenLinks, can be that breakthrough. Simply because you are stronger together. We realize that such a step takes guts because you let go of familiar forms and there are all kinds of practical objections and obstacles in the way. But our deep belief in our ideals and the need to realize them today makes us realize that our country needs our joined forces.

Showing together that a society is possible that makes well-being accessible to everyone without making the earth uninhabitable. That puts just redistribution back at the center of political and social action. Which presents people with a clear choice for progressive politics and thus also contributes to the unmasking of the implicit and unfortunately sometimes explicit divide-and-rule approach of conservatives. People who are in a pinch or fear they will get into a pinch must be given a perspective so that they can no longer be pitted against those who are even worse off than they are. Common interests must again be clearly mapped out, so that inciting divisions based on colour, background and religion has much less chance.


All this is possible, but for this it is necessary that the progressive Netherlands does not allow itself to be drifted apart by nostalgia, but rather join forces. Let us therefore speed up cooperation, only in this way can we achieve the breakthrough necessary to give a free, just, open, democratic society the strength needed to face all challenges with confidence and turn them into opportunities. for everyone.

Marjolein Moorman is an alderman in Amsterdam and achieved a resounding victory as PvdA party leader in the municipal elections.

Frans Timmermans is Vice-President of the European Commission and won the European elections in 2019 as PvdA party leader.