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‘Seat robbery’ as political safety valve

Provided, it’s allowed. Anyone who, for whatever reasons, as a member of parliament no longer agrees with his party, may resign. This has also happened in 145 municipalities over the past three and a half years. As a result, there are now 150 factions in municipal councils that the voters did not vote for in 2018.

“It’s part of it,” says John Bijl of the Pericles Institute, where municipal councils are trained. “This is the safety valve of our politics. Someone who is offended in his ideals should be able to resign. It would be annoying if the party could push through its power.”

It’s part of it, says Geerten Waling, author of the books robbery on Municipality in the genes. “Splits often lead to new local parties, which appeal to voters. Better representativeness can only be welcomed.”

Especially with local parties

Splits mainly occur among local parties. From research by NRC shows that there was a break in 12.9 percent of all local parties compared to 6.2 percent of national parties. The reason could be that the latter has more support and guidance from the national party board, or because there is a clearer ideological point of departure. The reasons for the splits reported – in local media – are almost the same: difference of opinion, difference in style, ‘irreconcilable differences of opinion’. Sometimes a councilor leaves or dies and the successor does not want to represent the party in the council for which he was on the electoral list. Less often, a clear principled reason is noted, such as the construction of a residential area (in Waalwijk) and a bicycle shed (Bergen op Zoom).

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Council members of national parties sometimes suffer from national vicissitudes. For example, 50Plus disappeared from the House of Representatives and sometimes also from the council, the party policy of the SP has consequences, such as dealing with youth movement Rood, and council members resigned at the CDA because of party leader Wopke Hoekstra and the split from Pieter Omtzigt.

Also read: Quarrel in the council faction? Then soon follows a split

There are also patterns to discover. The fractures mainly arose in the third year, which may be due to the lockdown, but also due to the budget cycle and the cutbacks of municipalities. John Bijl of the Pericles Institute: „Because of the lack of resources from the government, there was pressure on the finances. As a result, hard choices had to be made. And I can’t help feeling that the lack of corridors also contributed to this lecture period.”

In the first months after the elections, councilors resigned because they did not become aldermen or party leader. Or because they were elected when the party actually did not want them on the council. Bijl says: “Then you are simply talking about tinkering with the composition of your list of candidates.”

Council Chamber in Weert
Photo John Peters/Hollandse Hoogte
Council Chamber in shafts
Photo Press agency Meter
Council Chamber in Maastricht
Photo by Jean-Pierre Geusens / Novum
Council Chamber in Amsterdam
Koen van Weel / ANP
Council chambers in Weert, Assen, Maastricht and Amsterdam
Photo (from top left to bottom right): John Peters, Persbureau Meter, Jean-Pierre Geusens and Koen van Weel.

He believes that parties should invest more in the group of councilors. “It is often said that there was ‘difference of style’. In a political system you need all styles.”

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For the council itself, it may mean that there are splits. First of all, meetings are getting longer. Bijl, who attends countless council meetings as a ‘mystery citizen’, says it puts “more pressure on meeting skills”. “One-man factions have to make choices, you can’t keep up with everything.”

“That certainly has consequences for the functioning of a council,” says professor Gerrit Voerman, director of the Documentation Center for Dutch Political Parties. For example, when finding majorities, which becomes more difficult. But quarrels and mergers also damage the image of the city council, he believes. Voerman says: “It does not give a bright picture when people switch from one party to the other, as if it were a dovecote.”

For years there have been calls to make splitting off in any case more difficult. In the House of Representatives, for example, split-offs receive less speaking time and budget. Waling says: “You can see that it doesn’t work there. Split-offs such as Van Haga and Omtzigt have less speaking time and budget than Liane den Haan [die gekozen werd als 50Plusser en nu de fractie Den Haan is].” In addition, Waling says, there are two culprits. “The party from which it split should also be on the blisters.” That’s not happening now.

Only one party will then try everything to keep someone on board, he thinks. However, Waling points out that “the frustration with factional discipline is not much less than the frustration with splits”

Voerman says: “Politics is the art of the feasible. You can reason in two ways: because of a split, a party has less influence and that is an affront to the voter. But also: because of a promise someone keeps his leg stiff and does what he has been chosen to do.”

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