Is Labour a banana party?

Wouter Bos is right to say that party officials who are ‘wearing two hats’ are in danger of getting their priorities mixed up. But what about his own party?, asks the SP’s Ronald van Raak.

According to Wouter Bos, the Netherlands is a ‘banana republic’. In a column for the Volkskrant, the former Labour leader makes mincemeat of his old friends in the CDA. Bos aimed specifically at Elco Brinkman, parliamentary party chairman for the CDA but also the chairman of building trade organisation Bouwend Nederland. Brinkman is a lobbyist for the building trade and, as a senator, partly responsible for building policy too.

Two hats

Bos knows this can’t be right, that much is clear. Then why not write a column about Marleen Barth who, as well as being Labour chairman, also chairs healthcare organisation GGZ-Nederland? Why is it okay for her as a lobbyist for the GGZ to help shape mental healthcare policy? And why no column about André Postema, Labour senator and vice chair of the board of Maastricht University, a university not known to respect the Balkenende norm?

Why not write a column about Labour senator Klaas de Vries, commissioner at Eneco and Haskoning, about Labour senator Ruud Koole, chairman of the VARA supervisory board, or Labour senator Joyce Sylvester who, as the mayor of Naarden, has a direct interest in the outcome of the council reorganisation.

Wouter Bos is right to say that ‘wearing two hats’ will lead to conflicts of interest and a murky decision-making process. But if the former Labour leader can spot the problem so clearly in others, how come he misses it in his own party? Or indeed, in himself?


After he stepped down as finance minister in 2010, Wouter Bos went to work as a partner at KPMG. The consultancy bureau caught a big fish. Wouter Bos is an advisor for the public sector, specialising in healthcare. He is also a financial sector advisor. A former finance minister has specific knowledge and an excellent network and both are of great value to a consultancy bureau. In 2012 Bos helped form Rutte II, giving the KPMG consultant an opportunity to put his stamp on the new government policy.

The Socialist party has often proposed to limit the number of additional jobs for politicians. But that isn’t enough. It is difficult to limit senators who are part-time politicians with a regular job. I think it is up to the political parties to think hard before they decide who to put on the list.

Is the Netherlands really a banana republic, as Wouter Bos says? I don’t know. Not every political party has that many people with two hats. Labour has. Perhaps we could call it a banana party.  

Ronald van Raak is a Socialist Party MP

This column appeared earlier in the Volkskrant

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