By now it’s a familiar sight: members of political party 50Plus fighting between themselves. On 26 April, chairman Geert Dales announced the resignation of the party’s three-men board. The immediate cause was conflict over Dales’ role, which had been going on for several weeks. Several MPs and members of the Senate said that Dales’ leadership style was ‘autocratic, instead of democratic’. He was also accused of ‘rudely insulting’ other prominent members.
The situation got heated in early April, when a number of provincial chairs presented a motion of no confidence in Dales. They criticized the way in which he was preparing for the Parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 2021. It turned out that Dales wanted to become a candidate for Parliament himself. The provincial leaders argued that a board member wanting to be elected should step down from the board, but Dales refused. They also criticized the confusing procedures regarding the general meeting of the party, which took place electronically due to the Corona crisis.
Other prominent members, most importantly Henk Krol, leader of the party’s four-strong fraction in Parliament, wanted to reduce the power of the ‘rebellious’ provincial chairs. He preferred to put all power in the hands of the party’s members.
Shortly after this, the party’s founder and honorary chairman Jan Nagel, as well as three out of four MPs, presented a motion of no confidence in Dales. They pointed to the fact that during Dales’ tenure as chairman, seven out of nine board members had left their posts. They stated: “The chairman of a national political party should have a connecting role, but Dales increasingly became the center of conflict himself and showed no solution-oriented behavior. In addition, he did not shy away from systematically insulting prominent members in rude language and uttered severely derogatory remarks about our own MPs.” Dales, in return, threatened to sue the rebellious provincial leaders in order to recover ‘tens of thousands’ in damages to his public image.
Nevertheless, not all prominent members wanted to get rid of Dales; Henk Krol remained loyal. He felt that the other three MPs had gone too far in supporting the motion of no confidence in Dales – together, he said “they had only gathered 60.000 votes”, implying that their voice inside the party was not very important.
The 50Plus party has been plagued by conflicts for years. In 2014, the fraction – then consisting of two MPs – split in half. In 2018, seven out of eight board members left, after which Dales became chairman. Later in the same year, one half of the board wanted to depose the other half. The same picture of infighting appears in earlier attempts to establish a party to protect the interests of the elderly, the first of which was founded in the early ‘90s. Apparently, wisdom doesn’t always come with age!
Although Henk Krol supported Dales, the fight may ultimately turn out in his favour. Krol is by far the most popular member of the party, and has been its main figure since his election as MP in 2012. The provincial chairs offered him the chairmanship of the party, but Krol refused. On 3 May, he announced that he was leaving the party, taking his seat in Parliament with him, and starting a new party, the Party for the Future. Krol says that 50Plus no longer puts the interests of its members in the first place, but is now more about ‘egos’ and that there are “too many job hunters” in the party. He speaks of “too much energy lost to quarreling and scheming” in the past years.
Now that its most popular politician has left, is there any way forward for 50Plus? Its other politicians are not the voting magnets that Krol is, so the party may lose a significant number of voters in the next elections. Geert Dales himself predicts the ‘total destruction of 50Plus’ as a result of the severe crisis. “I think it is likely that the party will no longer exist in a few weeks,” he said. He himself, has announced that he will leave too, once the current board has finished the most important matters.
In the current corona crisis, this would be a pity – especially now, when so many elderly people are suffering from the biggest threat to their lives they have ever experienced, and many elderly people are isolated from their loved ones, a strong party defending their interests is essential.
Written by Saskia Roselaar