Plasterk was a member of the Leiden city council for the Labour Party in the early 1980s. Since 1995 he has been a political columnist for several national publications and a commentator on TV. In the mid-2000s he assumed several more active posts in national politics.
In 2006 he was member of the committee which wrote the election manifesto for the Labour Party in the 2006 elections, which was led by Paul Depla. He also served as an advisor of thenational convention, a think tank of the Dutch government on government reform.
On February 22, 2007 he was appointed minister of Education, Culture and Science in the fourth Balkenende cabinet for the Labour Party. Because of this appointment Plasterk has ended his scientific career, because he considers it is impossible to leave research for several years and then hope to reintegrate. Wouter Bos, leader of the Labour Party, sees Plasterk as (social and cultural) libertarian, which balances out the (social and cultural) conservativism of the Labour Party’s coalition partners Christian Democratic Appeal and the Christian Union.
As minister Plasterk was responsible for higher education and scientific education, for research, culture and media, women’s emancipation and of the LBGT, and for policy on the unemployed in the education sector. As such he is vice chair of the national Innovation Platform and member of the task force Women on Top.
A key issue during Plasterk’s period as minister was the salary of teachers. When there was no room in the national budget to increase the salaries of teachers as advised by a committee led by Alexander Rinnooy Kan, Plasterk was forced to find money from within the budget of his own ministry. Kan made his advice public just days after the Miljoenennota (the national budget) was published. One of the solutions Plasterk considered was cutting the allowance for students and raising the fees for universities. Plasterk was strongly criticized by the students unions for his proposals and by his coalition partners CDA and CU and the leftwing opposition parties SP andGroenLinks. In the end he and Wouter Bos, the minister of Finance, were able to find sufficient money for a marked increase in the salaries of teachers. Under the pressure of strikes by teachers, Plasterk came to a deal with the teachers´ union in April 2008.
He resigned on the morning of February 20, 2010, when all PvdA ministers withdrew from the fourth Balkenende cabinet. The Queen accepted the resignations on February 23, 2010.
Source: Curacao Chronicle October 30, 2012