Friday, July 14, 2006

The past is always present: the Country Party continued

In my post of Friday 7 July I began looking at the Country Party in New England, the second of the major political parties in New England during the twentieth century. This followed a brief post on the Labor Party.

Just to summarise and restate.

If we look at the New England electorates, state and Federal, over most of the twentieth century we find Labor Party dominance in the industrial electorates around Newcastle, Country Party dominance elsewhere in New England. I also suggested that the past was always with us, even if we did not always recognise it. A key point here is that a knowledge of the past helps explain current developments, including differences in patterns between areas.

In this context, I pointed to the way in which conservative grazing and more radical farming interests combined to form the Country Party in NSW. Of itself, this made the NSW Party more conservative than some other Country Parties and especially the Victorian Party which was dominated by radical and populist small farmers.

I also pointed to the way in which New England's geography allowed the Country Party in New England to combine mixed farming and grazing interests into a large compact block of seats spanning different primary producing areas, In turn, this helped draw in town elites, making the Party the dominant non-Labor Party in New England outside Newcastle.

This was not the case elsewhere in country NSW. There different geography combined with religous differences (the higher proportion of Irish Catholics more inclined to support Labor) prevented the new Country Party from establishing a dominant position. This made it easier for Labor to win seats, easier for the varying city based non-labor parties to gain a position. This created an electoral pattern in NSW in which Country Party support across the rest of NSW rose and fell with electoral tides while generally holding firm in New England.

The importance to the Country Party in New England of its capacity to combine interests and continue its dominance of local leadership was dramtically illustrated in 1941.

Following resolution of the turmoil of the Lang years, NSW Labor made a conscious and succesful effort to target leaders in country NSW, recruiting as candidates just those people who would have stood as Country Party candidates. This led to a major victory in the 1941 NSW elections in which Labor penetrated even New England areas that had been previous Country Party heartland.

Before carrying this story forward further, I need to outline the history of the New England New State Movement in the twentieth century since this is inextricably linked to the rise and later decline of the Country Party. We also need to look at the history and role of the media in New England and especially the newspaper press.

Before doing so, I will provide some references on the history of the Country Party in my next post.

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