Paul Strangio, Neither Power nor Glory: 100 Years of Political Labor in Victoria, 1856-1956

By Rodan, Paul | Labour History - A Journal of Labour and Social History, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Paul Strangio, Neither Power nor Glory: 100 Years of Political Labor in Victoria, 1856-1956


Rodan, Paul, Labour History - A Journal of Labour and Social History


Paul Strangio, Neither Power nor Glory: 100 Years of Political Labor in Victoria, 1856-1956, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 2012. pp. 380. $39.99 paper.

Paul Strangio is an accomplished political historian who in this volume has turned his attention to that curious beast, the Victorian Labor Party. The century covered by the author was a period of consistent electoral failure for the party, a theme that persisted well into the 1970s, after which fortunes were radically reversed, with Labor becoming the dominant force in state and federal elections in Victoria. While majority government and two-party systems were the norm federally and in the states, they were the exception rather than the rule in Victoria until the mid-twentieth century.

Strangio's explanation for this state of affairs covers two themes. The first is the resilience of Victorian liberalism (personified by Alfred Deakin) and its capacity to embrace sufficient of the industrial labour agenda to forestall the emergence of political labour as a major force, long after the party had become a vital player in other jurisdictions. The Liberals' embrace of tariff protection for local industries was critical here. The second concerns the internal divisions within the labour movement, which covered both strategy and ideology, exemplified in that enduring socialist dilemma about the efficacy of parliamentary representation. Victorian Labor emerged as a party lacking in self-confidence and usually willing to defer to the Liberals when push came to shove. Indeed, early 'Labor' MPs were elected on Liberal tickets.

The author suggests that electoral impotence made the party 'less circumspect than its more electorally successful interstate cousins'. What 'radical adventurism' emerged was less likely to be challenged by pragmatists and moderates, given that majority government remained a dream for most of the period under review. It was also relevant that a separate socialist party persisted until the early 1920s, providing pressure from the left and then adding a radical element when many of its members were absorbed into the Australian Labor Party (ALP).

While token minority Labor governments spluttered into life, they invariably died off quickly, with the inevitable legislative compromises helping build a strong anti-parliamentarian culture among the Trades Hall bosses who saw the party as their creature. Parliamentary leaders needed 'permission' from the union-dominated central executive to form or support minority government, with the former option ultimately banned by the party's state conference in 1933.

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