Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Muslim party? 1920s lessons

NSW politics looks more like the 1920s everyday. Now we the unfortunate Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali flagging a Muslim party. Largely working-class, socially excluded and culturally marginalised many Australian Muslims have tended to Labor. Here their position resembles Catholics earlier this century that tended to Labor. But the Catholic-Labor nexus was always viewed with doubt by some Catholics, who complained that Labor did nothing for specifically Catholic concerns, in particular funding Catholic schools. These Catholics mobilised as the 'Catholic Federation', they hoped that if Catholics could prove themselves to be swinging voters than governments would respond to their demands. In 1913 the Catholic Federation endorsed the Liberal opponent of Labor Premier William Holman in his heavily Catholic Cootamundra electorate. Holman won easily, helped by his support for Irish Home Rule. Evatt describes the battle here. The conscription battle brought Labor and Catholic activists again together but in 1920 the catholic Federation organised a 'Democratic Party'. Although Michael Hogan describes it as a one issue party focused on aid for catholic schools, the federation president P. S. Cleary tried to develop a Catholic alternative to Labor's socialism based on the papal encyclicals. It polled 2.4% overall and won about a quarter of the catholic vote in the electorates it contested but won no seats. With fewer candidates it polled only 1.7% in 1922 but won one seat. These were probably from white-collar Catholics. The party encouraged a counter mobilisation by Protestants and Catholic leaders conceded defeat in their attempt to win Catholics from Labor (see Hogan's chapters on the 1920 and 1922 elections here). However the anti-Lang Federal Labor Party in 1930-35 had the support of some catholic intellectuals including Cleary. But italso failed to crack the hold of the majority Labor party on Catholic votes. I suspect a specifically Muslim party would be as unsuccessful as the Democratic Party.

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