Liberal and Country League
The Liberal and Country League (LCL) was the major conservative party in South Australia from 1933 to 1973. In its 40-year existence, it spent 34 years in government, in part due to the electoral malapportionment known as the Playmander, introduced after coming to power.
Created on 9 June 1932 as the result of a merger between the Liberal Federation and the SA branch of the Country Party, the first LCL government was formed on 18 April 1933 under Richard Layton Butler. Traditionally a socially conservative party, the LCL contained three relatively distinct factions whose ideologies often conflicted:
- Farmers, graziers and rural property owners
- The Adelaide Establishment of old money families and those fortunate enough, through marriage, to have been accepted by the Establishment
- The urban middle class, who continued to support the party although they had little say in its running. Indeed, it was not until the election of Robin Millhouse in 1955 that someone from this third faction was elected to parliament. Millhouse, often considered during his term as the most progressive member of the LCL, was eventually expelled in 1973 for his continued criticism of the conservative wing of the party.
Throughout its existence, the LCL had four parliamentary leaders:
- Butler, who served as Premier of South Australia until 5 November 1938
- Sir Thomas Playford, Premier from 5 November until his electoral defeat nearly 27 years later
- Steele Hall, who succeeded Playford as leader of the LCL following Playford's resignation as party leader in 1966
- Bruce Eastick
Hall also served as Premier from 1968 to 1970. It is Playford though that the LCL would become synonymous with over his 26 years and 125 days as Premier (a world record for an elected national or regional leader).
The LCL was so identified with Playford that during election campaigns, voters were asked to vote for "The Playford Liberal and Country League". Playford gave the impression that the LCL membership were there solely to raise money and run election campaigns; he regularly ignored LCL convention decisions. This treatment of the rank and file continued to cause resentment throughout the party, the first public inkling of which was the reformation of the Country Party in 1963. Although a shadow of its former self, the reformed Country Party served as a wakeup call to Playford that there were problems within the LCL.
This split mirrored the dissatisfaction amongst the Establishment faction, which had been steadily losing its power within the party and was appalled at the "nouveau riches commoners" (such as Millhouse) that had infiltrated the parliamentary wing of the LCL. Added to this mix was the important factor that the LCL party machine had become moribund as leaders had become lulled into a false sense of security due to the Playmander and extended run of election wins.
The LCL lost government for the first time in the 1965 elections. While it regained government briefly under Hall, it was Playford's resignation as LCL Leader that acted as the spark for the party's problems to emerge in public spats, culminating in the formation of the Liberal Movement. The Liberal Movement was a progressive wing of the party that subsequently split from the LCL in 1973. Following the split, the LCL under Eastick changed its name to the "Liberal Party" to bring it into line with the Federal party of the same name. The LCL ended its existence in acrimony and in opposition, but having spent 34 of its 40 years in power.
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