Initial opposition to Lang's leadership
Lang was elected party leader in 1922 by the NSW party caucus after two interim leaders had been appointed during a conflict between the NSW state executive of the party, (dominated by the Australian Workers' Union), and the ALP Federal Executive. From very early in his leadership, Lang faced opposition within the caucus due to his domineering manner. Particular areas of contention were the establishment of a Government Insurance Office and Lang's role in an attempt to increase the party's parliamentary majority through the appointment of Alick Kay as the consumer's representative on the Metropolitan Meat Board. However Lang continued to enjoy the overwhelming support of the party branches and he controlled a large majority at the annual conference, which was the party's ultimate forum. Conflict within the caucus culminated in a leadership challenge in October 1926 by Peter Loughlin, Lang's deputy leader. Lang survived this challenge on the casting vote of the Chairman.
The Lang Dictatorship
Lang responded to the challenge by calling a special meeting of the party conference where, at his request, the conference took a supervisory role in the pre-selection of party candidates, took away from caucus the power to elect the parliamentary leader and allowed the party leader to select the cabinet. In the press these rule changes were referred to as "the red rules" or "the Lang dictatorship".
Lang still faced significant opposition within the caucus and the caucus appointed cabinet but he was able to defeat his opponents by returning his commission as Premier to the Governor, Sir Dudley de Chair on 25 May 1927. This automatically resulted in the dismissal of the cabinet. As there was no viable alternative government, De Chair recommissioned Lang to form a caretaker government on the condition that he would recommend a dissolution of the Legislative Assembly and call an election. The new government was formed solely of Lang supporters, and Lang used the four months prior to the election to ensure that his opponents were denied ALP pre-selection. In part due to the switch to single-member electorates, the ALP lost the election. However, the ALP caucus that was elected was firmly under Lang's control, ensuring that he would dominate NSW Labor for the next 12 years.
Australian Labor Party (New South Wales)
In 1931 Lang had the support of the state party when he repudiated the Premiers' Plan for the economic management of the Great Depression and imposed a moratorium on the New South Wales government's overseas loans. This led to a split between the state and federal labor movements and Lang's first break-away party, the Australian Labor Party (NSW), became the dominant Labor force in New South Wales from 1931 to 1936, when unity was again achieved.
Defeat as leader
Lang's lack of success at state elections eroded his support within the labour movement. In his 16 years as state Labor leader, he only won two elections, in 1925 and 1930; he was defeated in 1927, 1932, 1935 and 1938. This led some members of caucus, including Bob Heffron, to break away to form the Industrial Labor Party. In 1939, following intervention by the Federal Executive, the two factions were reunited at a state conference. This gathering also reversed the "red rules" and returned the power of selecting the party leader to the caucus. Lang was replaced as state leader by William McKell.
Australian Labor Party (Non-Communist) and expulsion
In the meantime, left-wing forces had gained control of the extra-parliamentary executive of the New South Wales Branch, and in 1940 the state executive adopted a resolution calling for a "Hands off Russia" policy, which was seen as a policy opposing Australian involvement in World War II. Lang denounced this policy; despite his radicalism, he had always been strongly anti-Communist. He seceded from Labor, along with several supporters, and formed a new party called the Australian Labor Party (Non-Communist), which operated in the Federal sphere from 1940 to 1941 but had only minority support in the Labor movement of NSW. The Federal Executive again intervened in the NSW branch and expelled the leftist elements. Some members joined the Communist Party of Australia, but most joined the short-lived State Labor Party which was also known as the State Labor Party (Hughes-Evans). Following the Federal intervention, Lang and nearly all of his followers rejoined the ALP. Lang's own reconciliation with the ALP proved short-lived. In 1943, having published newspaper articles attacking McKell (NSW's Premier since 1941) and the Prime Minister John Curtin, he was expelled from the ALP and restarted the Australian Labor Party (Non-Communist). This manifestation of Lang Labor contested the 1944 NSW election, electing two members – Lang and Lilian Fowler, Australia's first female mayor. When Lang transferred to federal politics, he was succeeded as the Lang Labor member for Auburn by his son, James. Although Fowler and James Lang were both re-elected in 1947, the party was essentially defunct by 1950, and Fowler and Lang were defeated.
Federal Lang Labor
Lang Labor's final appearance in federal politics came when Lang was elected to the House of Representatives for the federal seat of Reid at the 1946 election, being elected with the benefit of Liberal Party preferences. Lang was a nuisance to the Labor government led, since 1945, by Ben Chifley, whom he repeatedly castigated in public. He lost his seat at the 1949 election. In the double dissolution 1951 election he stood for the Senate, but was not elected.
Lang was re-admitted to the NSW branch ALP in 1971 at the age of 94 after a campaign by his protégé Paul Keating. He died four years later.
- Green, Antony (2009). New South Wales Election Archive, Parliament of New South Wales
- Lang, J. T. (1970). The Turbulent Years, Alpha Books
- Lang, J. T. (1956). I Remember, Invicta Press
- McMullin, Ross (1991). The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891–1991, OUP
- Nairn, Bede (1995)Jack Lang the 'Big Fella':Jack Lang and the Australian Labor Party 1891-1949
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