A contested contest: George Reid's election to the leadership of the New South Wales free trade party
In October 1891 Henry Parkes' Free Trade government lost power when the recently established Labor Party sided with the Protectionists to defeat an adjournment motion. Though it was no censure motion, Parkes took this seemingly innocuous vote as a defeat and resigned his position as Premier for the last time. Exhausted, Parkes also resigned the leadership of the Free Trade Party. The Party, a loose and diverse group of parliamentary members united by an attachment to the flexible principle of free trade, and to Parkes himself, was left to find a new leader. It had previously only ever held one leadership election, and that was a simple exercise of reaffirming Parkes' power. Now the Party faced the difficult task of finding a successor whose actions would determine whether this group would stay together at all. Over two haphazard meetings debate raged. Many sought to convince Parkes to return, others declined when they were called upon to replace him. Finally the Party came to a seemingly ambivalent decision. It chose George Reid, the man whose opposition to the draft federal constitution had played a central role in the fall of Parkes' government. Everyone who attended these meetings seems to have emerged from them with a different account of how this had occurred. This article considers how a fledgling political party that had been so closely associated with Sir Henry Parkes came to choose his long-time adversary George Reid as its leader. It argues that this event marked a key moment in the development of the New South Wales (NSW) and Australian Party system, cementing parliamentary party caucus elections as the method of choosing party leaders.
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