An eminent Cambridge don and one-time colleague of C S Lewis has been revealed as the biggest individual donor to the Liberal Democrats in almost a decade.
In a change from the usual story of hedge-fund bosses and unions bankrolling Britain’s political establishment, latest figures from the Electoral Commission revealed that a retired English professor from St John’s College was the biggest donor to any single party in the past four months.
And not just any English professor. George G Watson taught the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, and worked alongside academic and The Chronicles of Narnia author CS Lewis, whom he first met at Oxford’s Socratic Club, an intellectual debating society, in 1948.
The donation of £950,000 was specified in Professor Watson’s will after he died in August aged 85. He had no close relatives and had named his next of kin as the Master of St John’s.
The last donation that the Liberal Democrats received near that scale was from the convicted fraudster Michael Brown in 2005.
Unlike Mr Brown, Professor Watson was a lifelong – if dissenting – Liberal who stood for Parliament in 1959 and was senior treasurer of the Cambridge University Liberal Club from 1978 to 1992.
As he once wrote: “Parties do not exact obedience, and to join is not to share responsibility for what they do or propose. I have been disagreeing with mine for decades, off and on. Not that anybody noticed.”
Lib Dems: policy focus
Lib Dems: policy focus
1/6 GEOFF PAYNE English Party representative, Federal Policy Committee
“The Tories have been seen over the last week for the nasty party that they are. I would go on the offensive to justify our record and ruthlessly exploit those differences over things like the benefit cap and scrapping the Human Rights Act.”
2/6 GARETH EPPS Co-chair, Social Liberal Forum
“We need to make it clear that we’re not in it for our mates, like the Tories. Some of the successes, like shared parental leave, would never have been there with only the Tories.”
3/6 DAISY COOPER Candidate, party president
“A lot of people do know that raising the tax threshold is a Liberal Democrat policy. We just need to keep telling the public that.”
4/6 JOHN PUGH Southport MP, rebelled against leadership on tuition fees
“We need to say that issues of social inequality and justice are equal priorities to economics. We must return to a traditional funding of the NHS.”
5/6 LORELY BURT Solihull MP, former deputy leadership candidate
“It does seem that we’ve been the repository of all the best ideas and that nice Mr Cameron has pinched our income tax policy and Labour the mansion tax policy.”
6/6 BARONESS PARMINTER Former chief executive, Campaign for the Protection of Rural England
“We have got to be very clear where we have stopped the Tories implementing changes that would have been detrimental to the environment.”
The Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert, who knew Professor Watson, described him as a “great thinker and a lifelong Liberal”.
“He stood for Parliament in 1959 in Cheltenham, and his 1959 campaign literature shows how little has changed,” he said.
“One section says: ‘Liberals made them get rid of identity cards – but the state still has far too much power in our lives’; ‘The Home Secretary thinks the police ought to tap private phone calls’; and ‘We need the European Common Market – Tory policy closes the door of Europe in our faces.’ He was a deep thinker and a great Liberal and is much missed.”
Elsewhere, the donations register show the usual mixture of big business supporting the Tories, with Labour increasingly having to rely on the unions for financial support. The Conservative Party reported donations totalling £6.76m, while Labour’s total was £3.19m.
Professor Watson’s donation helped the Liberal Democrats to report £2.75m. The SNP reported £1.57m and Ukip £98,380.
The Conservatives received sizeable gifts, including £500,000 from Addison Lee founder John Griffin. There was also £300,000 from businessman and party co-treasurer Lord Farmer – awarded a peerage in September.
Labour’s biggest donation was £520,000 from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.
Labour denied it was reliant on the unions and instead pointed to the businessmen banking the Tories
“David Cameron’s Tories are the party for a privileged few,” said Jonathan Ashworth, shadow Cabinet Office minister. The Tory election campaign will be funded by those who dine exclusively at the Prime Minister’s top table and a select few in the hedge-fund industry.”
Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said 69 per cent of donations to Labour under Ed Miliband had come from unions. “These figures show union bosses are deploying their chequebooks to shore up Ed Miliband’s faltering leadership,” he said.Reuse content