Top Cambridge don leaves £1m legacy to Lib Dems

Former colleague of C S Lewis gave the party its biggest donation for nearly a decade

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Indy Politics

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.”


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.