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Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society


Vol. 12 2003

Desmond Donnelly and Pembrokeshire politics, 1964-70

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By J. Graham Jones
Of the array of Labour politicians in twentieth century Wales, very few
were as colourful and unpredictable as arch-maverick Desmond Louis
Donnelly (1920-74), Labour MP for Pembrokeshire from 1950 until his
expulsion from the party in the spring of 1968, and subsequently Inde-
pendent Labour Member until the general election of June 1970. Later
still, he was to throw in his lot with Ted Heath's Conservative Party,
avidly seeking nomination as a Conservative prospective parliamentary
candidate. Born in India in 1920, the son of a tea planter of Irish descent,
Donnelly received his education at Bembridge School on the Isle of
Wight, worked as an office boy in a city warehouse (earning only 12s.
6d. per week), and served in the Royal Air Force throughout the duration
of the Second World War, eventually attaining the rank of flight lieu-
tenant with the Desert Air Force. He achieved some recognition when in
1940 he was one of the founders of the British Empire Cricket Eleven,
playing alongside a number of cricketers of outstanding calibre. At the
end of the war he also lectured at the RAF Staff College.
As a schoolboy Donnelly had been an active member of the Labour
League of Youth, and in 1936 had joined the Labour Party. He first hit
the hustings in the general election of July 1945 when, at only 25 years
of age, he stood as the Commonwealth candidate for Evesham, and in
1946 he fought the highly rural county Down constituency in the Labour
interest, polling an impressive 28,846 votes at a time when the Attlee
administration was highly unpopular in Northern Ireland. A natural jour-
nalist with an array of newspaper columns to his credit, in 1946 Donnelly
was appointed editor of Town and Country Planning, and in 1948 he
became Director of the Town and Country Planning Association. His
political aspirations were finally realised in February 1950 when he
succeeded in toppling veteran National Liberal MP Major Gwilym
Lloyd-George, a member of Wales's premier political dynasty, from his
Pembrokeshire citadel, a sensational victory which ran strongly counter
to the national anti-Labour swing.
Donnelly had come to prominence as one of the Labour Party's national
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