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Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society


Vol. 12 2003

Desmond Donnelly and Pembrokeshire politics, 1964-70

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speakers panel ever since 1946, had addressed more than 200 political
meetings throughout the length and breadth of the country during the
intervening years, and during the winter of 1948-49 had published in the
Daily Herald a series of articles defending his party's advocacy of the
nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. Narrowly missing the
Labour nomination for West Gateshead by only two votes in the spring
of 1949, in August he was chosen prospective candidate for remote
Pembrokeshire over the heads of a number of native Welshmen. His
professional work meant that he was fully sensitive to the need to attract
industrial initiatives to the rural areas and he soon endeared himself to
the local electorate. The division had been viewed as a 'target seat' by
the Labour Party hierarchy ever since 1945 when Lloyd-George had
narrowly repelled a powerful Socialist challenge by only 168 votes.
Party heavyweights like Prime Minister Clement Attlee, Aneurin Bevan
and Jim Griffiths had all addressed political meetings in the county, no
effort was spared to increase substantially Labour representation in local
government, and the party's county organisation was overhauled and
much improved. A deep-rooted, venomous cleavage in the ranks of local
Liberals over the active support rendered by Major Lloyd-George to
Tory aspirants in a number of divisions had also helped to improve
Donnelly's prospects by winning over the support of several disgruntled
former radical Liberals.
In February 1950 Desmond Donnelly captured Pembrokeshire by a
hair's breadth 129 votes, thus becoming, at 29 years of age, the youngest
Labour MP in the new House of Commons, and one of the few new
Labour MPs in an election which had seen the party ravaged at the polls.
The new member, pithily dubbed 'an Englishman with an Irish name
sitting for a Welsh seat', was initially viewed as a member of the left-
wing Bevanite group within the House of Commons.' Hugh Dalton's
biographer has described him as 'a maverick Bevanite who, unknown to
left-wing associates, leaked Bevanite secrets to Dalton who passed them
on to Gaitskell', while Michael Foot, in his acclaimed biography of
Aneurin Bevan, correctly wrote of Donnelly as the 'compulsive informer
in our midst who reported our proceedings to Hugh Dalton and thereby
to the Whips'.2 Seen by Dalton himself as 'a perfect leak' of Bevanite
secrets to the party mainstream, Donnelly travelled extensively in Eastern
Europe, grew convinced of the inevitability of German rearmament and
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