Welsh Lib Dems slipped to worst Senedd result despite huge £50,000 donation
The Welsh Liberal Democrats slumped to their worst ever Senedd election result despite benefiting from their biggest donation on record from the co-founder of Admiral insurance.
David Stevens, who is one of Wales’ richest people, made two donations worth a combined £50,000 to the Welsh Liberal Democrats in March, new figures published by the Electoral Commission show.
He and his business partner and wife, Heather Stevens, were worth a combined £212 million in 2019, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.
Together they have now donated more than three quarters of a million pounds to the Liberal Democrats since 2010, including £221,832 to the party in Wales.
One of David Stevens’ two latest donations worth £30,000 surpassed the previous largest single sum received by the party in Wales, which was a £27,129 donation from former Liberal Democrat Senedd member Peter Black in 2016.
But that couldn’t stop the Liberal Democrats losing their only constituency seat, Brecon and Radnorshire, to the Conservatives and seeing their vote share fall at a constituency and regional level by more than 2% across Wales.
That performance left the party with a lone regional MS, leader Jane Dodds, and cost the Liberal Democrats more than £18,000 in lost deposits in Senedd races, along with a further £15,000 of deposits lost in the elections for Wales’ four police and crime commissioners.
Following the election, former Senedd member Peter Black subsequently described his party’s campaign as a “mess” despite an “unprecedented investment in staffing and campaigning resource.”
“Welsh Liberal Democrats candidates were hampered by a vacuous national slogan, an anonymous manifesto, poor messaging, a shaky digital presence, and bland literature that was not even distributed in all constituencies,” he wrote.
“This was not the fault of hard-working and committed staff, but a failure in the planning stage to craft a distinctive message and vision which the party could campaign on, and to address the organisational issues that have plagued the Welsh Party for some time.”
The Senedd elections were not though the first time the Liberal Democrats had failed to capitalise on the deep pockets of David and Heather Stevens. The couple gave the party £300,000 ahead of the 2019 general election in which UK party leader Jo Swinson lost her seat after campaigning as the potential Prime Minister of a coalition government.
David Stevens studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University – a well-trodden path by those seeking power – but it is Heather Stevens who has played a more active role in politics over recent years.
She has given £450,000 to the party compared to £313,000 donated by her husband and was one of 20 prominent business people to sign an open letter backing the party ahead of the 2015 general election over its record on green issues.
The data also reveals fundraising problems for Plaid Cymru in the run up to the election, with the party receiving less in the first three months of the year than the Green Party in Wales.
The Electoral Commission data covering January to March, which only includes sums of £1,500 and above, shows Plaid Cymru received just one donation from an individual to its Gower branch and a further £2,000 given to its Ynys Môn branch from the party’s local councillors.
By comparison, the Green Party in Wales received three donations worth £6,950 over the same period. On a UK level, a host of minor parties including the Animal Welfare Party, the Scottish Family Party, Rejoin EU and the Women’s Equality Party all received more in donations.
The figures don’t reveal much about Labour and the Conservatives fundraising Wales as most donations are registered to their London headquarters.
Although they show the United and Cecil Club, a so-called ‘dark money’ group which donates on behalf of supporters who want to remain anonymous, gave £2,500 to the Conservative party’s south Wales central region.
At a UK level, the Conservatives raised £6.3 million compared to just £2.5 million for Labour.