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The Referendum Party was the name of a series of single-issue parties in the United Kingdommarker that called for a referendum on aspects of the UK's relationship with the European Union. The most significant was that formed by Sir James Goldsmith to fight the 1997 General Election.

Images from the video tape the Referendum Party delivered to over 5 million UK homes in March 1997.


Policy

The party's position was that there should be a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union. It planned to contest every constituency where there was no leading candidate in favour of such a referendum. In general, most seats it did not contest had sitting Eurosceptic Conservative MPs; however, some prominent pro-European MPs from all parties were not opposed because they supported putting the issue to the vote. Similarly, most Referendum Party candidates, activists and supporters were Eurosceptic, but some were pro-European. In Northern Irelandmarker, the Referendum Party did not stand, but instead endorsed the Ulster Unionist Party.

The referendum question which the party proposed was announced on 28 November 1996:

"Do you want the United Kingdom to be part of a federal Europe or do you want the United Kingdom to return to an association of sovereign nations that are part of a common trading market?"


The Referendum Party briefly held a seat in the House of Commonsmarker after George Gardiner, the Conservative MP for Reigate, changed parties following a battle against deselection by his local party.

Election record

In March 1997 the party delivered a videotape to five million UK households. The 12-minute film, presented by former That's Life! presenter Gavin Campbell, warned of a coming "federal European super-state".

In the 1997 election, the Referendum Party polled 800,000 votes, but did not win a seat in the House of Commonsmarker. One of the most memorable images was Goldsmith taunting the government minister, David Mellor, who had lost his Putneymarker seat where Goldsmith stood as candidate.

According to analysis by John Curtice and Michael Steed, "only a handful of the Conservatives' losses of seats can be blamed on the intervention of the Referendum Party". Their best estimate was that only four seats would have been Conservative without the Referendum Party standing. Supporters of the party contend the effect was greater: one estimate claims between 25 and 30 seats.

Curtice and Steed's statistical analysis suggested that when a candidate from the Referendum Party or the UK Independence Party stood, the Conservative vote suffered, but where the candidate did well, it was by attracting people who would have voted for Labour or the Liberal Democrats. Gardiner campaigned for re-election in Reigate, but was not successful, losing to the new Conservative candidate.

Goldsmith vowed that the party would continue but his death in July deprived it of its best-known figure and the money he offered. The party ceased to exist not long afterwards.

Referendum Movement

A successor, the Referendum Movement, was created by leaders of the party, including Lady Annabel Goldsmith, who was made the honorary president. This merged in January 1999 with the Euro Information Campaign, another pro-sterling, anti-Euro group funded by millionaire Paul Sykes. The merged group, the Democracy Movement, is not a party, but a pressure group. The first president was Lady Annabel. Robin Birley was chairman until 2004. Birley had also stood for election as a member of his stepfather's Referendum party.

References

  1. Andrew Pierce, "Goldsmith chooses his words for big question on Europe", The Times, London, 28 November 1996, p. 11.
  2. David Hass, " The Referendum Party's video mailer strategy", Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, October 1997.
  3. John Curtice and Michael Steed, "The Results Analysed" (appendix 2), p. 308 in David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, "The British General Election of 1997", Macmillan, 1997.
  4. Peter Etherden, The Goldsmith Agenda: Beyond The Referendum Party.
  5. Curtice and Steed, p. 307.


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