The Referendum Party was a Eurosceptic, single issue party that was active in the United Kingdom from 1994 until 1997. It was formed by Sir James Goldsmith to fight the 1997 UK General Election. The party called for a referendum on aspects of the UK's relationship with the European Union.
The formation of the party was announced by Goldsmith in November 1994. In September 1995 the party began recruiting candidates to contest the next general election. By October 1996 the party claimed 50,000 members and held its first national conference in Brighton.
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 Ireland, 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 were represented by a single MP in the House of Commons for two weeks before the dissolution in March 1997. George Gardiner, the Conservative MP for Reigate, changed parties in March 1997 following deselection by his local party.
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 general election the Referendum Party stood in 547 constituencies. The party polled 810,860 votes and finished fourth, with approximately 3% of the vote. It did not win a seat in the House of Commons. One of the most memorable images was Goldsmith taunting the government minister, David Mellor, who had lost his Putney 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 contended 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. Referendum Party candidate John Bufton later became a Member of the European Parliament for Wales for the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party.
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.
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 the millionaire Paul Sykes, who now supports the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The merged group, the Democracy Movement, is not a party, but a pressure group. The first president was Lady Annabel. Her son, and Goldsmith's stepson, Robin Birley, was chairman until 2004. Birley had also stood for election as a member of his stepfather's Referendum Party.
- Wood, Nicholas (28 November 1994). "Goldsmith forms a Euro referendum party". The Times. p. 1.
- Rawnsley, Andrew (3 September 1995). "Week in Politics: Jim could fix it for a referendum". The Observer. p. 11.
- Pierce, Andrew (21 October 1996). "Goldsmith pushes for membership of 400,000; Conference". The Times. p. 8.
- Andrew Pierce, "Goldsmith chooses his words for big question on Europe", The Times, London, 28 November 1996, p. 11.
- Grice, Andrew (9 March 1997). "Tory MP quits party to join Goldsmith". Sunday Times. p. 1.
- David Hass, "The Referendum Party's video mailer strategy", Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, October 1997.
- Parker, George (30 April 1997). "UK Election 97: Party to continue beyond May 1: Goldsmith". Financial Times. p. 10.
- politicsresources.net, UK General Election, 1997: Party Vote and Lost deposits
- "Bitter Mellor Rounds on Goldsmith". Daily Mail. 2 May 1997. p. 4.
- 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.
- Peter Etherden, The Goldsmith Agenda: Beyond The Referendum Party.
- Curtice and Steed, p. 307.
- Young, Robin (13 January 2001). "Goldsmith widow takes his mantle". The Times.
- Democracy Movement, a successor to the Referendum Party