|Founder||Sir James Goldsmith|
The Referendum Party was a Eurosceptic, single-issue political party that was active in the United Kingdom from 1994 to 1997.
Specifically, it called for a referendum on whether the British electorate wanted to either be part of a United States of Europe or revert to being a sovereign nation that was part of a European free-trade bloc without wider political functions.
John Major's 'Bastards'
They got him in the end. Those implacable ironsides finally bagged their first sitting prime minister. We must salute their stamina, if nothing else. Iain Duncan Smith, Bernard Jenkin and Liam Fox started their jihad against the EU in general and the Maastricht Treaty in particular within months of being elected to Parliament in 1992. Within three years, they had launched their first coup: ‘Redwood versus Deadwood’ (the Sun, June 25, 1995). It didn’t come off, although it came closer than polite opinion liked to admit. But John Major was mortally wounded by the 'Bastards', and the electorate put him out of his misery only two years later. The 'Bastards' cannot have expected then that it would all take so long. Cobden and Bright needed only eight years for their Anti-Corn Law League to gain its objectives. John Bright’s descendant, Bill Cash, has spent thirty years on his crusade.
The Bruges Group, the Referendum Party and the UK Independence Party have never missed an opportunity to badmouth Brussels, egged on by the Daily Telegraph’s inventive young EC correspondent, Boris Johnson (Brussels 1989–94).
Founded in 1994
The party was founded by the Anglo-French multi-millionaire businessman and politician James Goldsmith in November 1994. A Eurosceptic who had previously had close links to the UK's governing Conservative Party, he was also an elected Member of the European Parliament for the Movement for France party. He used his financial resources and contacts to promote the new venture, in which he was assisted by other former Conservatives. The party's structure was centralised and hierarchical, giving Goldsmith near total control over its operations. Although not offering party membership, it claimed to have 160,000 registered "supporters", an exaggerated number. In 1997, the party gained a Member of Parliament (MP) for two weeks when George Gardiner, the MP for Reigate, defected to it from the Conservatives shortly before that year's general election.
In the build-up to the 1997 general election, the Referendum Party spent more on press advertising than either the incumbent Conservatives or their main rival, the Labour Party. It stood candidates in 547 of the 659 constituencies, more than any minor party had ever fielded in a UK election. Ultimately, it gained 811,827 votes, representing 2.6% of the national total. Support was strongest in southern and eastern England, and weakest in inner London, northern England, and Scotland. The party failed to win any seats in the House of Commons. Following the election, psephologists argued that the impact of the Referendum Party deprived Conservative candidates of victory in somewhere between four and sixteen parliamentary seats. In the months following the election, the party renamed itself the Referendum Movement.
Goldsmith died in July 1997, and the party disbanded shortly after. Some of its supporters reformed as a Eurosceptic pressure group called the Democracy Movement, and many others joined Eurosceptic political parties like the UK Independence Party and the Democratic Party.