Referendum Party

From Academic Kids

The Referendum Party was the name of a series of single-issue parties in the United Kingdom that called for referendums on aspects of the UK's relationship with the European Union. By far the most significant was that formed to fight the 1997 General Election. The leading figure behind their formation was James Goldsmith. The party's position was simply that there should be a referendum held on the UK's continued membership of the European Union. It had a policy to contest every constituency where there was not a leading candidate in favour of holding such a referendum. In general most of the seats that they did not contest had sitting Eurosceptic Conservatives MPs, however there were some prominent pro European MPs from all parties who were not opposed because they too supported putting the issue to the popular vote. Similarly, most Referendum Party candidates, activists and supporters were of a clear Eurosceptic leaning but some were pro European. In Northern Ireland the Referendum Party did not stand, but instead endorsed the Ulster Unionist Party.

The Referendum Party very briefly held a seat in the House of Commons after George Gardiner, the Conservative MP for Reigate, changed parties following a protracted battle against deselection by his local party. In the 1997 election itself, the Referendum Party polled fairly well for a brand new single issue party, receiving in excess of 800,000 votes, but did not threaten to win a seat in the House of Commons. One of the most memorable images of that election was the sight of Goldsmith taunting David Mellor after the latter had lost his Putney seat, where Goldsmith also stood as a candidate. By some estimates (see e.g. [1] (http://www.cesc.net/radicalweb/radicalconsultation/etherden/pe3.html), a partisan website written by a supporter of the ex-party) the Referendum Party cost the Conservatives 25-30 seats at the election by taking crucial votes in closely-fought constituencies. Others argue that the Referendum Party drew votes from other parties and a significant portion of people who would otherwise not have voted at all, and thus only a handful of Conservative seats were lost by the Referendum Party's intervention.

Gardiner campaigned for re-election in Reigate, but was not successful, losing to the new Conservative candidate.

Goldsmith vowed that the party would continue after the 1997 election, but his death in July of that year, deprived them of their most high profile figure and the financial support he offered them. The party ceased to exist not long afterwards. A successor of sorts, the Referendum Movement, was created by the remaining inner circle of the Party. This Movement merged in January 1999 with the Euro Information Campaign - another pro-pound, anti-euro group funded by a multi-millionaire - in this case Paul Sykes. The merged group, the Democracy Movement, is not a political party but rather a political pressure group. Many members of the Referendum Party have switched their voting support to the UK Independence Party.

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