Sir James Goldsmith
and the Referendum Party

In 1994, the Anglo-French billionaire and MEP, Sir James Goldsmith, launched The Referendum Party, the most ambitious political campaign ever undertaken to secure for the British people the right to vote on leaving the European Union. He asked Patrick Robertson to put his plans into action.

In the run-up to the 1997 election, under Patrick’s direction, The Referendum Party created from scratch a national political organisation capable of fighting an election against the established political parties. Chaired by former Conservative Party treasurer, Lord McAlpine, and led by Sir James, the party recruited and trained 547 parliamentary candidates and 180 political agents, opened ten regional offices served by a fully-staffed HQ at Westminster, and signed-up more than 160,000 registered supporters.  The Referendum Party’s £20 million media campaign, launched in 1996, produced twenty-five million copies of the newspaper “Referendum Now” posted to every household in Britain, six million VHS tapes of a compelling film called “The Most Important Video You’ll Ever Watch”, and the biggest media advertising campaign of any political party.  On the eve of the election, The Referendum Party held a rally of 12,000 supporters at Alexandra Palace, the largest political gathering of any party since the war.

The historic achievement of Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party was to secure, before the 1997 election, a cast-iron commitment from the main political parties to hold a binding referendum before joining the Euro. That promise protected British independence until the historic referendum campaign of 2016.  In the long term, the legacy of the Referendum Party was to provide the educational foundation, training and organisation for a generation of committed Eurosceptic campaigners, many of whom went on to make important contributions to the success of the Leave campaign in June 2016. 

Sir James, who had been bravely battling cancer, died a few weeks after the 1997 election.

Sir James Goldsmith on Campaign in 1997 (AP Archive)