Sir James Goldsmith
and the Referendum Party

In 1994, billionaire Sir James Goldsmith launched The Referendum Party, the first and most ambitious political campaign ever undertaken to secure for the British people the right to vote on the European Union.

In the run-up to the 1997 election, under the direction of Sir James’ Chief-of-Staff, Patrick Robertson, The Referendum Party created from scratch a national political organisation that was chaired by former Conservative Party treasurer, Lord McAlpine.  By May 1997 the party had recruited 547 parliamentary candidates, trained 180 political agents and opened ten regional offices, with 160,000 signed-up supporters and a fully staffed office at Westminster.  Its £20 million media campaign produced under Bernard Shrimsley 25 million copies of “Referendum Now”, a newspaper that the party distributed to every household in Britain, five million copies of a VHS tape called “The Most Important Video You’ll Ever Watch”, and the biggest national newspaper advertising campaign of any political party.  On the eve of the election, The Referendum Party held the biggest political rally since the war at Alexandra Palace.

The historic achievement of Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party was to secure a cast-iron commitment from the main political parties to hold a referendum before joining the Single Currency.  That commitment protected British independence for a generation, until the truly seismic referendum campaign of June 2016.  Sir James, who had been bravely battling terminal cancer, died a few weeks after the 1997 election. 

Sir James Goldsmith on Campaign in 1997 (AP Archive)