Former UK political party / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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The Referendum Party was a Eurosceptic, single-issue political party that was active in the United Kingdom from 1994 to 1997. The party's sole objective was for a referendum to be held on the nature of the UK's membership of the European Union (EU). Specifically, it called for a referendum on whether the British electorate wanted to be part of a federal European state or to revert to being a sovereign nation that was part of a European free-trade bloc without wider political functions.
The Referendum 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", a number that was probably an exaggeration. The party gained a Member of Parliament (MP) for two weeks in 1997, 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 May 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 the party gained 811,827 votes, representing 2.6% of the national total; it failed to win any seats in the House of Commons. Support was strongest in southern and eastern England, and weakest in inner London, northern England, and Scotland. 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 afterward. Some of its supporters reformed as a Eurosceptic pressure group called the Democracy Movement while many others joined Eurosceptic political parties like the UK Independence Party and the Democratic Party.