NEWS: Referendum Party claims right to PPB

Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party is embroiled in a row with Labour and the Conservatives after demanding a party political broadcast at the next general election.

Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party is embroiled in a row with Labour

and the Conservatives after demanding a party political broadcast at the

next general election.



Goldsmith, the billionaire businessman, who is threatening to field 600

candidates committed to a referendum on Britain’s future in Europe, has

approached the broadcasters to claim the right to a PPB slot.



His move has posed a dilemma for BBC and ITV chiefs, who allocate PPBs

by reaching consensus with the parties on the joint Committee on Party

Political Broadcasting.



‘We are seeking clarification on the issue,’ a source close to Goldsmith

said this week. ‘In a country like this one, we believe there will be

fair play. There is no reason to suppose that the politicians in other

parties will want to have a closed shop.’



However, the Tories and Labour have reacted with hostility. The Tories

are trying to deprive Goldsmith of ‘the oxygen of publicity’ and one

senior party source said: ‘It is like the argument about who made

Maurice Saatchi famous. It wasn’t the Tory Party, it was the Labour

Party.’ This was a reference to the 1979 ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster

showing a dole queue.



Robin Cook, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: ‘If there’s one

thing I don’t want to see introduced from politics in the US, it is the

ability of millionaires to buy their way into politics and substantially

warp the public debate.’



Goldsmith is planning to spend pounds 20 million on his election

campaign and is talking to ‘two or three’ agencies including the front-

runner, Banks Hoggins O’Shea (Campaign, 15 March).



The ability of the two main parties to influence the share-out of PPBs

was illustrated when the Liberal Democrat Party failed in its recent

attempt to land the eve-of-poll slot before this Thursday’s local

authority elections.



Labour and the Tories usually take turns to fill the final PPB slot each

year but the LibDems have argued that they should be included since they

now have more seats and control more councils than the Tories.



However, the Lib Dems had to be satisfied with a broadcast this Monday,

and were followed by Labour on Tuesday and the Tories on Wednesday.



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