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
‘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
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.