Zac Goldsmith: How my dad saved Britain

If you’re grateful not to be in the euro, it’s James Goldsmith and his ‘rebel army’ you should thank

28 February 2015

9:00 AM

28 February 2015

9:00 AM

In recent weeks Ed Balls has been offering a new reason to vote Labour: it was his party, he says, that saved Britain from joining the euro. Now, the shadow chancellor is free to say what he wants — and in a way, I’m pleased that he feels the need to convey such an impression. But the true story of how Britain was saved from the euro is somewhat different.

It all happened nearly a generation ago, between 1995 and 1997, when I was in my very early twenties. It was my father, James Goldsmith, who set out to ensure that Britain would never join the euro without the consent of the people. He dedicated the last years of his life to the cause. My mother campaigned in his constituency for 12 hours every day. He gave it all he had: he was battling terminal pancreatic cancer and died in July 1997, just weeks after the general election.

James Goldsmith formed the Referendum party in 1995 and called for a full referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. In doing so, he unleashed a chain of events that led inexorably and inevitably to a public veto on joining the single currency.

It started with an interview on the BBC’s Breakfast with Frost. He pledged that he would fully fund a candidate in every constituency in Britain to fight the 1997 general election on a single policy: the right of the British people to decide their future in Europe. No political party was willing to offer a referendum — he wanted to put that right.

To my father, the euro was obviously the most immediate threat from the EU, but it was not the only one. He was appalled that EU law could override our sovereign parliament, and by the bureaucratic assault on ancient English civil liberties such as habeas corpus. He was dismayed by the destruction of British agriculture and traditional fishing communities. Above all, he rejected the idea that an unelected elite in Brussels should rule Britain while being answerable to nobody.

At the end of 1995 the Referendum party announced that it would field 547 candidates in the next election — fighting four out of five constituencies. The volunteers were men and women from all walks of life and shades of political opinion whom my father dubbed the ‘rabble army’. He launched a massive political campaign that was (and remains to this day) unique in British political history. It placed double-page advertising in all national newspapers, and issued five million videos and 46 million copies of a special newspaper — one for each household in Britain. There were 60 political agents training candidates out of ten regional offices, more than 300,000 fully audited members, and more than 300 public meetings throughout Britain. The campaign culminated in a rally of 9,500 people at Alexandra Palace.

An intensive public education campaign followed. According to internal Gallup polls, half the country was Euro-sceptic — and one in six Conservative voters was intending to vote for the Referendum party. This focused Tory minds. On 17 April 1996, Sir John Major announced that the Conservatives would go into the election promising not to join the single currency without consulting the British people.

I don’t think anyone believes this announcement was motivated by personal conviction. Sir John’s objective was to spike the guns of the Referendum party. For good measure, he also quietly offered my father a peerage. I am glad he did — the offer made my father laugh so much that, I like to believe, it may have prolonged his life by a few weeks.

The Referendum party had given the public a way of saying clearly that a general election victory did not mean permission to abolish the pound. Tony Blair grudgingly accepted this, which is why Labour’s 1997 manifesto said that if the pound was to be scrapped, ‘The people would have to say “yes” in a referendum.’ Blair wanted to ensure that the whole issue of Europe was pushed under the carpet and wouldn’t get in the way of a Labour victory.

Eighteen years after these events, which were so formative in my life, the true importance of what was achieved by the Referendum party ought to be more widely acknowledged. The pledge extracted from mainstream political parties by the ‘rabble army’ has ensured that Britain is safe from the disaster still unfolding on the continent. Nobody but the rabble army may lay claim to that achievement. Sorry Ed Balls — keeping Britain out of the euro calamity is my father’s legacy, not yours.

The era of stable government is over

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Zac Goldsmith is the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, and a former owner and editor of the Ecologist.

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Show comments
  • Rik

    Respect sir and gratitude,lets hope another rabble rouser N Farage can continue this grand tradition of speaking for the people and demanding our voices are heard.

  • Lady Magdalene

    The country owes a huge debt of gratitude to Sir James Goldsmith (RIP).

    I left the Conservatives and joined the Referendum Party and I firmly believe that without Sir James we would have been dragged into the Euro by Blair, if Major hadn’t done it first.

    UKIP is the successor to the Referendum Party. It is a great shame that Zac Goldsmith doesn’t follow Carswell and Reckless to the only party that is fighting for British independence AND put his money behind the campaign to get OUT of the EU.

    • Bonkim

      Not quite – UKIP does not have the intellectual vigour of Goldsmith.

  • MickC

    Yes, James Goldsmith was right about the Euro. He was also right about the effects of globalisation.

    I still remember him furiously and correctly destroying on TV the journalist who had made false allegations about him. Brilliant!

  • Adrian Oldfield

    We need more Jimmy Goldsmiths. What a remarkable man

  • WFB56

    Well done in reminding people of the true record and not the usual Brown/Ball’s spin on the subject.

  • Bonkim

    Have to agree I was a member of the Referendum Party.

  • Jamie Stevenson

    Yes indeed, the Referendum Party made waves and Major’s commitment on a vote before entering the euro may have been swayed by fear of the Referendum party. So credit to James Goldsmith for that achievement. But this – and indeed this whole wonderfully affectionate filial article – overlooks one overwhelming reality of political life at that time which destroys its argument. Who cared what John Major put in his manifesto! Near absolute political power lay for the next eight years at least with New Labour and its two thumping great parliamentary majorities. Blair could have led us into the euro in the face of a hundred James Goldsmiths and his Tory sympathisers … if it had not been for his curmudgeonly Chancellor of the Exchequer who put every possible obstacle in his path. I am afraid that the realistic debt of gratitude is owed to Gordon Brown who held – and wielded – the power to block Blair’s economic illiteracy and madness. It is not owed the James Goldsmith, for all his undoubted brilliance and correct judgement on this particular issue. Neither he nor the Referendum Party held the power. Ed Balls, of course, is equally wrong to credit the Labour Party for keeping us out of the euro. 99% of the New Labour gliterati of the 1990s would have cheerfully led us into the euro. It was an individual act of obstinacy on Brown’s part which kept us out. And actually for good solid economic and monetary reasons – the maths of a single currency just does not work in a non-federal union. Nothing to do with this rhetoric about sovereignity which is irrelevant in today’s inter-connected world.

    • Pacificweather

      That is a very interesting argument and, given Gordon Brown’s economic illiteracy, begs the question would the British taxpayer have lost less money by not having Brown but having the Euro. It can only ever be a hypothetical question but I wouldn’t mind betting it would be a close run thing.

      • Jamie Stevenson

        Who knows whether Brown was a net positive or negative for the UK economy since these macro-economic variables are impossible to control and assess. My simple point was that between 1997 and 2005 political power in the UK lay with New Labour and, however noble and perceptive James Goldsmith may have been, the Referendum Party (and indeed the Tory Party) were bit part players with no clout whatsoever. Ergo, for all his admirable warmth of feeling towards his father, Zac Goldsmith’s headline “How my dad saved Britain” is clearly nonsense. He had absolutely nothing to do with the rearguard action fought by Brown to stop Blair taking us into the euro – which he would have easily achieved with a more compliant Chancellor of the Exchequer. Ironically – and this is another example of how unfair life can be – the only figure from the (loosely defined) “Right” who might have also had an influence on the decision to reject euro membership was the much less attractive persona of Rupert Murdoch. Thanks to the false signals from the 1992 Election (when Blair, Campbell et al were convinced that it really was The Sun Wot Won It – utter nonsense, of course, since it was Pillock Kinnock Wot Lost It), New Labour lived in fear of the dreaded Murdoch curse. That may also have strengthened Brown’s hand in resisting euro membership. But James Goldsmith, magnificent as he was, had absolutely no influence in the matter whatsoever.

        • Pacificweather

          I am broadly in agreement with you althought I would offer two comments. My son admitted to me that he voted Conservative in 1992 because of The Sun. So much for a university education.

          Secondly, there can be no question that Gordon Brown cost the British taxpayer billions. Gold, PFIs, Metronet, Tax Credits, buying failed banks. This man was a disaster that makes Norman Lamont and John Major look like effective financial managers (I want my £7billion pounds back Norman!).

          • Jamie Stevenson

            This exchange is starting to revise my view of online article comments. Am impressed by all the points which you make. Perhaps Kelvin Mackenzie merits a larger place in our political history than I allow him. Whether justified or not, his bravura editorship of the Sun (which it has never quite had the same outrageous brilliance since the 1980s) gave Murdoch a special place in the British political sun (sorry, not intended) for the next three decades. Totally endorse your arguments re gold, PFIs (what an outrage – even their intellectual godmother, Thatcher, was rightly persuaded by the Treasury of their nonsensical maths on cost of capital, it took a trio of “left-wing” financial illiterates in Blair, Prescott and Brown to push them to their logical absurdity) and tax credits. Not sure about buying failed banks. Was there an alternative at the time? You can argue about how and why we got there (light touch, the so-called genius idea of the Monetary Policy Committee which created the 2004-2007 asset price bubble with over-lax interest rates linked to RPI) but once we hit the buffers in 2008, surely bank bailout was the only option?

          • Pacificweather

            The problem is that buying banks protects the shareholders from their own incompetence. The alternative would have been to to allow the banks to fail and bail out their non bank creditors. Lehman Bros creditors will never receive their share of the assets because the administrators and their lawyers will eat all the assets. It will take 100 years to unwind the interbank trades. If you cancel the trades and pay the non bank creditors the shareholders take the hit rather than the taxpayer. If the shareholders take the hit you avoid moral hazard.

    • MickC

      Yes, I agree that Brown “kept us out of the Euro” by stopping Blair taking us in.
      However, he was effectively “standing on the shoulders of a giant”, because the hard work had already been done.
      I do not agree that he kept us out because he recognised the flaws. My view is that he wished to retain economic control and therefore power over Blair, which he would have lost had we joined the Euro.
      Blair was hobbled by Brown, and thus put his energies into foreign affairs. The Blair/Brown government had a unique chance to do good for the UK, wasted because of their personal antipathy.
      In the words of Kurt Vonnegut “so it goes”.

  • Lindsay Jenkins

    Jimmy Goldsmith was a great man. He did indeed save Britain.
    Of course weak power seekers like John Major climbed on his bandwagon to save
    their own political skins; while Major embraced the pound gave away so
    much more. So have all his successors. We owe Jimmy Goldsmith our economic
    success today, but as he saw clearly we have given away nearly everything else.

    • Ed  

      Vote UKIP.

  • sheff

    He had my vote, and he has my thanks.

  • akrasia

    It’s a pleasure to have the chance to recognise your father Zac as the brave true visionary he was. As MickC says he was right about the Euro and the effects of globalisation. For those unfamiliar with his writing please read his book “The Trap’, translated into English from the popular original French in 1993.
    It is the most accurate and prescient analysis of the key problems we face today 20 years in advance!
    It is out of print unfortunately (second hand copies via ebay etc ).
    Any chance you could re issue a digital version for download in his memory Zac?
    It would be an appropriate rejoinder to the political invertebrates we have today attempting a free ride on the shoulders of giants.
    Best Wishes.

    • RMcGeddon

      The Trap can be downloaded here:-


      • akrasia

        Thanks RM, I didn’t realise the site had been updated. Archive very comprehensive, excellent.
        Am reading it again as it happens.

  • PetaJ

    This is completely accurate except for one small point. John Major was not in favour of the Euro. He advocated retaining the Ecu system with national currencies running alongside it and being adjusted against it.
    Having said that, in 1997 I voted for ‘the Referendum Party’. I did so because I felt as strongly about the issue as James Goldsmith did.

  • A delightful read. I was proud to know Jimmy Goldsmith; proud to learn politics at his feet and fight a campaign alongside him (as the Referendum Party’s candidate for Stratford-upon-Avon). As I wrote in the Mail a while ago, “It was his democratic mission to restore our democratic rights” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2356945/ADRIAN-HILTON-A-Conservative-Referendum-Party-vindication-Sir-James-Goldsmith.html The great man has been vindicated, though his vision awaits fulfilment. But our day of independence certainly approaches (..God, I hope..).

  • willoyen

    did Jimmy Goldsmith pay his taxes?

    • Blindsideflanker

      You dishonour your cause by your utterances.

    • Ed  

      Does willoyen molest young boys?

  • Blindsideflanker

    I agree with you. I was exiting the Conservative party over their EUphillia and though I was campaigning against the Euro on my own, it wasn’t very successful, as such I was very grateful of Sir James to give us a political party that gave us a vehicle to put the issue on the national stage, which pressurised the main political parties to give us a referendum on the Euro, killing off any chance of them ever getting us in to it.

    I was campaigning on behalf of the Referendum Party in the neighbouring constituency to Sir James’s, and was pleased to meet the great man on a couple of occasions.

  • edlancey

    Don’t miss this video (an hour well spent) when he’s at the top of his game – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PQrz8F0dBI – when he takes apart some lefty, globalist shill.


  • David Ganz

    The Wikipedia entry tells it as it was

    In 1976 he issued more than 60 libel writs against Private Eye and its distributors, nearly bankrupting the magazine and almost imprisoning its editorRichard Ingrams. Goldsmith also pursued vendettas against other journalists who queried his methods, including Barbara Conway who wrote the Scrutineer column in the City pages of the Daily Telegraph. In November 1977, Goldsmith made a notorious appearance on The Money Programme on BBC television when he accused the programme of making up lies about him and stormed off the set.[14]

    • akrasia

      You’ve cut and paste the Wikipedia entry on him. So what, it’s hardly Hansard is it.

      You report the subjective ad hominum re ‘personal vendetta’ and his ‘notorious appearance on The Money Programme’ as though it were fact. I’ve seen the clip, have you? It’s a typical piece of anti business beeb ad hominum but he skewers them anyway with their own words before they ‘run out of time’. As a piece of social history it says more about the BBC’s historical left wing bias than Sir James Goldsmith.
      I believe Private Eye eventually gave up, having not being able to lay a glove on him. You pays yer money etc.

    • henryGrattan1800

      Barbara Conway, a regular critic of his financial activities, was dying of cancer. “I hope she chokes on her own vomit” was his only comment”…he made asset stripping an art form…good riddance

  • StepByStep2004

    Good stuff Zac, all we need now is someone to save Britain from your dad!

  • ohforheavensake

    And that’s a No. Jamie Goldsmith was a political joke.

  • Well said Zac, I remember your father’s activities with much fondness.
    I wish more current politicians had even 10% of his ethics, values and beliefs.

  • John Andrews

    Zac: why not follow in your Dad’s footsteps and fund an anti-EU party?

  • Lydia Robinson

    We need more mavericks like Goldsmith Snr and Zac looks to be following in his footsteps.

  • milford

    Well said Zac, your father was a great man and a passionate patriot. If only he were alive today.

  • Agrippina

    Sir James was a brilliant man. I had the pleasure of working with him and although he had made his money by being a globalist, he realised its limitations.

    His book The Trap is fabulous. It outlines the duty a govt has to its citizens and that globalisation would lead to the dire straits we here in the UK are currently experiencing.

    Please Zac, join UKIP, the conlablibs have brought our great country to its knees. We need mavericks and you could change the course our country is travelling along. We need democracy and membership of the EU is contrary to that basic need.

  • Denis_Cooper

    It’s a pity that Major is still around while Goldsmith is not.