Goldsmith rejects Archer vote wager

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The Independent Online
A battle of the political plutocrats was joined yesterday when Sir James Goldsmith, the billionaire leader of the anti-European Union Referendum Party, refused a bet with Jeffrey Archer, a millionaire Tory peer, on how many votes he will get at the next election.

Lord Archer offered to pay him pounds 10 for every vote Referendum Party candidates obtained in excess of the 10 per cent required to save their deposits. In return, Sir James would have to cough up pounds 10 for every vote by which his candidates fell short of this target.

Sir James dismissed the challenge as a "publicity gimmick" and said: "There are certain things that are important that you don't gamble about."

Lord Archer said: "By not taking my bet we know he acknowledges he's not going to save his deposits." And he repeated his appeal to "an old friend, a man of great charisma and ability" to realise that he was making a very serious mistake which could hand the next election to Labour.

Sir James is prepared to spend pounds 20m to contest seats where no candidate with a winning chance backs a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

He confirmed on BBC's Breakfast With Frost that he will go ahead despite the Government's decision to promise a referendum should it decide to enter a single European currency. "Even if Britain wants to opt out of the single currency, it is still committed under the Treaty of Maastricht to running its economy to the benefit of the Community as a whole. That means that it has lost its independence in running its economic affairs," he said. Lord Archer, the former Tory party vice-chairman, issued his challenge at a meeting in Hardwick, Cambridgeshire, on Saturday, after an anti-EU candidate in the Staffordshire South East by-election won 1,272 votes - more than 10 per cent of the Tory party's total. The Referendum Party did not stand, but the UK Independence Party came fourth - well ahead of the usual fringe candidates.

Lord Archer said the danger was that anti-EU parties would provide an alternative home for disillusioned Tories. "There are some people who under no circumstances can vote Labour," he said. "We must not treat Sir James lightly because that is what George Bush did with Perot." However, Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor, said yesterday on Sky TV, that he was "very impressed" with what Sir James has said recently.