Sir James's effusive acolytes off to an affluent start

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The Independent Online
If enthusiasm won votes, the clutch of Referendum Party prospective candidates who gathered in Ludlow, Shropshire, yesterday could at least count on saving their deposits. Whether any will be elected on 1 May is more debatable.

The 15 hopefuls met in surroundings that would please Sir James Goldsmith, their benefactor. The 17th-century Feathers Hotel is a place of affluence, with a four-poster room costing pounds 95. In the Prince Charles suite, the party organiser, Gareth Davies, told his troops: "If Sir James hadn't set up the party, I would. The difference is that in that case you probably wouldn't have heard of it."

Mr Davies is dedicated: "I've put my business - I develop and market board-games - on hold to work full-time for the party." His most successful game, Spreadbet, offers a gamble as tricky as one undertaken by Clive Easton, the party's banner-carrier in Hereford.

An airline pilot, he is on unpaid leave. "I can't put my hand on my heart and forecast what will happen. But I've resigned from the Conservative Party because I'm disgusted at their European policy," he said. Hereford is held by Colin Shepherd for the Tories with a 3,413 majority .

Liz Phillips was there, blazing enthusiasm, in her burgundy sweater bearing the legend: "Let the people decide". A caterer, she is contesting Brecon and Radnorshire, where the three big parties are slugging it out. The incumbent Tory, Jonathan Evans, has a majority of 130. Ms Phillips says Tory defectors outnumber Labour and Liberal Democrat switchers. "I'm in there to win. I've never belonged to a political party and although I voted Conservative and Liberal in the past, the parties are all selling Britain short over Europe," she said.

Anthony Parkin, white-haired and urbane, is one of the party's most intriguing characters. He worked for the BBC for 37 years producing agricultural programmes and editing The Archers, a story of country folk not unlike people in the Leominster constituency where his target is the Tory arch- Euro enthusiast Sir Peter Temple-Morris, who sits on a 16,680 majority. Mr Parkin was cautiously optimistic: "Naturally, we aim for success. The only question of importance is to save Britain's sovereignty."