- Multimillionaire LoveFilm founder Simon Franks has set up a new political party called United for Change.
- Figures from the major parties have been targeted by Franks as many voters grow disillusioned with the increasingly polarised and divided main political parties.
- However, insiders tell Business Insider that the new party lacks a clear strategy or vision, with early preparations suggesting the project is doomed to fail.
- Figures with close knowledge about the project speak out about Franks’ plan to transform British politics.
LONDON – Talk of a new political party is dominating discussions in the bars and coffee shops of Westminster as both the Conservatives and Labour spend their summers in varying degrees of internal warfare.
With the main two parties increasingly polarised and dysfunctional, discussions have turned to the possibility of a new party prepared to scoop up voters who identify neither with Theresa May’s Tories or Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
The name that most often crops up in these conversations is Simon Franks. Franks was the multimillionaire owner of LoveFilm and a former Labour donor who is close to launching a mysterious party he has been quietly working on since late 2016.
This new party, ‘United for Change,’ has been targeting figures from the three main parties ahead of an official launch. However, what shape that party would take, who would stand for it, and what would it stand for, are all questions that have been unanswered until now.
So what is ‘United for Change’ and what does it want to achieve? Business Insider has been talking to people with inside knowledge of Franks’ plans to get the fullest picture yet of the new party that hopes to transform British politics.
How it all began
In late 2016, Franks discussed his plan to create a new party over dinner with Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks and former Vice Chair of the pro-Remain Britain Stronger In Europe campaign, and Alex Chesterman, the founder of Zoopla. Former and current staff members from existing political parties, mainly Labour, were also present.
Franks, frustrated with what he regarded as tribalism and poor leadership in Westminster politics, decided he would set up a new party. He planned to throw together a small team of advisors and press officers plucked from across Westminster and launch in late 2019, around six months after Britain’s scheduled exit from the EU.
Franks believed he should launch United For Change first and worry about politicians and policies later. “First would be the launch,” one staffer told BI. “Then in Simon’s mind, the money and supporters would come. After that, you would be able to hire ‘top tier’ advisors. Finally, the politicians and defections would come too.”
Those around Franks were baffled by this plan, however. One senior campaign manager who held meetings with him described the strategy as “incredibly naive.” Political figures who Franks approached weren’t impressed, either.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Vote Leave Campaign Director Dominic Cummings, and Patrick Heneghan, ex-Labour campaign director, all left meetings with United For Change uninterested in getting involved, sources told BI. Labour and Lib Dem press officers were allegedly offered starting salaries of £40,000 a year to join United For Change.
“I was working under the impression it would just be me and Simon”, one source present at early meetings said. “Then I turned up, and there were seven or eight people in the room with us.”
From anti-Brexit to UKIP-lite
While most talk about a new British political party focuses on an opposition to Brexit, United For Change will be no such outfit – at least according to Franks’ current plans.
Franks considered creating an anti-Brexit party but changed his mind after polling indicated greater demand for a party closer in outlook to UKIP than Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna. Insiders cited figures like Cummings’ willingness to interact with United for Change as evidence they were not looking to be the party of Remain.
Instead, United For Change is set to be an “anti-politics” party, multiple insiders have told BI, with the “old Labour vote” – historic Labour supporters targeted by UKIP and Leave.EU – its intended audience.
In notes leaked to BI, United for Change has drafted an eclectic mix of policy ideas, like more English language classes for migrants, cracking down on missed NHS appointments, and closing tax loopholes. Insiders say that Franks is more interested in sentiment than policy. “He’s more [Donald] Trump than [Emmanuel] Macron,” one told BI.
MPs often touted as potential defectors want little to do with United For Change. Indeed, the project is totally separate from conversations between Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem MPs about a new centrist movement.
One leading Labour backbencher said Franks was “pissing in the wind,” and an example of “business people getting involved in politics thinking they can do it better than politicians, but soon find out it’s not like running a business.”
They added: “The last person to launch a new party in this country right now is a multimillionaire… The alt-left which runs the Labour party and the alt-right in the Tories would have an absolute field day.”
The last person to launch a new party in this country right now is a multimillionaire… The alt-left which runs the Labour party and the alt-right in the Tories would have an absolute field day.
But if not anti-Brexit, and already unpopular with potential breakaway MPs, then what does Franks have in mind?
As things stand, United For Change doesn’t have much to offer on policy. This is at least partly due to Franks’ indecisiveness, insiders claimed, evidenced in his decision to ditch early plans of being unambiguously pro-EU.
More recently, the LoveFilm founder has taken a page out of the Lib Dems’ book, and approached political strategists in Canada for advice, well-placed sources told BI. United For Change seemingly does not have a great deal in common with the politics of Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron – but insiders say Franks admires their styles.
“Macron has a lot to answer for,” a well-placed source said. “Every f****r wants to be Macron.”
United For Change will for the time being be reliant on Franks persuading donors, MPs and policy wonks to get involved. This could be tricky, given he is apparently pretty unpopular in the Westminster bubble.
“He’s conceited and rude,” one Labour MP said. A United for Change source added: “If you’re going to start a new party, you’ve got to see eye to eye with the people you’re starting it with.” Another staffer described him as “highly abrasive.” A source familiar with Franks’ conversations with MPs claimed he scrapped plans to hold a summer barbecue for potential defectors due to a lack of interest. Franks has not responded to BI’s request for comment.
Disunited for change
With United For Change unlikely to win over MPs anytime soon, and with a manifesto half-baked at best, it is not surprising that the general consensus in Westminster is that Franks’ political adventure is doomed to fail.
His project has already suffered an exodus of sorts. In July, United for Change was said to have had around 12 full-time staff members, which is now down to 4. Adam Knight, who served as Chief Executive Officer, has reportedly left to start his own project separately, called Twelve Together.
Meanwhile, those in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office are much more concerned about anti-Brexit Labour MPs like Umunna and Chris Leslie breaking away to join forces with like-minded MPs in the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
However, with many voters still disillusioned with the two main political parties, the opportunity for a new party to transform British politics still remains to be grasped.
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