Inside Change UK: why the new party sees the European elections as key to its future

Interim leader Heidi Allen is seen as having a unique appeal to “shire Remainers”. 

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On Friday, the breakaway Labour and Conservative MPs who had formed The Independent Group started the process of formally registering as a new political party with the Electoral Commission. The party applied to registered under the name Change UK, and former Conservative MP and most expensive backbencher ever” Heidi Allen was anointed interim leader, with a permanent leader set to be elected by the party’s inaugural conference in September

Allen’s appointment is part of a wider attempt by TIG to formalise their political party status ahead of what its MPs feel may be a potential political bonanza: the European elections that would result from a long Article 50 extension. Insiders described this process as “chaotic”, but add: “The Euros are too good an opportunity to miss”.

Allen is also deemed as important in being able to reach Westminster outsiders more easily: sources involved in the decision-making process have said that the party is enthusiastic to get “normal people” to stand as candidates, as opposed to politicos and obsessives from within the Westminster bubble.

The European elections are being described internally as a “second referendum before a second referendum”. Insiders believe that standing on an explicitly pro-EU platform will allow the party to win over protest voters, hoping they’ll be more likely to stay with the party in a general election as Labour and Conservatives struggle to decide how to treat the new party.

Allen is also seen as having a unique appeal to “shire Remainers”. She’s been favoured over current group spokesman Chuka Umunna on the grounds that having Change UK MEPs in multiple regions would be more impressive than good results in London and nowhere else.

Multiple sources refused to rule out an electoral pact between TIG and the Lib Dems in a European Election campaign, so as to unite the Pro-EU vote. It is however seen as unlikely, due to Lib Dem opposition to an agreement, and the lack of an existing party structure within TIG, which means it’s currently focused on cementing basic organisation.

One area in which the party believes it is prepared is funding. Insiders say that the party may actually have more money immediately available than the Tories do, thanks to success with what the party considers “smaller donors” (five figures or less), and a handful of large donors.

The new party is also hoping to recruit further MPs, with potential defectors split into three camps. In the first group, around half a dozen MPs have “mentally checked-out” from their parties, and are simply looking for an excuse to defect: depending on the MP, this may be a general election, a long Article 50 extension or no deal.

A second, larger group of around a dozen MPs are favourable to the party, but have opted to take a more strategic approach. While they are supportive of TIG, the prospect of a snap election or a continually uncertain political climate, preventing them from certainty of their political career continuing if they defect.

Thirdly are the already Independent MPs, who cannot currently join due to the political or social climate. Frank Field and Ian Austin, two former Labour MPs who support May’s deal, are touted as potential joiners once Brexit has come to a conclusion. Meanwhile, John Woodcock and Ivan Lewis, two former Labour MPs who left the party under the shroud of sexual harassment allegations, are very unlikely to join the party until it has a behavioural and compliance unit to decide their suitability.

Ben Gartside is a freelance journalist.

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