Campaign group challenges use of Change UK name by new political party

A campaign group is taking legal advice over the use of the name Change UK for a new political party being set up by MPs who broke away from Labour and the Conservatives.

The Independent Group of MPs announced it had applied to register the name with the Electoral Commission with the aim of fighting European elections if they are held in May.

They named former Tory MP Heidi Allen as the party’s interim leader.

Independent Group MPs
The Independent Group is made up of 11 Labour and Conservative MPs who quit their former parties in February (Jonathan Brady/PA)

But the non-partisan group Change.org UK, which supports members of the public in gathering petitions, said it was “seeking guidance” on the politicians’ choice of name.

“Change.org UK or @UKChange – as we are interchangeably known – is totally independent of party politics, always has been and always will be,” said the group in a statement.

“It is said that imitation is a form of flattery. But the movement that we have built in the UK to win campaigns for ordinary people is ours – all 17 million of us. We are seeking guidance on the proposed use of our brand name by those reported to be setting up a new political party.”

A source within the group, which has backed petitioners including the husband of imprisoned mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, said it was seeking legal advice on the issue as well as consulting the Electoral Commission.

TIG MP Anna Soubry inadvertently referred to the new party as “Change.org” as she announced its creation to the House of Commons.

Although Prime Minister Theresa May has set her face firmly against the holding of elections to the European Parliament on May 23, they will be required as a condition of any further delay to Brexit.

Defeat in Friday’s Commons vote on her Withdrawal Agreement could force her to apply for an extension by April 12 or see the UK crash out of the EU without a deal.

In order to stand candidates in the European polls, conducted on a regional proportional representation system, any group must be registered as a political party with the European Commission.

Ms Allen said: “Today marks a huge step forward on The Independent Group’s journey to becoming a fully-fledged political party, so I am delighted to have been chosen as our interim leader.

“If we are to deliver on our ambition to change politics for the better, it is vital that we attract support from people from every walk of life, every political background and none.

“Coming into the House of Commons from running my manufacturing business in 2015, I have seen with my own eyes how improved our political system would be if it harnessed the diverse skills and experience of our country.

“We in Change UK, as we hope to be known, don’t just dream about a fairer and better future for our country, we are determined to unleash it through hard work, passion and shared endeavour.”

TIG spokesman Chuka Umunna said Change UK would aim to put forward a “substantial” number of MEP candidates with backgrounds from outside politics.

“There is clearly an appetite for an alternative to our broken politics which needs fundamental change, as shown by the disastrous Brexit process which has occurred under the watch of the two main parties,” said Mr Umunna.

“A new party will shake up the two-party system and provide people with an alternative that can change our country for the better. This is what Change UK will be aiming to do at any European elections if our application for registration is accepted in time.”

The Electoral Commission’s website records Change UK’s application and its proposed logo (PA)

A Change UK source compared the relationship between Ms Allen and Mr Umunna to a firm’s chairman and chief executive.

The source said they would make “a really great double act”.

The Independent Group was founded by former Labour MPs Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Mr Umunna on February 18. They were later joined by Labour defector Joan Ryan and ex-Tories Anna Soubry, Ms Allen and Sarah Wollaston.

Close of nominations for any European elections will fall on April 24.

If Change UK completes the registration process in time, the fledgling party hopes to field candidates in all regions of the country.

The group claims to have had “individual members of the public” making small donations to fund it.

A source dismissed as “absolute bollocks” claims that it had not yet registered as a party to avoid the strict rules on financing.

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