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It’s thanks but no Franks…
New centre party, Issue 1468
simon-franks.jpg THE Observer’s revelation of the existence of “a new political party with access to up to £50m in funding” was noticeably vague about all details other than the key role of “multi-millionaire philanthropist” Simon Franks. But the Eye can fill in some of the blanks.

A year ago, a company called Fair Play For All was registered at Companies House with directors listed as Simon Olswang, founder of law firm Olswang, and Adrian Martin, former head of the accountants BDO.

They did some initial work with PR firm Edelman, which is chaired by Gordon Brown’s former Treasury minister Lord Myners and has Tony Blair’s former right-hand woman Anji Hunter as its “senior adviser”. The company’s “senior director, corporate reputation” James Morris – a former adviser to Blair and Ed Miliband – introduced the pair to Franks just before last year’s general election.

‘A complete control freak’
Franks, who runs a middling media company called Redbus as well as a venture capital business of the same name, offered to put more than £100,000 towards what at that point was being mooted as a vehicle for funding community activism, rather than a political party. He also offered workspace at his Redbus offices on Berners Street and, according to sources, gave the project shape and impetus. But he also made it clear it was to be his project and his alone.

“Franks is a complete control freak,” said one Berners Street source. “All the money was put in his Coutts bank account and he is the sole signature – he would not have anybody else as a signatory on it.”

As the Observer reported, Franks created a new company, Project One Movement For The UK Ltd, to supersede Fair Play For All. He is its sole director.

After the election last June, the “movement” began to look for further funding and staff, beginning with a war chest of £1m. A team was assembled including internet entrepreneur Alex Chesterman, former NUS bigwig Rob Griffiths, founder of irritatingly-whimsical fruit drinks company Innocent Richard Reid, John Prescott’s former assistant Jonny Will Chambers and Ryan Wayne from the marketing company, Unlimited.

‘Trump in waiting’
Nick Clegg – who last week had to deny claims he was being lined up as the new party’s leader – attended a meeting with the group in September. Philip Collins, a former speechwriter for Blair who last week used his Times column to big-up the venture and told readers to “watch this space”, dropped in to Berners Street for subsequent meetings, as did Sadiq Khan’s spin-doctor Patrick Hennessy and Dominic Cummings, the controversial campaign director of Vote Leave. Lib Dem donor Leslie Hurst worked in the office for three weeks. As reported, Tony Blair and his son Euan were also involved in discussions.

Yet in every case the individuals who met with Franks concluded he was not someone they could work with. The group has built the structure of a national party over the past six months, with staffers saying it has been ready to launch for some time. But they don’t want to launch it with Simon Franks.

Finally growing tired of waiting, and spooked by suggestions that someone else might be a better appointment as party leader, Franks spoke off the record to the Observer’s Michael Savage to big up his own role. By Tuesday last week he was lying low to avoid a doorstepping from the Daily Mail even as “friends” were letting the Guardian know that he “could also seek election himself.” As one Redbus worker put it to the Eye: “Britain’s got a Trump in waiting. Except Simon Franks is even more conceited.”

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OLEG TO STAND ON…
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SILENT SHIELDS
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NOT WORTH THE BEANS…
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COURT CIRCULAR
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In This Issue private eye
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- Syria Flakwatch: Shock and awe as Fleet Street (almost) goes to war
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Private Eye Issue 1467