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No 10 refuses to say whether Tory donor’s remarks about Diane Abbott were racist

12 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Screen grab taken from the CHOGM 2022 YouTube channel of Frank Hester OBE speaking at a Commonwealth Business Forum event in Rwanda. Photo CHOGM Rwanda 2022/YouTube/PA Wire

Downing Street has described comments reportedly made by a major Conservative Party donor about MP Diane Abbott as “unacceptable” but has refused to say whether they were racist.

Frank Hester is alleged to have said Ms Abbott, Britain’s longest-serving black MP, made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Energy minister Graham Stuart said on Tuesday that, while the remarks were “ridiculous”, he would “hesitate” to describe them as racist.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats branded Mr Hester’s reported comments as “clearly racist and abhorrent” and urged the Tories to return the money he has donated to the party.

Alarming

Ms Abbott herself said the comments were “frightening” and “alarming” given two MPs – Jo Cox and Sir David Amess – have been murdered in recent years.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “I wouldn’t usually comment on alleged words, second-hand accounts, etc.

“But, as minister Stuart said this morning, what is alleged and reported to have been said is clearly unacceptable.”

He refused to say whether they were racist or why they were unacceptable, insisting: “I don’t have anything to add beyond what minister Stuart said this morning.”

Mr Hester, chief executive of healthcare software firm The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), has admitted making “rude” comments about Ms Abbott, but claimed they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

The Guardian reported that he told a company meeting in 2019: “It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like… you just want to hate all black women because she’s there.

“And I don’t hate all black women at all, but I think she should be shot.”

Hurt

In a statement released via his firm, Mr Hester said he had rung Ms Abbott on Monday to “apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her”.

“Frank Hester accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbot (sic) in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin,” the statement said.

“He wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life.”

Asked about Mr Hester’s comments, Mr Stuart declined to describe them as racist or “comment on hypotheticals”.

He told Times Radio: “I’m hesitating to call it that because I don’t like to sit in judgment on these things.

“It was clearly a ridiculous thing to say, he’s rightly apologised for it, and here’s a man who’s supporting the most diverse Cabinet we’ve ever had under this Conservative Party.

“We’ve got a Hindu Prime Minister and he’s our biggest donor, so I don’t think this is a man who is a racist.”

Pressed on whether the Tories should return Mr Hester’s donations, Mr Stuart told Sky News: “We can’t cancel anybody from participation in public life, or indeed donating to parties, because they said something intemperate and wrong in their past.

“It’s not my decision, but I do welcome those who support the Conservative Party.”

Cabinet minister Mel Stride also defended Mr Hester, saying that, while his alleged remarks were “inappropriate”, they were not “gender-based or race-based”.

The Work and Pensions Secretary added: “He has apologised and I think we need to move on from that.”

Frightening

But Ms Abbott, the first black woman elected to Parliament, said the situation was “frightening”.

“I live in Hackney and do not drive, so I find myself, at weekends, popping on a bus or even walking places more than most MPs. I am a single woman and that makes me vulnerable anyway.

“But to hear someone talking like this is worrying… The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming.

“I am currently not a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party but remain a member of the Labour Party itself, so I am hoping for public support from Keir Starmer.”

Opponents criticised the Tories’ reluctance to describe Mr Hester’s reported remarks as racist and urged the governing party to hand back the money he and his company have donated.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told ITV’s Lorraine: “The comments about Diane Abbott are just abhorrent…

“This apology this morning that is pretending that what was said wasn’t racist or anything to do with the fact she’s a woman, I don’t buy that I’m afraid, and I think that it’s time the Tory party called it out and returned the money.”

Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds wrote to Rishi Sunak highlighting that on top of the £10 million the Tories have received from Mr Hester, the Prime Minister accepted a personal gift of nearly £16,000 for a helicopter ride.

She wrote: “Accepting and using that money can only be treated as implicitly condoning and overlooking his deeply disturbing comments and the way he has run his business.

“Anything less than returning the money will be a stain on the Conservative Party.”

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “Rishi Sunak can bunker down and hide in Downing Street as long as he wants but every day he doesn’t return this money is another damning blow to the Conservative Party’s credibility.”

Criticism

A Conservative spokeswoman said: “Mr Hester has made clear that, while he was rude, his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor the colour of her skin.

“He has since apologised.”

Ms Abbott, first elected as MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987, has sat as an independent since April after the Labour whip was withdrawn following comments she made suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people were not subject to racism “all their lives”.

She is awaiting the outcome of an independent complaints process set up by Labour to investigate her remarks.

The Guardian reported that TPP has been paid more than £400 million by the NHS and other Government bodies since 2016, having been given responsibility to look after 60 million UK medical records.


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Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

“Unacceptable” but cannot say why? They did this with 30p. And after what the PM said when he tried to tar anyone on Palestinian marches as extremist. But he didn’t mean this extremist…..

OK, ask the PM to repeat the comments.

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
1 month ago

If it talks like a racist, it is a racist.

No ifs, no buts.

No. 10 needs its ears testing.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

Frank hester is a racist and he supports a political party full of racists.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 month ago

The comments by Hester are incendiary, surely the tories should return the donations and exclude him from the party. His comment is misogynistic, racist and incitement to violence

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

I dislike Diane Abbott who has said some pretty racist things herself, but she does not represent all black women. What Hester said was disgusting.

Quote: “We’ve got a Hindu Prime Minister and he’s our biggest donor, so I don’t think this is a man who is a racist.”

Is this some sort of litmus test on how someone is determined if they are racist or are not? Being Hindu and being black are not the same thing. Its perfectly logical for one to be tolerant with one section of society, yet have completely bigoted views towards another.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Oh, Kemi B finally got her instructions.

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
1 month ago

His remark was Racist and incited violence in saying she should be shot there are a lot of right wing nut jobs out there 2 good people M P,s have already been murdered

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago

Of course they were racist!

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