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Tories ‘took £5m more’ from donor embroiled in racism row

14 Mar 2024 5 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

Rishi Sunak is under fresh pressure over donations from Frank Hester, a party backer who is embroiled in a racism row, amid reports the Tories received £5 million more than previously declared.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats called on the Prime Minister to pay back the sum, which would take Mr Hester’s total donations in the past year to £15 million.

Electoral Commission records only show the amount he gave the Tories up to the end of 2023, but the Tortoise Media news site reported that he has handed over more since then.

The outlet said the party was “sitting on” the extra cash.

Declarable donations

The Conservative Party did not deny the additional payment, saying only that declarable donations will be published by the Electoral Commission “in the usual way”, with the next update due in June.

Mr Hester is alleged to have said that Diane Abbott, Britain’s first black female MP, made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”, in comments the Prime Minister described as “racist” after initially refusing to do so.

Mr Sunak has resisted previous calls to pay back Mr Hester’s money and argued that the healthcare tech entrepreneur’s apology should be accepted.

But in a sign of divisions within his ranks, the Scottish Conservatives urged the UK party to “carefully review” Mr Hester’s donations while Tory peer and former Marks & Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose said it should “probably” return the money.

Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said on Thursday: “Frank Hester’s remarks were clearly racist, misogynistic and have no place in our politics.

“There is absolutely no excuse for the Conservatives accepting additional money from Frank Hester. They should pay this back before it hits the coffers.

“Rishi Sunak needs to pay back every penny, cut ties with Frank Hester and apologise unequivocally to Diane Abbott.”

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “The Conservative Party must urgently confirm whether these reports are true and if so hand this tainted money back.

“The Conservative Party has dragged its feet in condemning these racist remarks for what they are. If that was in any way linked to this £5 million donation it would show this scandal is even worse than we thought.

“People like Hester and his attitudes need to be nowhere near our politics. Conservative politicians need to learn that just because someone gives you millions of pounds that does not make the inexcusable, excusable.”

Mr Sunak and Communities Secretary Michael Gove earlier suggested Mr Hester’s comments would not be referred to the Government’s new extremism taskforce.

Forgiveness 

Mr Gove described the remarks as “horrific” but said he was exercising “Christian forgiveness” after the entrepreneur had “shown contrition”.

It came as Mr Gove unveiled the Government’s new definition of extremism on Thursday.

It describes extremism as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance” that aims to “negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others” or “undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights”.

Speaking ahead of a speech to the Commons, Mr Gove said “an individual comment” would not be enough to be examined by the “expert team of civil servants” deciding what should be deemed extremist.

The senior Tory told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have to be clear, we’re looking at organisations with a particular ideology.

“The individual concerned said something that was horrific.

“I wouldn’t want to conflate those motivated by extremist ideology with an individual comment, however horrific, which has quite rightly been called out and which has quite rightly led to an apology.”

Mr Sunak echoed the sentiment, suggesting Mr Hester’s comments would not fall under the new extremism definition that deals with “organisations that the Government engages with”.

“It’s important that these things are done in an objective and considered manner, evidence-based,” the Prime Minister told reporters during a visit to Gloucestershire.

He also said: “When someone has expressed genuine remorse or contrition for what they’ve done, which he has, it’s the right thing to do to accept that.”

Sorry

Asked whether the businessman’s apology was genuine if he did not acknowledge his remarks were racist, Mr Gove told Sky News: “I haven’t spoken to Mr Hester, but I think that when someone says that they are sorry, and I understand he’s deeply sorry for these remarks, then my natural inclination is to exercise Christian forgiveness.”

Ms Abbott, who has called Mr Hester’s comments “frightening”, accused the Conservatives and Labour of failing to tackle racism.

In newspaper articles on Wednesday, she said the “reluctance to call out racism and sexism” was “shocking, but hardly surprising”, and warned the Conservatives would “play the race card… ruthlessly” at the next election.


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Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
27 days ago

Does Michael Gove think he is God? Forgiveness is all very well but doesn’t mean there aren’t still consequences.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
27 days ago

A 10% kickback on government contracts…a bit fishy Rishi…

A.Redman
A.Redman
27 days ago

Alleged. 5 years ago.Was Dianne Abbott aware at the time? Remember 11 months ago the Labour Whip was removed from her.NOT some comment she made 5 years ago. What is considered today as unacceptable was different 5 years ago . Will the Labour Party withdraw the Whip from J McDonnell for calling for civil disobedience a few years ago?

CapM
CapM
27 days ago
Reply to  A.Redman

“Alleged” Hester hasn’t denied what he’s alleged to have said. He’s just stated that he said something rude. He said what he hasn’t denied he said to a group of people. It’s irrelevant that Dianne Abbott was not there to actually hear him. Thinking that Hester saying that a black woman who he dislikes makes him hate all black women and the black woman he dislikes should be shot was somehow an acceptable five years ago puts you right down there with Hester. Maybe a generous donation to the tory party might be a good insurance policy. The whataboutery you’re… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
27 days ago
Reply to  A.Redman

No, it is the same then as it is now and 5 years is a blink in the time that racism has existed in this country. A disgusting racist misogynistic comment from someone who wanted an MP shot.

Every single leaflet now that is push through a petter box for the conservatives is stained with his money.

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