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Tories will not return £10m from donor in racism row, minister suggests

13 Mar 2024 4 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

The Conservatives do not plan to return the £10 million donated to the party by a major Tory backer accused of making racist comments, a minister has said.

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

Rishi Sunak is facing calls to hand back the money given to his party by Mr Hester after the Prime Minister belatedly condemned his remarks as “racist and wrong”.

Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake said on Wednesday that returning the cash is not the “right thing to do” and suggested the Tories would accept further donations from the businessman.

Asked whether he would be comfortable spending Mr Hester’s donations, Mr Hollinrake told Sky News: “On the basis he is not a racist, has apologised for what he said, yes.”

Pressed on whether the party would take more money from him, the minister told BBC Breakfast: “As I now understand the situation, yes.”

Racist

He also said he thinks there are “bigger issues at play here that we need to focus on, in terms of probably greater priorities” for the Government and that “we should try and move on from this now”.

“I don’t believe Mr Hester is a racist person,” Mr Hollinrake said.

“What he has said here, in a private conversation half a decade ago, he has apologised for. I don’t think we need to spend too much time on that given he has made that apology.”

But in a sign of Tory divisions over the issue, Conservative West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said he would return the cash.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I would think about the company I kept and I would give that money back.”

After ministers and Downing Street refused to describe Mr Hester’s comments as racist for most of Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman finally labelled them as such in the evening.

It came after Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch broke ranks to call them out as racist late on Tuesday afternoon.

Mr Hollinrake defended No 10’s delay and argued that “we have the most diverse Cabinet in history”.

Asked about criticisms that Mr Sunak had failed to set the agenda over the racism row, Mr Hollinrake said: “If you don’t mind me saying, I think you are setting the agenda in terms of all the interpretation and speculation you are making about various different things that happened yesterday.

“No 10 has been very clear that these comments were wrong, were racist.”

Wrong

In a statement after 6pm on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The comments allegedly made by Frank Hester were racist and wrong. He has now rightly apologised for the offence caused and, where remorse is shown, it should be accepted.

“The Prime Minister is clear there is no place for racism in public life and, as the first British-Asian Prime Minister leading one of the most ethnically diverse Cabinets in our history, the UK is living proof of that fact.”

Mr Sunak faces a grilling by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during Prime Minister’s Questions later on Wednesday after the fallout intensified on Tuesday night following a Guardian report of further comments allegedly made by Mr Hester.

According to the paper, Mr Hester, the chief executive of healthcare software firm The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), allegedly referred to “no room for the Indians” during a crowded meeting, and suggested they “climb on the roof, like on the roof of the train there”.

He has admitted making “rude” comments about Ms Abbott, but claimed they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

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

Police are understood to have been contacted about the remarks, with Scotland Yard saying officers from its Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team are in touch with an MP about a report in the Guardian, which broke the story.


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Jeff
Jeff
29 days ago

Tory morals when it comes to racism. Think of the 10 million. 15 Jan in the HoC he said (from Hansard) “I reassure my hon. Friend that the police have extensive powers to arrest those who incite violence or racial hatred. Of course, we keep all laws under review. We are working with the police on whether we need to strengthen those powers, but I have been absolutely clear that there must be zero tolerance for antisemitism and any forms of racism. We will not stand by when we see it happen, and the police should ensure that those who do… Read more »

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
29 days ago

Never in doubt. Not only will they not return it, they will accept even more.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
29 days ago

Cameron gave him an OBE after the pair made a trip to India* in 2013…

Will this effect his very expensive Knighthood I wonder…

*A Carry On Up The Kerala’ to this very day…

Jeff
Jeff
29 days ago

Just remembered. Not forgetting the Tory party that supported Boris after the awful comments he said, they are prepared to look the other way if it suits them, (and its on record, when he wrote for a few press orgs). The party will support this to the end. Anything that Sunak does now is too late, they are what they are. I expect something just before PMQ from No10 to try to defuse what Starmer will lead with but we shall see. So, are we about to hear a mass denunciation from the party membership and MP’s, Welsh Cons, Scottish… Read more »

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
28 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

There will be denials for ever, since most of them think like that and thus cannot see what the problem is. Of course they feel that the millions of quid in the Party bank is always a good thing.

Sikejsudjek
Sikejsudjek
28 days ago

On the plus side he’s flushed ten million down the drain…

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