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Tory donor Frank Hester’s alleged comments racist and wrong, Downing Street says

12 Mar 2024 7 minute read
Frank Hester. Photo via YouTube

Comments reportedly made by a major Conservative Party donor about Diane Abbott were “racist and wrong”, Downing Street has said after earlier refusing to describe them as such.

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”.

Rishi Sunak had come under pressure over the remarks as Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch broke ranks to describe them as “racist” while Number 10 continued to resist saying whether it believed they were.

In a new statement issued on Tuesday evening, 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.”

Unacceptable

Downing Street earlier said the reported remarks were “unacceptable” but would not describe them as racist.

“I don’t have anything to add beyond what minister (Graham) Stuart said this morning,” Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said when asked on Tuesday morning.

Business Secretary Ms Badenoch became the first Cabinet minister to call Mr Hester’s alleged words out as racist on Tuesday afternoon.

She tweeted: “Hester’s 2019 comments, as reported, were racist. I welcome his apology.

“Abbott and I disagree on a lot. But the idea of linking criticism of her, to being a black woman is appalling.

“It’s never acceptable to conflate someone’s views with the colour of their skin.”

Health minister Maria Caulfield earlier told the BBC she considered the alleged comments to be racist and were “not something we should be kind of excusing in any way”.

But in a sign of divisions within the Tory Party over the issue, ministers sent on the morning media round defended Mr Hester.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride argued that the reported words were not “gender-based or race-based”, adding: “He has apologised and I think we need to move on from that.”

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

As recently as Tuesday afternoon, a No 10 spokeswoman declined to “get into private conversations” when pressed on whether Mr Sunak had spoken to Mr Hester to find out whether he uttered the remarks.

Alarming

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

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

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “On Monday, 11 March officers from the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team were contacted in relation to a report about an MP that appeared in the Guardian.

“We are assessing the matter and are liaising with West Yorkshire Police as the alleged incident is believed to have taken place in Leeds.

“Officers from the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team remain in contact with the MP.”

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

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 alleged comments, Mr Stuart 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.”

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,” she said.

“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.”

Abhorrent

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 accused the Tories of being in a “mess”, saying “They haven’t called out Islamophobia in their ranks. They can’t condemn racism. They won’t challenge wild conspiracy theories.

“You can’t solve a problem until you can face up to it.”

Ms Dodds wrote to Mr Sunak highlighting that on top of the £10 million the Tories had received from Mr Hester, the Prime Minister had 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.”

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.”


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Beau Brummie
Beau Brummie
1 month ago

Right, the Tories can give him back his 10 million quid pronto. They don’t need the funds to campaign in the 2024 GE – they’re going to lose anyway!

And then maybe Mr Hester can donate all that money to a truly worthy cause, to enhance personal dignity and safety.

Any good suggestions?

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago
Reply to  Beau Brummie

Black Lives Matter would be my suggestion.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

PMQ’s tomorrow. Sunak will try to tell the house he acted quickly. All day before making his mind up to get out of facing Starmer tomorrow.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

It is disgusting how so many tories spent so much time trying to defend frank hester’s vile racist sexist comments made about Diane Abbott! Those other tories saying he said sorry and everyone should move on are almost as bad! The only person who has the right to say if people should move on is Diane Abbott. Compare and contrast to how quick the tories and labour were to condemn Diane Abbott when she wrote (in reply to piece in the Observer) about the lifelong racism she has suffered (more than every other mp put together) comparing it to Travellers,… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Richard Davies
Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
1 month ago

The Tories don’t do truth and here’s an uncomfortable one. Remorse? This guy spent almost five years showing no remorse and then bogus remorse when he had been outed as a racist. He’s then defended by racist sympathisers. Apologies for racist remarks and the ‘move on’ defence cannot wipe away the discovered truth that those involved making the comments and those defending them are RACISTS. Discovered, documented, done. Factual truth.

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