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

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.

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.”

Diane Abbott
Diane Abbott said Frank Hester’s alleged comments were ‘frightening’ (Ian West/PA)

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.”

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.”

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.”

Graham Stuart
Energy minister Graham Stuart defended the Conservative Party’s biggest donor (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

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

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.”

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.”

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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