Abbott calls Tory donor’s comments frighteningon March 12, 2024 at 4:03 pm

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Top Conservative donor Frank Hester allegedly said Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women”.

Frank Hester allegedly said Diane Abbott made him "want to hate all black women".Image source, Getty Images

Diane Abbott has said comments allegedly made by a top Tory donor that the MP made him “want to hate all black women” and that she needed “to be shot” were “frightening”.

Britain’s longest-serving black MP said the “fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming”.

According to the Guardian, Frank Hester made the comments at a meeting in 2019.

Mr Hester has apologised for making “rude” comments about Ms Abbott.

But he said his remarks “had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Labour peer and human rights lawyer Baroness Chakrabarti called the alleged comments “terrifying hate speech”.

A Downing Street spokesman called Mr Hester’s alleged comments “unacceptable” but without specifying why.

‘Alarming’

Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds called the alleged comments “clearly, unequivocally racist and sexist”.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ms Abbott said as a “single woman” she was already “vulnerable” when walking or taking a bus in her Hackney constituency.

“For all of my career as an MP I have thought it important, not to live in a bubble, but to mix and mingle with ordinary people,” she added.

“The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming.”

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Ms Abbott, who is suspended from sitting as a Labour MP, said she is “hoping for public support from Keir Starmer” in the wake of Mr Hester’s comments.

Labour withdrew the whip from Ms Abbott last year after she said Irish, Jewish and Traveller people were not subject to racism “all their lives”. She withdrew her remarks and apologised “for any anguish caused”.

‘Playfully’

Labour leader Sir Keir told ITV’s Lorraine programme that the alleged comments by Mr Hester were “abhorrent”.

“And Diane has been a trailblazer, she has paved the way for others, she’s probably faced more abuse than any other politician over the years on a sustained basis,” he added.

Mr Hester, who gave the Conservatives £10m last year, allegedly made the remarks about Ms Abbott while criticising a female executive at another organisation during a meeting at his company’s headquarters.

The Guardian reported that he went on to say: “It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like I hate, 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.

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“[The executive] and Diane Abbott need to be shot.”

At the time, Ms Abbott was shadow home secretary under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The BBC has not heard a recording, or been able to independently verify the alleged remarks.

In a social media post, Mr Hester said he “abhors racism”, which he described as a “poison that has no place in public life”.

He added: “We should have the confidence to discuss our differences openly and even playfully without seeking to cause offence.”

‘Race-based’

Baroness Chakrabarti, the former director of human rights charity Liberty, said that if Mr Hester said “these words in that sequence” it constitutes “terrifying hate speech”.

The Labour peer said her friend Ms Abbott had been left “anxious” and “upset” by the comments.

“She has put up with so much over so many decades as the first black woman MP in our country and I say to the prime minister, our first non-white prime minister, please, please do something about this,” Baroness Chakrabarti said.

Work and Pension Secretary Mel Stride defended Mr Hester’s alleged comments, claiming they were “inappropriate” but not “race-based”.

But his ministerial colleague, Tory MP Maria Caulfield, told the BBC that she considers the alleged comments to be racist.

The health minister said the comments were “not something we should be kind of excusing in any way”

She added that she would not accept a donation from Mr Hester “if he made those comments”.

Former Tory chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng said the alleged remarks were “clearly” racist and sexist, adding: “I think Diane was right to point out the call to violence, even in a flippant way, is really inappropriate.”

He said he had not heard “an independent corroboration”, and did not know the context in which the remarks were expressed, but said what was reported was “racist, sexist and totally unacceptable”.

The focus on Mr Hester is uncomfortable for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Although a generous donor to the Conservatives, Mr Hester, who is a former Green voter, seems keener on the current leader than the party as a whole.

He told the Daily Telegraph last month that “Rishi isn’t Boris” and praised the current PM’s knowledge of AI.

Asked by the paper if he might give a third £5m gift, he said: “If it is going to help Rishi I would say ‘never say never’. I really think he is the right guy.”

The controversy will once again raise questions over whether enough due diligence is done on big donors; and it also brings into sharp focus the toxicity in modern day politics, with Ms Abbott expressing alarm and with some senior Conservatives calling for less polarising language.

The reluctance of Conservative Campaign Headquarters to hand back £10m in an election year is understandable, as are opposition calls for the cash to be returned.

But more worryingly for Mr Sunak, or at least for his election war chest, is that some of his MPs privately believe that’s the best way to try to move on from the latest row.

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