Diane Abbott says Tory donor Frank Hester’s comments are ‘frightening’

Diane Abbott has said remarks allegedly made by a top Tory donor that she made him “want to hate all black women” are “frightening”.

In a statement issued on Tuesday morning, Britain’s longest-serving black MP said: “It is frightening. I live in Hackney, I don’t 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.”

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

“I’m 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.”

Frank Hester said looking at Diane Abbott makes him ‘want to hate all balck women’ (TPP/Youtube)
Frank Hester said looking at Diane Abbott makes him ‘want to hate all balck women’ (TPP/Youtube)

Mr Hester, chief executive of healthcare software firm The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), has admitted making “rude” comments about Ms Abbott, the first black woman elected to Parliament, 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.

“(The executive) and Diane Abbott need to be shot.”

Diane Abbott described Mr Hester’s remarks as ‘frightening’ (REUTERS)
Diane Abbott described Mr Hester’s remarks as ‘frightening’ (REUTERS)

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

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.”

Rishi Sunak’s government has repeatedly refused to describe Mr Hester’s remarks as “racist”, with the prime minister’s official spokesman saying only that they are “unacceptable”.

The spokesman said he would not say anything further than energy minister Graham Stuart, who said they were “ridiculous” comments but added: “I don’t think this is a man [Mr Hester] who is racist”.

Cabinet minister Mel Stride also defended Mr Hester, saying that, while his alleged remarks had been “inappropriate”, they were not “gender-based or race-based”.

But former Tory leader William Hague said Mr Hester’s remarks are racist. “Well, his comments yes do seem to be racist. I don’t think I could deny, that,” Lord Hague told Times Radio. He highlighted Mr Hester’s “fulsome apology”, but added: “But yeah the comment, connecting, dislike of Diane Abbott with racial characteristics. Well, that is racist.”

Meanwhile former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng said Mr Hester’s comments were “clearly racist and clearly sexist”. He told BBC Politics Live: “They are clearly racist and they are clearly sexist… they were very stupid remarks.”

Labour leader Sir Keir gave Ms Abbott his backing, urging the Tories to hand back Mr Hester’s £10m of donations and branding his comments racist.

Speaking to ITV’s Lorraine on Tuesday, Sir Keir said he “does not buy” that the remarks were not “racist”. He said: “Those comments about Diane Abbott are just abhorrent. Diane has been a trailblazer, she has paved the way for others.

“She has probably faced more abuse than any other politician over the years on a sustained basis.

“And I’m sorry, this apology this morning that pretends what was said was not racist or was not anything to do with the fact she is a woman… I don’t buy that, I’m afraid.”

Tory opponents have seized on the remarks and urged the governing party to give back the cash Mr Hester and his company have donated.

Adding to the calls, Sir Keir said: “I think it is time the Tory Party called it out and returned the money.”

Mr Hester’s company has been contacted for comment.