Starmer urges Tories to return £10m from top donor over ‘abhorrent’ Diane Abbott comments

Keir Starmer has described a Tory donor’s alleged remarks about Diane Abbott as “abhorrent” and urged the party to hand back his money.

The Labour leader defended Ms Abbott as a “trailblazer” who has inspired others after the Conservative Party’s biggest donor was reported as saying that she “should be shot” in an investigation by The Guardian.

Frank Hester, who has donated £10m to the Conservatives in the past year, is also accused of saying that looking at Ms Abbott makes you “want to hate all black women”.

Mr Hester, founder and chief executive of The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), has accepted that his comments were “rude”, but insisted they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

The Conservatives have also refused to describe Mr Hester’s comments as “racist”, with pensions minister Mel Stride saying: “I don’t think what he was saying was a gender based or race based comment.”

But, speaking to ITV’s Lorraine on Tuesday, Sir Keir said he “does not buy” that the remarks were not “racist”.

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

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.”

An investigation by The Guardian alleged that the businessman, speaking about a female executive from another company, said: “She’s s***. She’s the s***test person. Honestly I try not to be sexist but when I meet somebody like [the executive], I just …

 (Ian West/PA Wire)
(Ian West/PA Wire)

“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.

“[The executive] and Diane Abbott need to be shot. She’s stupid … If we can get [the executive] being unprofessional we can get her sacked. It’s not as good as her dying. It would be much better if she died. She’s consuming resource. She’s eating food that other people could eat. You know?”

A statement published by Mr Hester’s company said he “abhors racism, not least because he experienced it as the child of Irish immigrants in the 1970’s”.

The statement added: “He rang Diane Abbott twice today to try to apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her, and is deeply sorry for his remarks. He wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life.”

In response to a request by the BBC, a spokesperson for Mr Hester said the statement is not a confirmation of the alleged quotes in The Guardian.

Mr Hester set up TPP in 1997 and in 2015 was given an OBE for his services to healthcare.

Tory donor Frank Hester allegedly made the remarks about MP Diane Abbott (Dominc Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)
Tory donor Frank Hester allegedly made the remarks about MP Diane Abbott (Dominc Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)

He has been invited on several government trade missions in the past, including visiting India with then-prime minister David Cameron in 2013.

He appeared at number 321 on the 2023 Sunday Times Rich List, with the newspaper estimating his wealth at £415m.

TPP’s main clients are the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)

The government, NHS and local authorities have paid TPP more than £440m since 2016, according to analysis by contract specialists Tussell.

The rich list said Mr Hester spotted an opportunity to build IT software for the NHS “when his GP wife grumbled about her computers at work”. TTP has been contacted for comment.

Ms Abbott was a Labour MP until her suspension in April last year for writing a letter suggesting Jewish people are not subjected to the same racism as some other minorities.

The first black woman to become an MP, she has represented Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987.

She has consistently been subjected to a disproportionate amount of abuse compared with other MPs, and Amnesty International research during the 2017 election found she was the victim of almost half the abuse directed at women MPs on Twitter, which has since been renamed X.

Despite Sir Keir’s praise on Tuesday, Ms Abbott remains suspended and sits as an independent MP pending an investigation.

Representatives of Mr Hester have been contacted for comment.