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Frank Hester Comments About Diane Abbott MP

Kisakye Busuulwa

Comments made by Frank Hester, founder, owner and CEO of software company The Phoenix Partnership and the Conservative Party’s biggest ever donor, have recently come to light. This week it emerged that in a private meeting Hester, who has reportedly donated over £15,000,000 to the Conservatives in the last year, said the following:

“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.”

Hester claimed that “his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”

In a statement published on X (formerly Twitter), Hester apologised for his remarks, but he fell short of calling them racist, instead seeking forgiveness from Abbott, who he claims to have tried to call twice to apologise personally, for comments that he described as ‘rude’. Moreover, within the same statement, Hester claimed that ‘‘his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin” before stating that ‘‘he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life.”

Diane Abbott was the first black women to become an MP, and she remains the longest serving black MP in British history. In 2017, research by Amnesty International revealed that she received half of all abuse sent to female MPs in the lead up to the General Election.

A Labour report that leaked in April 2020 unearthed Whatsapp messages that showed that when Abbott was found crying in the toilets in the wake of such abuse, senior Labour staffers were mocking and insulting her.

Investigation […] is yet to draw a conclusion

In April 2023, Abbott was suspended from the Labour party after she suggested that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people were not subject to racism “all their lives”. Many viewed these comments as antisemitic. Though she immediately apologised for and retracted her words, the Labour investigation into the incident is yet to draw a conclusion.

Martin Forde KC, the author of the report into allegations of bullying, racism and sexism within the Labour Party that bears his name, has said that he is ‘at a loss’ as to why the whip is yet to be restored to Diane Abbott, stating that ‘others have had it restored after worse things.’

During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, the discussion revolved around Hester’s comments. Despite standing up to speak fourty-six times, Diane Abbott was not called upon by the Speaker of the House, Lindsay Hoyle. After the session had ended, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer approached Abbott. Owen Jones, a freelance journalist who often writes columns in The Guardian, described the conversation as having played out like this:

Starmer: Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

Abbott: You could restore the whip.

Starmer: I understand just let me know if there’s anything..

Abbott: Restore the whip.

Starmer: I understand.

Abbott replied to the tweet with a tweet of her own that simply read ‘This is true.’

This conversation being made public subsequently led to a debate about whether or not Diane Abbott ought to have the whip restored, causing a split in opinion amongst many Labour MPs. Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has said that she would ‘like to see Diane Abbott back’, adding that she does not know why the party leadership has not apologised to the MP over racist abuse she faced internally, although she stressed that ultimately the decision is not hers to make.

The Conservative Party have been heavily criticised for their response to his comments. A significant period of time passed before a spokesperson for Rishi Sunak publicly condemned his comments as racist. Whilst Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary and Kwasi Kwarteng, the former Chancellor all joined the Prime Minister and Cabinet Members in their condemnation of Hester’s comments, Rishi Sunak has ruled out returning Hester’s donations.

Widespread critique

Whilst the Prime Minister has received the majority of the criticism over his handling of this scandal, many other Conservative MPs have also been the recipients of widespread critique over comments they have made about Hester’s words.

Speaking to Sky News, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride, said that Hester’s comments, that Abbott made him ‘want to hate all black women’, were not ‘race-based’ and said that people ought to ‘move on’.

Whilst he too made an appearance on Sky News, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove said that he is inclined to ‘exercise Christian forgiveness’ in regards to Hester’s comments. After Sky News posted the video of his appearance onto X (formerly Twitter), the replies to the tweet consisted of a large amount of black British women voicing their outrage and hurt, with tweets like ‘who gave you the right to accept the apology and extend Christian forgiveness on behalf of black women?’ garnering hundreds of likes.

Has represented the constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987

On the night of Friday 15th March, large crowds gathered outside of Hackney town hall in a show of solidarity for Diane Abbott. Upon greeting the crowd, Abbott was met with huge applause and chants of “we stand with Diane”. The MP, who has represented the constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987, told the crowd that they had to ‘stand firm’ against racism, said that she was ‘moved’ by the support and added that ‘I want to say thank you…it is Hackney people who have stood by me year after year, decade after decade.’

Kisakye Busuulwa

Featured image courtesy of tommao wang via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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