Tories take extra £5m from donor Frank Hester amid racism row

The prime minister is under pressure to pay back donations to Frank Hester, who allegedly said Labour MP Diane Abbott ‘should be shot’

Zoe Grunewald
Thursday 14 March 2024 19:50 GMT
Rishi Sunak has dodged questions over Frank Hester’s donations

The Conservative party are reported to have taken another hefty donation from disgraced business tycoon Frank Hester who is alleged to have made racist comments about Diane Abbott.

Rishi Sunak is facing fresh pressure over the Conservative party’s donations amid reports that the Tories have received an additional £5 million more than previously declared.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called on the prime minister to pay back the sum, which would take Mr Hester’s total donations in the past year to £15 million.

Electoral Commission records only show the amount he gave the Tories up to the end of 2023, butTortoise Media has reported that the party was “sitting on” extra cash.

Tory donor Frank Hester has reportedly donated an extra £5m to the Conservative party (PA Wire)

Mr Hester is alleged to have said that Ms Abbott - Britain’s first black female MP - made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”, in comments the prime minister described as “racist” after initially refusing to do so.

After the publication of the remarks, a statement from the healthcare technology firm the Phoenix Partnership (TPP), which Mr Hester runs, said he “accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbott in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

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 a later post on Mr Hester’s personal social media site, the businessman said that people “should have the confidence to discuss our differences openly and even playfully without seeking to cause offence”.

The prime minister has defied calls to return the initial donation, though he acknowledged that Mr Hester’s alleged comments were “wrong”.

In parliament, Mr Sunak said Mr Hester had apologised and his “remorse should be accepted”.

Labour MP Marsha de Cordova asked Mr Sunak directly if he would return a donation.

Rishi Sunak has defied calls to return the donation from business tycoon Frank Hester (AP)

He replied: “No. And I am pleased that the gentleman is supporting a party that represents one of the most diverse governments in this country’s history, led by this country’s first British Asian prime minister.”

But Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross urged the UK party to “carefully review” Mr Hester’s donations while Tory peer and former Marks & Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose said it should “probably” return the money.

Labour party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said on Thursday: “Frank Hester’s remarks were clearly racist, misogynistic and have no place in our politics.”

She added: “Rishi Sunak needs to pay back every penny, cut ties with Frank Hester and apologise unequivocally to Diane Abbott.”

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “The Conservative party must urgently confirm whether these reports are true and if so hand this tainted money back.”

Communities secretary Michael Gove earlier described the remarks as “horrific” but said he was exercising “Christian forgiveness” after the entrepreneur had “shown contrition”.

Asked whether the businessman’s apology was genuine if he did not acknowledge his remarks were racist, Mr Gove told Sky News: “I haven’t spoken to Mr Hester, but I think that when someone says that they are sorry, and I understand he’s deeply sorry for these remarks, then my natural inclination is to exercise Christian forgiveness.”

Ms Abbott, who has called Mr Hester’s comments “frightening”, accused the Conservatives and Labour of failing to tackle racism.

The Conservative party and Phoenix Partnership (TPP) have been approached for comment.

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