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Diane Abbott accuses Tories AND Labour of ‘shocking’ racism in donor row

Exclusive: Writing in The Independent, Abbott said the Tories had ‘long been a source of whipping up racism’ while she had also experienced ‘shocking levels’ of racism within Labour

Kate Devlin
Politics and Whitehall Editor
Thursday 14 March 2024 10:35 GMT
Starmer must support Diane Abbott and restore whip, says Dawn Butler

Diane Abbott has hit out at the Conservatives and Labour, accusing both parties of “shocking” racism in the Tory donor scandal.

The MP, who sits as an independent and was dragged into the centre of the race row, turned her fire on Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak after the pair clashed over the issue at PMQs on Wednesday.

Mr Sunak has refused to hand back a £10m donation from businessman Frank Hester after he allegedly said Ms Abbott made him “want to hate all Black women” and that she should be “shot”.

Writing in The Independent, Britain’s longest-serving Black MP described his words as “outrageously racist and sexist” and added: “I am afraid long-term experience teaches me that the Tory party has long been a source of whipping up racism in this country, including directed at me personally.”

Abbott has attacked Starmer and Labour over racism in the party (Getty)

She also attacked Sir Keir and said: “The position of the current leadership of the Labour Party is disappointing, which seemed equally reluctant at the outset to call out either racism or sexism.

“Instead, the entire focus was on the demand that the Tories give Hester back his money, which is surely not the primary point in this case.”

Ms Abbott, who was a Labour MP for more than three decades until she was suspended last year, said her former party had initially failed to label Mr Hester's alleged comments against her as racist and sexist.

She went on to condemn the “shocking levels of racism and sexism from within the Labour Party, again much of it directed against me personally”.

Mr Hester has apologised for being rude to Ms Abbott – and tried to call her twice to speak her directly – but insisted he was neither sexist or racist.

On Tuesday evening, following almost 24 hours of outrage from across the political spectrum – including business secretary Kemi Badenoch and former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng – the prime minister condemned the alleged comments as “racist”.

But Mr Sunak is facing increasing pressure to return the money from the businessman, after he said on Wednesday that Mr Hester’s “remorse should be accepted”.

Labour sources insisted they had been quick to condemn the Tory donor, pointing to a comment from Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, who described Mr Hester’s words as racist on Monday evening.

The former Conservative Party chair Chris Patten said it was an “open and shut case” that the party should pay the £10m donation back to Mr Hester.

Frank Hester has tried to contact Diane Abbott to apologise (PA)

In a sign of internal Tory tensions over the issue, the Scottish Conservatives also criticised the decision to accept Mr Hester’s money and called for a review.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Tories said: “These comments were racist and wrong. The Scottish Conservative Party has never accepted a donation from Frank Hester and the UK Conservative Party should carefully review the donations it has received from Hester in response to his remarks.”

Meanwhile the mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street, sometimes described as the most powerful Conservative outside of London, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that if he had received a donation from Mr Hester: “I would think about the company I kept and I would give that money back.”

And business minister Nus Ghani also expressed discontent, tweeting that “zero tolerance on racism is just a slogan in today’s politics”.

Labour also pressed for the money to be paid back as Sir Keir asked Mr Sunak how low a donor would “have to sink, what racist, woman-hating threat of violence would he have to make before the prime minister plucked up the courage to hand back the £10m that he’s taken from him?”

Rishi Sunak defends keeping the £10m donation at PMQs on Wednesday (UK Parliament/PA)

Mr Sunak’s spokesperson said the PM was “acutely aware” of the unacceptable abuse that Ms Abbott has suffered over the course of her career.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said she was writing to every Conservative MP to urge them not accept “tainted” money from Mr Hester.

Asked about Mr Hester’s comments in an appearance before the Treasury select committee on Wednesday, Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, said it would be wrong for the donor to be “cancelled” for comments “made in the past” and for which he has apologised.

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said: “The Scottish Tories are saying what we all know: accepting tens of millions of pounds from Frank Hester is wrong on every level.”

In a separate development, Ms Abbott also accused speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle of failing to act in the “interests of the Commons or democracy” after she was not called to speak on the issue at PMQs.

A spokesperson for Sir Lindsay said he had to prioritise MPs listed on the order paper and “there was not enough time to call all members who wanted to ask a question”.

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