Michael Gove says he is exercising ‘Christian forgiveness’ toward Tory donor Frank Hester

The communities secretary also suggested that Mr Hester’s comments would not fall under the government’s new definition of ‘extremism’

Zoe Grunewald
Thursday 14 March 2024 09:37 GMT
Rishi Sunak announced the government would update the definition of ‘extremism’

Communities secretary Michael Gove has declined to say whether the business tycoon who allegedly said that Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” would be considered “extremist” under a new definition, and that he is exercising “Christian forgiveness” toward the Tory donor.

Extremism is now defined as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance” that aims to “negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others” or “undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights”. It also says the new version of extremism will “clearly articulate” how extremism is “evidenced” through the public behaviour of extremists.

But speaking ahead of a speech to the Commons on Thursday, Mr Gove has declined to say whether alleged remarks from the Tory donor who called for Ms Abbott to be “shot” would be considered “extremist”. He told Times Radio he was exercising “Christian forgiveness” towards Mr Hester who he understands is “deeply sorry” for his remarks.

Michael Gove has announced a new definition of extremism (PA Wire)

The communities secretary said: “Different people will have different views… It is important that any decision of about individuals and organisations is taken after a rigorous assessment of evidence and a consistent pattern of behaviour.”

The cabinet minister seemed to go further when talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, suggesting that the Tory donor would not be referred to the Government’s new extremism task force.

Mr Gove said: “We have to be clear, we’re looking at organisations with a particular ideology.

“The individual concerned said something that was horrific. And as someone who was themselves targeted by an extremist who wanted to kill me and then went on to kill a friend of mine, I take these issues incredibly seriously.

He added: “I wouldn’t want to conflate those motivated by extremist ideology with an individual comment, however horrific, which has quite rightly been called out and which has quite rightly led to an apology.”

The government have come under fire over the last few days after the Guardian revealed that Frank Hester - who donated £10m to the Conservative party in 2023 - allegedly made “racist” comments about the former Labour MP and further incendiary comments about Indian and Malaysian people.

The cabinet minister 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.”

Mr Gove also said he believes Mr Hester’s apology was “sincere”.

Frank Hester is alleged to have said MP Diane Abbott made him ‘want to hate all black women’ (PA Wire)

The government have condemned the reported comments made by Mr Hester as “racist” but have refused to return the donation despite calls from both the opposition and from within their own party.

After the publication of the remarks, a statement from the healthcare technology firm the Phoenix Partnership (TPP), which 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 buisnessman said that people “should have the confidence to discuss our differences openly and even playfully without seeking to cause offence”.

Ms Abbott said the views were “frightening”.

Asked whether the Conservative party has a racism problem, Mr Gove said: “I think there are individuals who’ve certainly said things that are unacceptable and racist and that needs to be called out. “But again, I also think that if individuals repent, apologise, show contrition, then the right thing to do is to accept that.”

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