Sadiq Khan’s Tory rival for City Hall pressured over donor funding amid Diane Abbott race row

Exclusive: Susan Hall facing calls to reveal if cash at the centre of scandal will be used in London campaign

Kate Devlin
Politics and Whitehall Editor
Wednesday 13 March 2024 19:06 GMT
London Mayoral Candidate Susan Hall admits not knowing how much bus fare is

The Conservative candidate to become mayor of London is facing calls to reveal if any funding for her campaign comes from the donor at the centre of a racism row.

Frank Hester is alleged to have said Labour MP Diane Abbott made him "want to hate all black women" and that she "should be shot".

Rishi Sunak is resisting calls to hand back the money, despite calling the remarks “racist”, saying Mr Hester had shown “remorse”.

Now Dawn Butler, the chair of Labour’s London MPs, has written to Susan Hall to ask if her campaign has received donations from Mr Hester and if she will pledge to return them.

In a letter, Ms Butler also asks Ms Hall if she will “condemn Mr Hester’s alleged comments as racist.”

And she notes reports the campaign is being “funded by the Conservative Party – who recently received Hester’s £10m donation”.

The donor row has caused a crisis within Mr Sunak’s already embattled Downing Street.

For most of Tuesday ministers and No 10 refused to describe Mr Hester's comments as racist.

But the Prime Minister's spokesperson did finally label them as such that evening.

However, the row intensified again following revelations of further comments from the top donor.

The chief executive of The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), which has won more than £400m in government and NHS contracts, is alleged to have called a meeting of his “foreign” workers to address allegations of racism in 2019.

The tycoon asked if there was “no room for Indians, then?” as he addressed staff members on a crowded balcony in the company’s headquarters, according to The Guardian.

In response to the letter, a spokesperson for Ms Hall said that she agreed with the PM’s official spokesperson that 'the comments allegedly made by Frank Hester were racist and wrong. He has now rightly apologised for the offence caused and where remorse is shown it should be accepted."

The Conservative Party referred queries to Ms Hall’s campaign team. Mr Sunak is facing increasing pressure from opposition parties - and senior Tories - to return the donation.

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

The Scottish Conservatives have also criticised the decision to accept Mr Hester’s money and called for a review.

As Labour called for the money to returned, 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 £10 million that he's taken from him?"

But chancellor Jeremy Hunt said Mr Hester should not be “cancelled” for “despicable” remarks “made in the past” and for which he has apologised.

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