Kemi Badenoch labels Tory donor's comments ‘racist’ as Marcus Fysh calls on Sunak to ‘stand up for Diane’

12 March 2024, 16:42 | Updated: 12 March 2024, 20:04

Kemi Badenoch has become the first government minister to label reported comments made by the Conservative Party's biggest donor as 'racist'
Kemi Badenoch has become the first government minister to label reported comments made by the Conservative Party's biggest donor as 'racist'. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Kemi Badenoch has become the first government minister to label comments made by the Conservative Party's biggest donor 'racist', as fellow Tory MP Marcus Fysh called on Sunak to ‘stand up for Diane’.

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Frank Hester is reported to have said that Diane Abbott 'makes you want to hate all black women', with fellow MP Marcus Fysh telling LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr that the Prime Minister should be "unapologetic" about his stance on such matters.

"As a minority he speaks with authority," the Conservative MP for Yeovil said of Sunak, labelling this "a matter for the party".

Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary who also holds the portfolio for equalities minister, said she welcomed Mr Hester's "apology" and any connection between criticism of Ms Abbott and her "being a black woman is appalling".

Mr Hester, who donated £10 million to the Conservatives in the past year, is also accused of saying Ms Abbott "should be shot", according to The Guardian.

It comes as Lord Simon Woolley, a friend of Diane Abbott, told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr that despite the MP being a "strong black woman" with "resilience", Abbott was now feeling "vulnerable" as a result of Mr Hester's comments.

The Tories, including ministers, MPs, and the prime minister's spokespeople, had earlier refused to describe the comments as racist. Ms Badenoch is the first high-profile Tory to publically concede the reported comments were racist.

Opposition politicians have also condemned the alleged comments and urged the party to return the money Mr Hester has provided.

Tory peer: 'We shouldn't be leaving it to Black Conservative MPs to tell the truth about this'

Speaking with Andrew Marr, Lord Woolley said "this is a pivotal moment" where the condemning of such comments is concerned.

"I'm proud that after 30 years campaigning, we have the most diverse parliament in the western world. That's a good thing. It's not a good thing when we're not calling out racism," continued Lord Woolley.

"In fact, it becomes worse because you have a facade of diversity, but you have a rhetoric of alienation and division between black and white.

"This is the time the Starmer, this is a time for Sunak to stand up and be counted and show us what you care about."

The Conservatives are under pressure to return money given by donor Frank Hester who's apologised for saying former Labour MP Diane Abbot makes him want to 'hate all black women'
The Conservatives are under pressure to return money given by donor Frank Hester who's apologised for saying former Labour MP Diane Abbot makes him want to 'hate all black women'. Picture: TPP/YouTube

Read More: Biggest Tory donor 'not racist,' but was right to apologise for 'comments that sound racist' Conservative peer tells LBC

Read More: Tories' biggest donor accused of saying Diane Abbott 'makes you want to hate all black women' and 'needs to be shot'

Writing on X, Ms Bedenoch said: "Hester’s 2019 comments, as reported, were racist. I welcome his apology.

"Abbott and I disagree on a lot. But the idea of linking criticism of her, to being a black woman is appalling. It’s never acceptable to conflate someone’s views with the colour of their skin."

In a second post, she continued: "MPs have a difficult job balancing multiple interests - often under threats of intimidation as we saw recently in parliament.

"Some people make flippant comments without thinking of this context. This is why there needs to be space for forgiveness where there is contrition."

Mr Hester's comments were allegedly made by in 2019 at his firm's headquarters, The Phoenix Partnership (TPP).

Mr Hester, the founder and chief executive of TPP, a healthcare software firm, allegedly made the remarks about Ms Abbott as he criticised a female executive from another company.

He reportedly said: "She’s sh*t. She’s the sh*ttest person. Honestly, I try not to be sexist but when I meet somebody like [the executive], I just …

"It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like I hate, 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."

"[The executive] and Diane Abbott need to be shot. She's stupid … If we can get [the executive] being unprofessional we can get her sacked. It’s not as good as her dying. It would be much better if she died. She’s consuming resources. She's eating food that other people could eat. You know?"

Diane Abbott, former Shadow Home Secretary, giving her speech at the Labour Party Conference, September 22, 2019
Diane Abbott, former Shadow Home Secretary, giving her speech at the Labour Party Conference, September 22, 2019. Picture: Alamy

Read More: Three ex-Home Secs urge Labour and Tories to work together on extremism as Gove's new definition looms

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Ms Abbott is both the first Black woman elected into parliament and the longest-serving Black MP.

Although still a member of Labour, she sits in the House of Commons as an Independent since having her whip suspended in April 2023.

It comes after Tory peer Lord Jonathan Marland told LBC that Mr Hester's comments were "not a racist" but "made some unfortunate remarks that do sound racist".

Speaking to LBC's Henry Riley, Lord Marland said: "I know Frank Hester, and he is not a racist... he made some unfortunate remarks that do sound racist, and quite rightly he has apologised for them,"

He added Mr Hester "does a lot of business in Jamaica, he does business in Malaysia, in Bangladesh and places like that so he's not a racist."

Energy Minister Graham Stuart told LBC's Tom Swarbrick that the comments were "clearly unacceptable" but he refused to say if the party should return his donations.

"It was clearly unacceptable and he was quite right to apologise," he said.

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