Donor said lawmaker makes him ‘want to hate all Black women,’ but conservatives keeping the $12M gift

Frank Hester reportedly said Diane Abbott, Britain’s longest-serving Black legislator, made him "want to hate all Black women" and that she "should be shot."

Dianne Abbott,
A major Conservative donor in Britain came under fire Tuesday after the revelation that he'd said Diane Abbott (above), the first Black woman elected to Parliament, made him “want to hate all Black women” and she “should be shot.” The remarks by Frank Hester, chief executive of healthcare software firm The Phoenix Partnership, were blasted by opposition parties who said the Tories should return the 10 million pounds ($12.8 million) he donated last year. (Photo: Alberto Pezzali, File)

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Conservative government said Wednesday that the party does not plan to give back 10 million pounds ($12.8 million) it received in the past year from a donor who made comments about a Black lawmaker that have been condemned as racist.

The government is under pressure from some of its own lawmakers to return the donation from business executive Frank Hester. He reportedly said in a 2019 company meeting that Diane Abbott, Britain’s longest-serving Black legislator, made him “want to hate all Black women” and that she “should be shot.”

Hester, chief executive of healthcare software firm The Phoenix Partnership, is the Conservative Party’s biggest individual donor. His company has been paid more than 400 million pounds ($510 million) by the National Health Service and other government bodies since 2016.

After the comments were published by The Guardian newspaper, Hester acknowledged that he’d been “rude about Diane Abbott” but denied being racist. In a statement on social media, he said racism “is a poison that has no place in public life.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak initially criticized Hester’s comments — first reported Monday — as “unacceptable,” but it was almost 24 hours before the prime minister’s spokesman labeled the remarks racist.

Sunak told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Wednesday that “the alleged comments were wrong, they were racist.” He added that Hester had “rightly apologized for them, and that remorse should be accepted.”

Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake told broadcasters that the Tories would not give back the money Hester had given to the party. He told Sky News that “clearly” the comments were racist, but that it was right to keep the donation because Hester “is not a racist, and he has apologized for what he said.”

Asked by the BBC whether the party would take more money from Hester, Hollinrake said: “As I now understand the situation, yes.”

But Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of England’s West Midlands region, told BBC radio that if it were up to him, “I would think about the company I kept and I would give that money back.”

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Nus Ghani, a senior Conservative lawmaker and junior business minister, said on social media: “Zero tolerance on racism is just a slogan in today’s politics.”

Opposition politicians lambasted Sunak over Hester’s remarks during Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament Wednesday.

“Is the prime minister proud to be bankrolled by someone using racist and misogynist language?” asked Labour Party leader Keir Starmer.

Scottish National Party lawmaker Stephen Flynn accused Sunak of “putting money before morals.”

Britain’s political parties are trying to build up funds for election campaigns later this year. Figures from the Electoral Commission show the Conservatives received 9.8 million pounds ($12.5 million) from individual and corporate donors in the final three months of 2023, and the main opposition Labour Party 6 million pounds ($7.7 million).

The Guardian published further alleged remarks by Hester on Wednesday. It said he’d told a crowded staff meeting that Indian employees could sit on the roof of a nearby train if there wasn’t enough room.

Abbott, 70, was elected to the House of Commons in 1987 representing an area of east London, becoming Britain’s first Black woman member of Parliament. She sits as an independent after being kicked out of the Labour Party caucus last year for comments that suggested Jewish and Irish people do not experience racism “all their lives.”

She called Hester’s comments “frightening,” especially since two British lawmakers have been murdered since 2016. The government said last month it would step up politicians’ security because of rising tensions over the Israel-Hamas war.

Police in London said they were assessing the matter after their parliamentary liaison and investigation team was contacted about the Guardian’s initial report.

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