‘We need to move on’: Minister calls time on row over donor’s Diane Abbott comments

A cabinet minister has said politics should “move on” after a Conservative Party donor apologised for comments relating to former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. 

Frank Hester, the chief executive of The Phoenix Partnership, said yesterday that he is “deeply sorry” following reports he said former Labour MP Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women”.

He also reportedly said that Abbott, who remains suspended from the parliamentary Labour Party, “should be shot”.

In a post on X, a spokesperson for Hester admitted he had made “rude” comments about Abbott, which were first reported by The Guardian, but said they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Speaking to broadcasters this morning, work and pensions secretary Mel Stride labelled Hester’s comments as “inappropriate” but noted his apology. 

He said: “It’s clear that what he said was inappropriate. He has, as I understand it, apologised for those remarks.

“I think the critical point here is I don’t think what he was saying was a gender-based or a race-based comment, but it was clearly inappropriate. He has apologised and I think we need to move on from that”, he added.

Electoral Commission records show Hester donated £10 million to the Conservative Party last year, including a £5 million donation to Rishi Sunak that came from him personally and another £5 million that came from his healthcare software firm in November.

According to The Guardian, Hester made the remarks about Abbott in 2019 during a meeting at his Leeds company headquarters.

He reportedly said: “It’s like trying not to be racist but you see Diane Abbott on the TV, and you’re just like… 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.”

Energy minister Graham Stuart heavily criticised the reported remarks this morning meanwhile, telling Sky News they were “clearly reprehensible” and “truly awful”.

However, asked whether the Conservatives should return his donation, he said: “We can’t cancel anybody from participation in public life or indeed donating to parties because they said something intemperate and wrong in their past.”

Stuart added: “It’s not my decision. But I do welcome those who support the Conservative Party to ensure that we have Rishi Sunak, of course, our first Hindu prime minister.”

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called on the Conservative Party to return the money Hester donated to the party following the comments.

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