April 16, 2024


Abbott says it is ‘frightening’ to hear what Tory donor Frank Hester said about her

Diane Abbott has issued a statement to ITV’s Good Morning Britain about the Frank Hester comments. In it she said:

It is frightening. I live in Hackney, I don’t drive, so I find myself, at weekends, popping on a bus or even walking places, more than most MPs.

I am a single woman and that makes me vulnerable anyway. But to hear someone talking like this is worrying.

For all of my career as an MP I have thought it important not to live in a bubble, but to mix and mingle with ordinary people. The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming.

I’m currently not a member of the parliamentary Labour party, but remain a member of the Labour party itself, so I am hoping for public support from Keir Starmer.

Key events

Tory defector Lee Anderson may not last long in Reform UK, minister suggests

Graham Stuart, the energy minister, was also asked about the defection of Lee Anderson to Reform UK during his interview round this morning. Anderson was unlikely to last long in his new party, Stuart predicted. He told GB News:

You can see Lee Anderson on the stage with his new leader barely able to hide his irritation, so I’m not sure how long that honeymoon is going to last.

Another minister, Esther McVey, told reporters as she arrived in Downing Street for cabinet this morning that she felt Anderson, a Labour councillor before he became a Tory MP, had gone full circle. She explained:

To be fair, I’m somewhat disappointed about Lee’s decision, and surprised as well.

I mean, after he campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017, in effect he’s now gone full circle and he’ll be campaigning for Keir Starmer, because even he said a vote for Reform is a vote for Labour. So, I’ve clearly misjudged him.

Abbott says it is ‘frightening’ to hear what Tory donor Frank Hester said about her

Diane Abbott has issued a statement to ITV’s Good Morning Britain about the Frank Hester comments. In it she said:

It is frightening. I live in Hackney, I don’t drive, so I find myself, at weekends, popping on a bus or even walking places, more than most MPs.

I am a single woman and that makes me vulnerable anyway. But to hear someone talking like this is worrying.

For all of my career as an MP I have thought it important not to live in a bubble, but to mix and mingle with ordinary people. The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming.

I’m currently not a member of the parliamentary Labour party, but remain a member of the Labour party itself, so I am hoping for public support from Keir Starmer.

Michelle Donelan apologises not raising concerns about concerns about UKRI academic in private, instead of in post on X

Michelle Donelan, the science secretary, is giving evidence to the Lords science and technology committee. In her opening remarks, she made a statement about the controversy that led to her department paying £15,000 to an acedemic libelled by Donelan on X.

She said that she should have raised her concerns about the academic in private, not in public, and she apologised for not doing that.

Donelan told the committee that, as the minister responsible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), officials alerted her to a tweet saying: “This is disturbing – Suella Braverman urges police to crackdown on Hamas support in UK.” This was posted by someone sitting on a UKRI EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) board, Donelan said.

She went on:

At the time I was very concerned that there was a process failing in the appointment of members to the EDI board. And I worked with officials in my department, and lawyers across my department, over the course of two days to draft, to clear and to send an official letter to UKRI’s CEO to ask for an investigation.

This was highlighted using the same medium that was originally used, ie X or, as it is often known, Twitter.

Donelan said the letter prompted an investigation. She said the person involved, Prof Kate Sang at Heriot-Watt university in Edinburgh, subsequently confirmed that her “this is disturbing” comment was about the whole article she referenced, not just the headline about the Hamas crackdown.

Donelan said she has now withdrawn all her concerns and £15,000 has been paid to settle the case. She went on:

The legal expenditure was approved by the department’s accounting officer.

While I always err on the side of transparency, I am now clear that in this case, I could have sent the letter in confidence to the UKRI in order for them to undertake the investigations privately. And I do apologise for not having done so and for distraction that this decision has caused from this government’s positive agenda.

Michelle Donelan at the Lords science committee Photograph: Parliament TV

‘Every time Diane is attacked, we feel it’ – former Tory No 10 aide says Abbott key figure for black Britons

Samuel Kasumu, who worked as a special adviser for Boris Johnson in Downing Street on civil society and communities, gave a moving interview about the Frank Hester comments on the Today programme this morning. He said that many people might not appreciate quite how important a figure Diane Abbott was to black Britons, and quite what a significant role she played in “our own island story”. Here are the main quotes from his interview.

  • Kasumu said that many black Britons, regardless of their party politics, felt personally offended by comments of this kind about Abbott. He explained:

I think it’s important to note that as a black Brit Diane Abbott is somebody that is very historically significant. She was first elected in 1987, the year that I was born.

I wouldn’t have been a special advisor in Downing Street if it wasn’t for Diane Abbott. Kemi Badenoch, James Cleverly, Kwasi Kwarteng, David Lammy – they would not be where they are today if it wasn’t for Diane Abbott. And so it’s very important to note that for many black Brits, every time Diane is attacked, we do feel it …

We feel a sense of hurt because of her historical significance. Regardless of what our politics may be, and our politics do differ, she ran so that people like me could walk. And so I think for many people who see her as an easy target, perhaps they don’t really understand just how important a figure she is in terms of our own island story.

Kasumu said that originally he had not wanted to give an interview on this topic. But he said he changed his mind when he saw how much this mattered to his wife, who is black. He explained:

When I told her about the words that were said, and I saw the look on her face, I understood that I had a moral obligation to speak up and speak out and say that actually words like this matter, and they’re totally unacceptable.

In recent times we have had two members of parliament, distinguished members of parliament, killed, and so words do matter. And somebody in a position like Mr Hester must recognise that, whether you’re in a pub, or you’re at work, or you’re involved in public life, his statements were completely abhorrent and unacceptable.

Somone of his standing must do more. They must be part of the solution around how we bring our country together and we heal divisions and we tackle racism and misogyny etc …

He has to be someone that is seen to be a leader that has learned from his mistake. But also somebody that is proactively investing in making sure that our country can continue to prosper and continue to get to a point where it’s more united.

And so he’s going to have to do more than just trying to call Diane Abbott. He’s going to have to invest his time, his efforts, his resources, in being part of the solution. Because right now he’s part of the problem.

  • Kasumu declined to back calls for the Conservative party to return the £10m it received from Hester, saying he regarded this issue as “inconsequential”. Asked if the money should be returned, he replied:

For me that is inconsequential. Whey theytook the money, it was not because of comments that he may or may not have made many years ago. I don’t want us to be distracted by what should or shouldn’t happen to the money. We must focus on making sure that we tackle the racism that still exists in our country.

  • He praised Rishi Sunak for his “excellent” speech on extremism two weeks ago, but said “far more needs to be done”.

Hester has issued a statement saying he accepts he was “rude” about Abbott in a private meeting, but that “his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Samuel Kasumu. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

‘Just abhorrent’ – Starmer urges Tories to return £10m it received from donor who was abusive about Diane Abbott

Ben Quinn

Ben Quinn

Keir Starmer has said that comments about Diane Abbott by the Conservative party’s biggest donor were “abhorrent,” as the Labour leader urged the Conservatives to return £10m given to it by the businessman.

The Labour leader also attacked a minister who declined to go further than calling Frank Hester’s comments “absolutely unacceptable” when asked about them in interviews this morning. (See 10.01am.)

The Labour leader told ITV’s Lorraine on Tuesday:

The comments about Diane Abbott are just abhorrent.

And Diane has been a trailblazer, she has paved the way for others, she’s probably faced more abuse than any other politician over the years on a sustained basis.

And I’m sorry, this apology this morning that is pretending that what was said wasn’t racist or anything to do with the fact she’s a woman, I don’t buy that I’m afraid, and I think that it’s time the Tory Party called it out and returned the money.

Hester has issued a statement saying he accepted he was “rude” about Abbott in a private meeting, but that “his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

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Minister says Tory donor’s comments about Diane Abbott ‘unacceptable’, but does not accept his £10m should be returned

Good morning. Graham Stuart, the energy minister, has had the job of being the government’s all-purpose spokesperson this morning. He was doing the interview round to discuss an announcement about building new gas-fired power stations, but inevitably he has faced questions about the Guardian’s splash about Frank Hester, the biggest donor to the Conservative party.

To recap: the Guardian reports that at a meeting at his firm’s HQ in 2019 Hester spoke about an executive from another organisation, saying:

She’s shit. She’s the shittest 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.

After the story was published Hester issued a statement saying he accepted he was “rude” about Abbott in a private meeting, but that “his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Statement regarding recent media reports:

Frank Hester accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbot in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin. The Guardian is right when it quotes Frank saying he abhors racism,…

— Frank Hester OBE (@HesterObe) March 11, 2024

The BBC reports that a spokesperson for Hester says this should not be read as confirmation that Hester said the words attributed to him. But Hester has not denied saying those words either.

Here are some of the points Stuart has been making in response to questions about this story.

  • Stuart said Hester’s comments were “absolutely unacceptable”, but he declined to describe them as racists. Asked on Times Radio if the comments were racist, Stuart said:

I find it absolutely unacceptable. I hesitate to stick that particular label on it. I’m hesitating to call it that because I don’t like to sit in judgment on these things.

It was clearly a ridiculous thing to say, he’s rightly apologised for it and here’s a man who’s supporting the most diverse cabinet we’ve ever had under this Conservative Party. We’ve got a Hindu prime minister and he’s our biggest donor, so I don’t think this is a man who is a racist.

But I’ve never met him, I don’t know him and all I know is those comments were inappropriate, wrong, and quite rightly he has tried to reach out to Diane Abbott personally.

  • Stuart said people should not be cancelled in public life because of comments made in the past and refused to accept that the Tories should return his donations. Asked on Sky News if the Conservative party should return the £10m it has received from Hester, Stuart replied:

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.

It’s not my decision, but I do welcome those who support the Conservative party.

Stuart made the same argument in his Today interview, saying he would not approve of “cancelling anyone who’s ever said anything half a decade ago”.

We need to show understanding. The important thing was that he did apologise and that he’s done so, and I think quite right. Though, as I say, I don’t know exactly what it was he said … It is not something of which he or we can be proud.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet, including a political cabinet session.

10.15am: Richard Hughes, chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, gives evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about the budget. At 2.15pm Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, give evidence.

11am: Michelle Donelan, the science secretary, gives evidence to the Lords science committee

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

1.30pm: Claire Countinho, the energy secretary, gives a speech at the Chatham House Energy Transitions Conference.

3.10pm: David Cameron, the foreign secretary, takes questions in the House of Lords.

Around 4pm: Peers start the debate on the third reading of the safety of Rwanda (asylum and immigration) bill.

I’m afraid we will have to have comments off, at least for the start of the day, because the Hester story is attracting a lot of libellous or potentially libellous comments making moderation very difficult.

But f you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

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