There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that Tory Donor Frank Hester's reported comments in reference to MP Diane Abbott are racist and extremist. I have one message for us all, including politicians, in future call out racist comments for what they are - immediately! Furthermore, stop calling on us to forgive transgressors.

There’s a particular feeling of déjà vu that comes over Black Women when it comes to misogynoir1 in Britain. The news this week has been full of it, given the reported statements made by Tory donor Frank Hester towards Member of Parliament (MP) Diane Abbott and the responses garnered initially in support of his statements ’not being racist'.

Diane Abbott was the first Black Woman elected to the British Parliament. She has been an MP for over three decades, advocating for social justice, equality, and human rights. Diane Abbott was born in London, England. Her ancestry is African-Caribbean; her parents being of Jamaican descent.

Frank Hester OBE2 is the sole owner of The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), a technology company that specialises in producing Healthcare software and is a man, whose parents are of Irish descent. He is reported to be the Conservative Party’s biggest donor and since 2020, his company has reportedly benefitted from NHS contracts worth an estimated £135m3.

Ms Abbott though elected as a Labour MP, is currently considered an independent as the Labour whip was removed over comments she made in April 2023 alleging that people of Jewish, Irish and Romany descent did not experience racism.

“They undoubtedly experience prejudice. This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable,” - Diane Abbott

Her comments are subject to an independent committee review of standards in the Labour Party.

Despite calls for the whip to be restored, the investigation into her conduct has yet to return a verdict, 11 months on from when the comments were initially made, This has led to calls in some quarters that Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, intends to keep her in suspension, preventing her from standing as a Labour candidate in the next General Election. Abbott currently represents the Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency.

Reports are surfacing of an exchange between Starmer and Abbott. Abbott has confirmed that her request for him to ‘…restore the whip’, went unheeded. Starmer claims the process is entirely independent of him, but nearly 11 months later, can this really be the case? Ms Abbott’s opinion piece published in the Guardian this week4, highlights findings in the report by King’s counsel Martin Forde, a report commissioned by Starmer, that suggests bullying and racism towards her are not limited to the Conservative Party or its acolytes, but exist in the Labour Party as well.

We’re Tired of Talking about Race

These periodic explosions in the media and public discourse leave me exhausted, and I now tend to observe them from a distance; I’ve stopped posting reactions to these stories on my social media, primarily because very little changes and I prefer to protect my mental health by not engaging.

There are also many people better able to espouse the outrage I feel deep down (see Chantay Joseph’s article in the Independent5) or on her social media6

While social and mainstream media activity can bring light to often unseen racist commentary or gaslighting, I sometimes see them as distractions, because the real work of changing Britain’s attitudes towards Black Women and ridding us of misogynoir needs to be a grassroots operation; and it’s something that won’t be achieved unless we amass a power base that makes the continued practice a relic.

In 1987 Ms Abbott was one of four global majority7 MPs elected: the others being Bernie Grant (Tottenham), Keith Vaz (Leicester East) and Paul Boateng (Brent South). All were members of the Labour Party. Today there are 66 global majority MPs across all parties8. Since 1967, we have had a 1550% increase in representation in Parliament, this has not prevented Ms Abbott from receiving more abusive messages than any other female MP online9

Yes, representation is important. Yes, we need our representatives to enact the changes we want to see, but Britain is known for denying that racism even exists in our society. They point to our Prime Minister, and other global majority7 holders of important cabinet positions in recent years as proof of this. I confess, I nearly choked on my food when Kemi Badenoch was the first to break ranks this week. Britain is also known for its inability to make swift change, the inertia is real, and has been from the time of Cromwell10, let alone anything surrounding the (French) Revolution11.

For elected officials to act, we need to show them that to not do so is detrimental to their leadership. Withdrawing support from leaders who continue to ignore us is paramount for the success of our grassroots operation.

Institutions and organisations are being built by Black Women that seek to empower us and give us the necessary means to achieve success not just in business or public life, but also in our personal lives. These organisations empower us through sisterhood and by providing safe spaces for us to express ourselves amongst kindred spirits. Organisations such as Sista Space, UK Black Female Photographers, Black Ballad, Solaris Academy are just some examples of organisations founded by Black Women for Black Women.

Stop Asking Us to Forgive Transgressors

I’m not even going to quote them in this piece, but the clamour to forgive someone who makes blatantly racist, inflammatory and dangerous comments without them being contrite is, in itself, a flagrant act of aggression. Black Women are consistently supposed to turn the other cheek, indeed one Tory, Michael Gove, this week had the caucacity12 to remark that Hester deserves ‘Christian forgiveness’. Really? Fuck off!

Forgiveness is for Ms Abbott to issue, if the transgressor is contrite, repentant and apologises, as Abbott herself did when she immediately offered an apology and retraction of her April comments13, but doesn’t seem to be much in the way of forgiveness for Ms Abbott.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

It’s time. Time for all British people to call out the double standards in our society in general and our politics in particular. We’ve seen that merely protesting is not the answer. Protests highlight the issue but change little. We’ve seen both political and commercial outfits jump on the bandwagon and proclaim support for Black people, Black lives and in particular Black Women, but in truth, many revert to form when the spotlight is off, leading to calls of their professed ‘allyship’ being at best performative, and to those more cynical among us, purely driven by commerce. In truth the thing that works best is action. In recent weeks we’ve seen action take a toll on big corporations, causing them to retreat from their unwavering support of Israel’s war on Hamas, which has left tens of thousands of Palestinians dead and destitute14.

Whilst some commentators equate boycotts to ‘bullying tactics’, boycotts are one example of direct action that can move the needle and change behaviour. In a society where more and more we see our ability to influence decision-makers diminish, direct action seems the only recourse left to us as individuals. We can control where we spend our coin, we can control who we support, we can control (to an extent), who we let speak on our behalf. Let us use these tools that are at our disposal to elevate those who are truly working to remove the scourge of racism from our society and remove our support from those who don’t or won’t support us.

It is the only way that they will learn

Brexit plunged our country into a state of discombobulation. I could not for the life of me understand why people voted for it. It seemed the argument put forward about ’taking control’ was steeped in racist rhetoric. What I do understand about that vote, was it was the chance for an unheard group of Britons to give the ruling parties a bloody nose. It was their opportunity to make their voices heard. Their feelings that things could not get any worse meant they voted, in my opinion, to ‘cut off their nose to spite the face’.

I’m not proposing to cut my nose off, because it’s only me that will suffer. I have however concluded that I will not support Kier Starmer or the Labour Party in the upcoming election, not just for his lack of support for Diane Abbott, but for many other reasons which I prefer to keep to myself at this time. Although I have been a Labour voter all my life, I don’t feel able to support his bid to be our next Prime Minister. I shall be looking for a different party to give my vote.

I’m also sad to see that Hester’s company, The Phoenix Partnership, has recently (2023) secured a 15-year contract to provide e-health software in Jamaica (like Diane Abbott, I am of Jamaican descent). I wish there was some way for the Jamaican government to extract themselves from that contract. Having read TPP’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy, I would conclude that Hester is in contravention of his company policies, pity they can’t send his sorry arse on a course to improve his conduct.

Please note, The feature Image of Diane Abbott is copyright © and all rights reserved. As soon as I retrieve the source I will amend this statement to cite the copyright owner

References & Notes

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