Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Cabinet minister Mark Harper denies the Tories have a race problem

  • By Sam Francis
  • Political Correspondent, BBC News

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WATCH: Mark Harper says Tories 'don't have a race problem'

A senior cabinet minister has denied the Conservatives have a race problem after receiving at least £10m from a donor accused of racism.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper told the BBC he had “the most racially diverse Cabinet ever”.

Mr Harper said his party welcomed members “of any race”.

Donor Frank Hester apologized, saying former Labor MP Diane Abbott “should hate all black women” and that she should be “shot”.

Mr Harper declined to comment on reports that the Conservatives had accepted a further £5m from Mr Hester, which would bring his total donations to the party to £15m in less than a year.

He told the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuensberg that he was not involved in party funding, but that “if there is a future donation in the future, it will be announced in the usual way”.

“As the Prime Minister said this week, we are proudly leading the party by the first British Asian Prime Minister.”

He said the current cabinet is “the most racially diverse cabinet ever”.

“We are a party that welcomes people across the UK, whatever their background, whatever their race, if they share our values ​​and approach to politics,” he added.

Mr Harper argued that “we should accept” Mr Hester's apology.

But Samuel Kasumu, a former Downing Street adviser, said he was disappointed by Mr Harper's argument.

“Having the most diverse cabinet in history” is not a “get out of jail free card” on racial issues, Mr Kasumu said.

A former adviser to Boris Johnson has been a frequent critic of the Conservative Party's approach to race since leaving the government over the racism report.

Referring to Martin Luther King, Mr Kasumu said: “The color of your skin is not important when it comes to racism, discrimination and bringing communities together – it is the content of your character and the will to lead.”

Mr Kasumu added, “Some of our most divisive politicians are Indian-origin former Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

The The Guardian reports Mr Hester made the comments about Ms Abbott during a meeting at his company's headquarters in 2019 while criticizing a female executive at another company.

She continued, the newspaper said: “It's like trying to be racist, but you see Diane Abbott on TV and you're like, I hate, you want to hate all black women because she's there. Don't hate all black women, but I think she should be shot.” .

The BBC has not heard a recording, nor has it been able to independently verify the alleged comments.

Mr Hester apologized for making “rude” comments about Ms Abbott, but said his comments had “nothing to do with her gender and the color of her skin”.

A social media post, Mr Hester later said he “abhors racism”, which he described as “poison that has no place in public life”.

The Guardian's investigation led to a week of political backlash against Mr Hester, forcing Ms Abbott into the center of a debate about racism in politics.

In one essay, Ms Abbott, who now sits as an independent MP, attacked racism within both the Conservative and Labor parties.

He argued that the government's Rwandan deportation plan meant they wanted to play the “race card” as the next election approached. Ms Abbott also criticized the Labor Party, saying “racism in politics is not limited to any political party”.

The Labor MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington was suspended by Labor in April last year after writing in the Observer that Irish, Jewish and Traveler people were not subject to racism “all their lives”. He later retracted his comments and apologized for “any hurt”.

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WATCH: Abbott stood up to try to get the Speaker's attention 46 times

Former Labor deputy leader Harriet Harman told the program that Mr Harper's comments proved there was still “a problem”.

“You have to recognize that even though black people and women are moving forward into politics, there's still a huge backlash, and that's what people are facing,” she said.

“Danger Complacency in Coping with Discrimination.”

Ms Harman said the reason the Tories were “reluctant” to criticize Mr Hester and return his donations was “because they accepted such a large sum”.

But he said Labor “absolutely has further to go” in tackling racism.

Ms Harman said: “Who can say there isn't a problem? We have to recognize that this is a really bad, terrible problem.”

Shadow cabinet minister Jonathan Ashworth said Labor “shouldn't be complacent about racism – we need to challenge it”.

“We must challenge Islamophobia and bigotry in our party as we see it in society,” he added.

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