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More than half of public think Tories should return money from donor after racism row, poll finds

More than half of UK adults, including nearly 40% of 2019 Tory voters, still think the party should return the £10m it has received from donor Frank Hester following his comments about Diane Abbott MP, fresh polling shared with Sky News shows.

Research by Savanta also reveals that two-thirds of Conservative voters believe Mr Hester’s remarks about the former Labour MP were racist – a figure that rises to 70% for the wider public.

Savanta surveyed 2,149 UK adults aged over 18 online from 15-17 March, when the Conservatives were fully engulfed in the row over Mr Hester, who is reported to have said Ms Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Mr Hester has since said he is “deeply sorry” for his remarks, but that they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

Ms Abbott, who remains suspended from the parliamentary Labour Party, hit out at the “level of racism that is still in Britain” following the row, saying Mr Hester’s remarks showed how “black women are disrespected”.

Since the reports emerged, Rishi Sunak has resisted pressure to return the £10m Mr Hester is known to have donated to the Conservatives last year, despite saying Mr Hester’s comments were “racist” and “wrong”.

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The prime minister’s admission came after Downing Street and several ministers initially refused to say whether the remarks were racist – saying only that they were “wrong”.

Mr Sunak has also refused to confirm whether a further £5m from Mr Hester is in the pipeline – Sky News understands the party is “in talks” about the additional cash.

Earlier this week Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who was the first cabinet minister to say the remarks were “racist”, insisted the government had “drawn a line” under the row and shouldn’t have to give back the money he donated.

“I think if somebody has apologised and the comments appear to have been first of all very flippant, said a long time ago, I think it is fine for us to be able to accept and forgive and draw a line under it,” she told Sky News.

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Badenoch thinks the Conservatives should keep the donations

But the Savanta polling found 54% of UK adults think the Conservatives should return Mr Hester’s £10m donation, including 39% of 2019 Conservative voters.

Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta, told Sky News: “The government’s original line in response to Frank Hester’s comments about Diane Abbott was that they were rude but not racist.

“Our research suggests that the public disagrees, including their own voters.

“Leading Conservatives, including the prime minister, have attempted to draw a line under the saga and any future donations from Hester.

“But the majority of the public say they want to see his reported £10m donation returned. That’s the short-term problem.”

Mr Hopkins added: “Longer-term, nearly half of all UK adults believe that racism is widespread in the Conservative Party.

“That is a major electoral and moral challenge for a party that has traditionally struggled with ethnic minority voters.”

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A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “The comments allegedly made by Frank Hester were racist and wrong. He has now rightly apologised for the offence caused and where remorse is shown it should be accepted.

“The prime minister is clear there is no place for racism in public life and as the first British-Asian prime minister leading one of the most ethnically diverse Cabinets in our history, the UK is living proof of that fact.”

Sky News Source