Who is Diane Abbott? MP tells ITV Tory donor Frank Hester’s remarks ‘frightening’

Who is Diane Abbott? MP tells ITV Tory donor Frank Hester’s remarks ‘frightening’

Diane Abbott has sent a statement to ITV's Good Morning Britain calling for Sir Keir Starmer’s “full support” following Frank Hester’s alleged remarks about her making him hate “all black women”.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

The Guardian reported that Hester also said that Ms Abbott, the first black woman elected to Parliament, “should be shot” while she was the shadow home secretary for Labour.

Under-fire Tory donor Frank Hester (PA Wire)
Under-fire Tory donor Frank Hester (PA Wire)

Mr Hester has since issued a public apology. "Frank Hester accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbott in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.

“The Guardian is right when it quotes Frank saying he abhors racism, not least because he experienced it as the child of Irish immigrants in the 1970s."

Following the "reprehensible" remarks, Labour and the Liberal Democrats demanded that the Tories refund the money Mr Hester had donated to them.

Ms Abbott, who was previously an MP for the Labour Party, lost the whip in 2023 over comments she made about racism. She was elected as an MP in 1987.

Ms Abbott has since apologised for her comments published in the Observer newspaper. She is now an independent within the House of Commons.

So who is Diane Abbott? Here’s what you need to know.

Who is Diane Abbott?

Born to Jamaican parents in London in 1953, Ms Abbott was the first black woman elected to Parliament when she won the Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat in 1987.

She has been one of the longest-serving MPs in Westminster and maintained her east London constituency, usually with a large majority. She was suspended by the party in April 2023 after suggesting that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people were not subject to racism “all their lives”.

Ms Abbott has lived in London for most of her life and was a Labour councillor before becoming an MP. She has been a vocal presence, usually from the backbenches.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made Ms Abbott his shadow secretary for health and social care, then eventually the shadow home secretary (PA Archive)
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made Ms Abbott his shadow secretary for health and social care, then eventually the shadow home secretary (PA Archive)

Considered a voice of the left of the party, Ms Abbott was critical of New Labour reforms made by Tony Blair as the party rose to power in 1997. She voted against the Iraq War.

She has long been allies with other left-wing Labour MPs and stood, to put forward the group’s agenda, in the 2010 party leadership election — where she lost to Ed Miliband.

Five years later, she supported her political ally and constituency neighbour Jeremy Corbyn when he put himself forward. When Mr Corbyn unexpectedly won, he made Ms Abbott his shadow secretary for health and social care, then eventually the shadow home secretary.

She retained her Hackney seat in the 2019 election but was removed from the frontbenches as Sir Keir brought in his own backers.

Ms Abbott was married to David Ayensu-Thompson from 1991 to 1993 and has a son, James, 32.

What did Diane Abbott say that made her lose her status as MP?

She wrote in the Observer: “It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice.

“But they are not all their lives subject to racism. In pre-civil rights America, Irish people, Jewish people, and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus.

“In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote. And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.”

An anti-racism charity complained about her comments, as did Tory MP Grant Shapps on Twitter and the Labour Against Antisemitism group.

Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said Ms Abbott’s letter was “deeply offensive” and praised the party’s decision to suspend her.

A party spokesman said: “The Labour party completely condemns these comments, which are deeply offensive and wrong.

“The chief whip has suspended the Labour whip from Diane Abbott pending an investigation.”

Mr Corbyn has also had the whip removed over comments he made about the party’s antisemitism investigation. He is unlikely to stand again for Labour.

Did Diane Abbott apologise for her comments?

Ms Abbott has apologised for her comments.

She said on X, formerly Twitter: “I am writing regarding my letter that was recently published in the Observer.

“I wish to wholly and unreservedly withdraw my written remarks and disassociate myself from them.

“The errors arose in an initial draft being sent. But there is no excuse and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused.

“Racism takes many forms and it is completely undeniable that Jewish people have suffered its monstrous effects, as have Irish people, Travellers, and many others.

“Once again, I would like to apologise publicly for the remarks and any distress caused as a result of them.”