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The Political Extremists Embraced by Rishi Sunak

The Conservative Party’s defence of their donor Frank Hester, who made racist comments about Diane Abbott and black women, reveals the double standards at the heart of Rishi Sunak’s anti-extremism plans, reports Adam Bienkov

Rishi Sunak. Photo: ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy

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Earlier this month the Prime Minister stood behind a lectern on Downing Street and declared his opposition to political hate and extremism of all kinds, saying that it meant “MPs do not feel safe in their homes”.

Calling for the nation to unite against political hatred, he added that, “The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division”.

Fast forward two weeks and the party is not just tolerating such forces of division, but actively welcoming money from someone who has engaged in it.

The revelation that the Conservative party’s biggest ever donor called for Diane Abbott to be shot, while saying that Britain’s first black female MP made people “want to hate all black women” is a deeply shameful moment in British politics.

However, even more shameful has been the Conservative party’s reaction to it.

Asked this morning whether the party should hand back the £10 million Frank Hester gave to them last year, the Energy Minister Graham Stuart told broadcasters that it would be wrong for the businessman to be “cancelled” for his comments, and that the party should “welcome” donations such as Hester’s.

He was later joined by the Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride, who told Sky News that “I don’t think what [Hester] was saying was a gender based or race based comment”, before insisting that everyone needed to “move on” from the comments.

A spokesman for the party was similarly flippant, suggesting that while Hester’s vile comments about Abbott may have been “rude” they were not related to Abbott’s “gender” or “skin colour”.

It is not clear how the party can justify saying that calling for a black women to be shot, because her very existence makes people want to hate all black women, is not “gender based or race based”.

However, the overall message given by the party’s defence of Hester is overwhelmingly clear. 

This defence, like the party’s initial attempt to defend Lee Anderson’s comments about Sadiq Khan, shows that when it comes to racism, hate and extremism, the party is only truly opposed to it when it is conducted by someone who they can view as a political opponent.

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When it is instead conducted by one of their own, and particularly when it is conducted by someone who has donated millions of pounds to their party, then it can be entirely tolerated and even condoned.

Such tolerance does not always hold forever. The party was eventually forced to buckle on Anderson’ and they may ultimately have to do the same with Hester.

But the trend here is undeniable Whether it’s defending the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman for labelling refugees an “invasion”, or falsely suggesting that child grooming gangs were “almost all” British Pakistanis, or whether it’s backing Lee Anderson for telling asylum seekers to “f*** off back to France”, or backing Liz Truss for standing by Steve Bannon as he praises Tommy Robinson, the Conservative Party and Rishi Sunak appear to have a huge amount of tolerance for racism and political extremism, just as long as the individuals engaging in it are seen as being part of their own team.


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Forces of Division

Later this week Michael Gove is expected to announce plans for the party to expand the official definition of “extremism” while saying that certain individuals and groups should have no place in public life.

The announcement, which follows Sunak’s own speech on the subject, could reportedly encompass such representative community groups as the Muslim Council of Britain, who would have their future right to engage with the Government removed.

The plan has raised alarm bells with campaigners and human rights groups, who believe it could be used to delegitimise and ostracise those engaging in non-criminal acts of dissent.

Yet while the Conservatives appear so keen to label anyone they disagree with as “extremists”, the lesson from recent weeks is that they are far less willing to turn a similar spotlight on either themselves, or those who fund and support them.

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