Campaign catchup: Hester allegations, Labour tax plans, dodgy D-day branding

<span>Frank Hester.</span><span>Photograph: TPP/Youtube</span>
Frank Hester.Photograph: TPP/Youtube

Good afternoon. In March, the Guardian revealed that the Conservatives’ biggest donor, Frank Hester, had said to colleagues that looking at Diane Abbott makes you “want to hate all black women”. The party responded by arguing that although his remarks were abhorrent, he had apologised. They stuck to their line this morning, when it was confirmed that they had accepted £5m more than was known at the time – and took £150,000 from Hester’s company after the comments came to light. But in the last hour, that position has come under severe strain.

Rowena Mason, Henry Dyer and Matthew Weaver have reported a series of other allegations about Hester from former employees, including claims that he imitated people of Chinese descent and referred to a staff member as the “token Muslim”. Hester has not responded to the claims - but the Conservatives say that they consider the matter resolved.

Others will disagree. More on that and everything else you need to know today, including some very awkward D-day branding, after the headlines.

What happened today

  1. Labour | Members of the shadow cabinet are urging Rachel Reeves to raise capital gains tax if she becomes chancellor. Reeves is said to be considering a “kitchen sink” approach in order to justify raising tax income, by releasing all bad news about the public finances at once.

  2. D-day | Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer attended commemorations in Normandy alongside the King and Queen and Emmanuel Macron. Sunak returned to the UK before an international ceremony also attended by Joe Biden.

  3. Greens | The Green party has called for a wealth tax, and other radical tax reforms, to allow spending on health and social care to rise by more than £50bn a year by the end of the decade. Adrian Ramsay, the Green co-leader, said they were the only party being honest about the scale of the problem.

Analysis: Why won’t the Tories give the money back?

Frank Hester’s apology in March was about his comments about Diane Abbott. While Rishi Sunak described the Tory’s donors words as “racist”, Hester denied that this was the case – but said that he accepted “that he was rude about Diane Abbott in a private meeting”.

When presented with the new claims, the Tories again said they considered the matter “resolved” by that apology. But the new report details much wider allegations from more than a dozen former staffers, who say that Hester repeatedly made comments about race or religion in the workplace, including in recent years. He is said to have squinted and narrowed his eyes to imitate people of Chinese heritage, and used a mocking accent; to have talked about someone as being attractive for a black woman; and to have repeatedly referred to one employee as the “token Muslim”.

In light of the new claims, it seems the question for the Conservatives now will be whether an apology for being “rude” about one person is really enough to justify treating Hester as a suitable donor. It feels like a pretty urgent problem: in the heat of the election campaign, it has just been confirmed that the Tories took another £5m from Hester above the £10m previously reported – and that extra £150,000 even after the original report was published.

It might seem that the simplest thing would be to give the money back. Why won’t the Conservatives take this way out? While they insist it is a question of accepting real contrition – “that remorse should be accepted”, Rishi Sunak said in March – others see a different calculation at work. They suspect that losing £15m, much of which will have already been spent, would blow a major hole in the party’s finances. Hester’s latest £5m was by far the largest sum the Conservatives received in the first quarter of this year, new Electoral Commission data released today reveals.

Meanwhile, with wealthy donors and businesses anticipating a Keir Starmer government in a month’s time, it is becoming easier for Labour to raise money – and much harder for the Tories. Even last year, the Conservatives comfortably outraised their biggest opponents, as is usually the case. But from January to March this year, Labour pulled slightly ahead. The gap is in the hundreds of thousands; without Hester’s money, Labour would have raised twice as much in that period. (Henry Dyer has more on the biggest donors here.)

The Conservatives themselves legislated to increase the limits on spending during elections, raising them by 80% in November last year. Parties contesting every seat in Great Britain can spend just over £34m. (Read more on the rules here.) You might see self-interest at work here: the Tories have outspent Labour in every election since 2000, and they are likely to do so again this time. But it appears fears that more spending would mean lower standards for donations will now be tested to their limit.

All of this comes against a wider backdrop of concern over the influence of money in British politics. Total political donations have grown by nearly 250 per cent since 2001, the IFS said in February, with “super-donors” – those who contribute more than £100,000 – a major driver of the rise. Any conversations donors have with politicians about government business are supposed to be reported – but, Rowena told me in March, “it’s very difficult to know what happens in one-on-one conversations.”

Even if Hester is exerting no such influence, scrutiny over his suitability as a donor is now only likely to intensify. Questions about whether the Tories are refusing to turn away because the money is too important are the very last thing ministers will want to talk about – but it may be a difficult subject for them to avoid in the days ahead.

What’s at stake

You will have heard a lot about Great British Energy, the government-owned power company that is at the heart of Labour’s promise to decarbonise the UK’s electricity supply by 2030 and reduce home energy bills. Jillian Ambrose and Fiona Harvey explain how it would work:

This would stop well short of any form of renationalisation: GB Energy would be a state-owned investment vehicle and company working alongside and often in partnership with the existing private sector suppliers. The plan is for it to be largely invisible to households, not offering electricity directly to consumers but financing and helping to build low-carbon infrastructure, from windfarms to – potentially – nuclear reactors …

GB Energy is considered a crucial plank in helping Labour to achieve another election promise: to create a virtually zero carbon electricity system by 2030, five years ahead of the government’s target.

If it achieves this it could save each household an average of £300 a year from their energy bill, according to analysis by the independent thinktank Ember. So although GB Energy cannot promise to cut bills this winter it could help create an energy system that relies more on homegrown renewables and is likely to be cheaper in the long run.

Winners of the day

Five former Labour staffers from the Jeremy Corbyn era, including his director of communications Seumas Milne and chief of staff Karie Murphy, after the party discontinued costly legal action over the alleged leaking – denied by the group – of an internal report on antisemitism. The lawsuit is expected to have has cost more than £1.5m.

Loser of the day

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, who has announced he will stand in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East after the existing candidate was dropped on health grounds. Ross immediately came under pressure over the move, with the BBC asking: “It looks like you’ve sacked a sick man who wanted to stay as a candidate and put yourself in there. Does that not look quite callous?”

Quote of the day

This was a bad precedent when it started and we would much be better off without it”

Robert Chote, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, talking to the BBC about the practice of civil servants being told to cost opposition policies based on special advisers’ assumptions – most recently seen in Rishi Sunak’s dubious claims of a Labour tax “bombshell”.

Unfortunate use of D-day as a branding opportunity of the day

This goes to Labour’s Keir Cozens, candidate for Great Yarmouth, whose campaign plastered his logo on an image commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-day. (It was swiftly removed.) Special mention to Nigel Farage, who followed yesterday’s image of him in a jeep with a post saying he was “honoured to be in Normandy”. No word on whether anyone invited him.

Number of the day



The number of seats in the UK where more than 50% of voters say they want a Tory MP, according to the New Statesman’s analysis of polling data.

Dubious photo opportunity of the day

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton and Edinburgh West candidate Christine Jardine with some truly dismal props. Something to do with NHS dentistry? Congratulations to Cole-Hamilton on his second appearance of the week.

Andrew Sparrow explains it all

The pick of the posts from the king of the live blogs

12.33 BST | “Vote Tory because we’ve got a good record on LGBT+ rights.” That is not a slogan anyone at CCHQ seems to have proposed, and instead ministers have been happy to antagonise the LGBT+ lobby with announcements that suggests they are willing to curtail trans rights as a culture war issue.

But, perhaps surprisingly, YouGov polling out this morning suggests that, of 21 issues included in the survey, gay, lesbian and bisexual rights is the area where people think things have most improved since 2020. And it is also the only area where people think there has been clear improvement.

The finding partly reflects that fact that the coalition government passed a law in 2013 to allow same-sex marriage. It was controversial at the time, but now there is no one in mainstream politics calling for its repeal. But it is also indicative of how social attitudes have changed enormously on gay rights over the past decade.

Follow Andrew Sparrow’s politics live blog every day here

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Politics Weekly UK: The ‘blue wall’ road trip

John Harris goes on the road, visiting Jeremy Hunt’s seat in Godalming and Ash and Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency to find out why lifelong Conservative voters are abandoning the party

What’s on the grid

Friday | Labour holds its Clause V meeting – a summit with trade union leaders where the party’s manifesto will be agreed. Sky News have a useful guide to how it works.

Friday 4pm | Deadline for candidates to file nominations for the general election.

Friday 7.30pm | BBC hosts a seven-party debate, where Angela Rayner for Labour, Penny Mordaunt for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats’ Daisy Cooper will appear alongside leaders of the SNP, the Greens, Reform UK and Plaid Cymru.