Diane Abbott thanks supporters at anti-racism rally in east London | Diane Abbott

Diane Abbott greeted large crowds of people who gathered at a rally in support of her on Friday night, telling the crowd they had to “stand firm” against racism.

The rally was organised by local black women in Hackney after remarks emerged about the longstanding MP by Frank Hester, the Tories’ biggest donor, that were widely condemned as racist and misogynistic.

It was attended by supporters, including Jeremy Corbyn, who wanted to protest against the comments and the wider treatment of black women in public life.

Large crowds gathered shortly before the rally began at 6.30pm. Hyacinth Morris, 65, a retired residential support worker, said: “Labour is missing the whole point, the racist comment seems to have just been sidelined. The argument has become about the £15m; what about her safety? What about how we feel as black women?”

Sylvia Geohagen, 72, a retired child protection officer and Morris’s sister, said: “I’m here to show her a bit of support because she’s been treated rather shabbily.”

Harvey Watt, 24, said: “She’s important to me because she shows us that we, as black people, can do it.”

The Guardian revealed on Monday that Hester, a businessman who has given £10m to the Conservative party, said seeing Abbott – Britain’s first black female MP – on TV made “you want to hate all black women” and she “should be shot”.

It was later reported that Hester had donated a further £5m to the party.

Abbott greeted the crowd to huge applause and chants of “we stand with Diane”.

She said she was “moved” by the support. “I want to say thank you … it is Hackney people who have stood by me year after year, decade after decade.

Diane Abbott in front of Hackney town hall. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

“This is not about me. This is absolutely [about] the level of racism in Britain. This is about the way black women are disrespected decade after decade. My mother came to this country in the 1950s as a nurse. She was the generation of women that built the National Health Service.

“We have to stand up. We have to stand firm. We have to make sure that for generations of young black people, they don’t have to suffer the racism that we had to suffer.”

Earlier, the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined the crowd on the steps. Corbyn said this was “a rally of unity”, adding: “I can’t imagine any other MP in any other part of the country who would command this much support at such short notice. I bring my greetings of support from across the border in Islington.”

Jeremy Corbyn at the rally. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

Corbyn told the Guardian: “First of all, [Starmer should] show solidarity to Diane, for the unbelievable abuse she that has suffered, not just over the past few weeks, but for the past years. It’s utterly disgraceful.

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“And then, using her image and story as a way of trying to raise money for the Labour party while at the same time not recognising the injustice of her removal from the parliamentary Labour party.”

In response to the Guardian’s revelations, Hester apologised for the remarks but denied they were motivated by race or gender.

A statement from Hester’s healthcare technology firm, the Phoenix Partnership (TPP), said the donor “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”.

The statement added: “He rang Diane Abbott twice [on Monday] to try to apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her, and is deeply sorry for his remarks. He wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life.”

Abbott, who has represented Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987, was suspended by the Labour party in April last year after suggesting that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people were not subject to racism “all their lives”.

Despite Abbott apologising for the comments, Keir Starmer has ignored calls to reinstate the MP.

Labour has called for the Conservatives to return the donations from Hester and his company.

TPP has been paid more than £400m by the NHS and other government bodies since 2016, primarily to look after 60m UK medical records.

This article was amended on 15 March 2024. An early version incorrectly said the rally was organised by Black Lives Matter.

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