Insurgent group continues ‘politicised’ campaign against the National Trust

Restore Trust, which has been waging a campaign against perceived ‘wokeness’ within the National Trust, is backing a slate of candidates and motions in the charity's upcoming elections.

Berrington Hall (National Trust)

The National Trust’s (NT) Annual General Meeting (AGM) is taking place on November 5. In what promises to be another heated meeting for the charity, members will vote on resolutions and on their preferred candidates to fill seven vacancies for the Trust’s council. The council appoints a chairman and members of the board of trustees and holds them to account.

In October 2021, the charity and membership organisation for heritage conservation warned of an ideological campaign being waged against it by self-styled ‘anti-woke insurgents’ belonging to Restore Trust (RT). Last year’s AGM saw the Trust subjected to a well-coordinated campaign by RT.

The Restore Trust campaign began in 2021, in the wake of the publication of a report by the National Trust that highlighted connections between 93 of its historic places and slavery. The dossier of sites linked to ‘colonialism and slavery’ and included Winston Churchill’s former family home, citing the former prime minister’s role in the Bengal famine and his opposition to Indian independence. RT took exception to the report claiming it “presents a strongly negative view of Britain, and which does not properly represent the scholarly consensus.”

Restore Trust believes the National Trust has lost focus on its original purpose and describes itself as “a forum where members, supporters and friends of the National Trust can discuss their concerns about the future of the charity.”

Stoking divisions

The National Trust accuses RT of seeking to stoke divisions. In 2021, NT members raised concerns about a number of “extreme positions” taken by some of the individuals involved in Restore Trust.

One such individual is Stephen Green, who was backed by RT as a candidate for the charity’s governing council last year. Green is the head of a Christian extremist group ‘Christian Voice’, which has urged Christians to support Uganda’s proposed law that would make homosexuality punishable by death.

“The contrast between our politicians and those of Uganda could not be more stark. A Parliamentarian in Uganda is trying to protect his nation’s children. The House of Commons of the United Kingdom is trying to corrupt ours. Which country is the more civilised, I wonder, in the eyes of Almighty God?” Green remarked.

Green, who has referred to homosexuality as a “deviant lifestyle” and brazenly denied trans identities, faced heavy criticism for his comments.

Despite the censure, one of the most controversial resolutions put forward for this year’s AMG, involving members being asked to vote on whether they “deplore” the NT taking part in Pride events as a “divisive and unaccountable waste” of their subscriptions, is understood to have been proposed by Stephen Green.

Meanwhile, the NT has called on supporters to vote against the Pride resolution, saying it “runs counter to our ethos” and that the trust is “for everyone.”

Earlier this year, Zewditu Gebreyohanes, who has worked for the right-right Policy Exchange think-tank, became a director of Restore Trust. In August, the right-wing commentator and activist, who has a record of accusing arts and heritage organisations of “wokeness,” was appointed by Boris Johnson as one of three new trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum V&A.

RT backs candidates for NT council election

Like in 2021, Restore Trust is backing a slate of candidates in this year’s elections for the NT’s governing council.

Claiming they “have what it takes to hold the Trustees to account,” Restore Trust is urging NT members to vote for Bola Anike, Professor Jeremy Black, Phil Bradby, Edward Bulmer, Philip Gibbs, Zareer Masani, and Rosamund Roxburgh.

In an open letter to council leaders in Brighton and Hove, Bola Anike, a property manager, argued the idea that ‘“systemic racism” is “prevalent and endemic” in UK society is likewise a belief not a fact.”

Anike has featured on the pages of the right-wing press. In an article titled ‘Focus on stately home, not race rows, National trust told’ the Telegraph quotes Anike saying the she wants to see the Trust “focus on its purpose” of looking after properties for future generations and says that the current strategy “of explaining history is well-intentioned but flawed” as it is important to see history in “context” and not to “impose contemporary values.”

“It is a mistake to present the past through the prism of race and make assumptions about what people will find offensive or apportion praise and blame,” said the NT candidate.

The Telegraph also mentions Philip Gibbs, another candidate endorsed by Restore Trust, who has called for the charity to be “less political.”

Professor Jeremy Black, an emeritus professor of history at Exeter University, is another RT-backed candidate. Black regularly features in the right-wing press on culture war related issues. He was one of a number of professors at the University of Exeter who threatened rebellion over advice to use tweets not textbooks because archives are biased. The professors accused senior leaders of pursuing a ‘wokefinder general’ attitude on campus.

Black told the Telegraph that the recommendation to include tweets “represents an erosion of standards”, adding: “This material is very likely to have had no process of individual scholarly scrutiny beyond the individual author, so this is deeply problematic.

The historian has told NT members that the Trust’s “judgmental presentation of some properties has caused unnecessary controversy” and has called for “a more nuanced and rigorous approach which will aid deeper understanding”.

The effort to roll back on so-called ‘wokery’ within the NT, seems to emanate from a small group of influential people.

Restore Trust is supported by a number of Tory MPs, including Tory MP Sir John Hayes, chair of the Common Sense group, one of a string of backbench pressure groups formed following the success of the European Research Group’s influence over shaping Brexit policy.

Another prominent figure associated with RT is Neil Record, who features on RT’s ‘meet the team’ website page. Record is the chairman of the think-tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has spent decades undermining climate science. He is also a major Tory Party donor and has previously donated to climate denying lobby group Global Warming Policy Foundation. As the National Trust has a range of policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, it’s not difficult to deduce why a climate change sceptic like Neil Record is involved in a campaign against the Trust.

But with around 5.37 million members, and just a small percentage belonging to RT, the group’s impact on the direction of the National Trust is unlikely to be as significant as they would hope.

Voting for council candidates takes place before the AGM by post or online via the National Trust website. The deadline to vote is October 28.

Restore Trust has been approached for comment.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Paul Pearson/Berrington Hall (National Trust) – Creative Commons

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