As a family, we were proud members of the National Trust, one of the UK’s biggest charities and the country’s largest private landowner. The National Trust is by definition a conservative institution. Its purpose is that of conserving the great works of material culture in its care, including castles, stately homes, monuments, gardens, a massive art collection, and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Not far from where we live is Ascott House, an old Rothschild hunting lodge with magnificent gardens and a brilliant assemblage of equine paintings by the great George Stubbs, all maintained by the National Trust. We loved to spend Sunday afternoons there, enjoying the topiary whilst eating ice-creams from the café.
As the National Trust is essentially a conservative organisation, so too its membership largely comprises people with conservative instincts, that is, people who like long walks in the countryside, historic buildings, and fine art. It is astonishing, therefore, that the National Trust chose to go in a direction that, if continued, would lead to its suicide. Under the chairmanship of business tycoon Tim Parker, the National Trust has alienated many of its members.
We personally saw it moving in this doomed direction for a while before we opted to quit. One day, the Trust’s quarterly magazine, which goes out to all members, arrived through the letterbox. I sat down with a cup of tea to browse through it, when I saw that the front-cover was a picture of a drag queen with the words: ‘Celebrating those who challenged society and convention.’ We live in an age which is almost solely dedicated to challenging society and convention; the National Trust once provided a refuge to those who found something in society and convention to appreciate. It turned out that in this edition of their magazine, the Trust was announcing its new Prejudice and Pride campaign in celebration of homosexuality.
It occurred to me, as I frowned down at the cover of the magazine: when I joined a charity dedicated to heritage and conservation, I did not think that I would have to worry about leaving its quarterly magazine on the coffee table in case it corrupted my children. My wife and I chatted about it, and decided it was time for us to cancel our membership. We were not alone; at Annual General Meetings (AGMs) over the past few years, many members of the National Trust have voiced their concerns over the charity’s newly adopted wokery, and many have also cancelled their membership in protest. The Trust is already financially struggling, and cannot afford to keep alienating its members. As the saying goes: go woke, go broke.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. Every other once-conservative institution in the UK has also gone woke. The BBC was once socially conservative and actually quite intelligent; then it went woke and very stupid. The Lower Chamber of Parliament, the Upper Chamber of Parliament, the Royal Family, the courts, the public schools, the academy. All these political and civil institutions were once, and not so long ago, conservative in instinct and attitude. Now, they are all progressive, even revolutionary. Nonetheless, it has taken some somersaults to get there for the National Trust.
Earlier this year, National Trust volunteers were asked to wear rainbow colours and paint pride flags on their faces. The average National Trust volunteer is a retired, church-going grandmother with a love of history, heritage, and a deep-felt enthusiasm for—and expert knowledge of—the historic building at which she volunteers. To request that such a person arrive in political garb to signal the management’s zeal for alternative sexual practices is bizarre to say the least. Such policy not only shows little understanding of the people whom the National Trust serves, but of the people who serve the Trust as unpaid staff, serving it simply because they love what it does, or what they thought it did.
And why stop there anyway? If the National Trust is going to celebrate Gay Pride, why not take full inspiration from its parades and ask 75-year-old Gladys to show visitors around Hughenden Manor in a gimp mask, directing them to Disraeli’s orangery with an inflatable unicorn? Perhaps then the managerial clowns overseeing this nonsense will notice how incongruous this wokery really is in the context of the National Trust.
It wasn’t long before the National Trust was supporting Black Lives Matter and launching investigations into all its properties to expose any traces of historical racism. Simultaneously, the Trust was trying to find out who, amongst its donors, may have had homosexual inclinations, so it could ‘out’ them in an act of celebration. Staff were also subjected to ‘unconscious bias’ training, to make sure they were fully onboard with the Trust’s new direction, even in their subconsciouses. At the moment when the National Trust decided it would put money aside to create a new position for a ‘climate lobbyist,’ it became clear that its members and volunteers were not going to accept this rubbish any longer.
A group of National Trust members formed Restore Trust, a lobbying group working to reverse the disastrous new direction of their much-loved charity. According to their website, Restore Trust campaigns simply for the National Trust to ‘focus on its task of looking after architecture, art, gardens and countryside.’ To this end, they issued four resolutions: that Chairman Tim Parker resign; that the Trust disclose in full the remuneration of its senior staff (this may have been provoked by the recent discovery that the National Trust’s Director-General, Hilary McGrady, earns more than the Prime Minister); that the Trust cease its current mistreatment of its staff; and that the Trust begin to treat its volunteers in a more thoughtful and respectful way again. Within days of these resolutions being issued, Tim Parker announced his resignation. A victory to be sure, but there remains much work to get the National Trust back on course.
The National Trust’s constant pandering to progressives, despite the traditional instincts of its members, will likely end in disaster. Leading up to its AGM on the 30th October, the National Trust is now opening the door to a ban on foxhounds being taken on trail ‘hunts’ on its lands. Such events mark the kind of heritage that the National Trust exists to protect.
Members have until the 22nd October to submit their votes on this issue of trail ‘hunts,’ on Restore Trust’s three remaining resolutions, and on an array of other issues. They should take this opportunity to stamp out the wokery that is ruining the charity’s proper mission. All UK readers of The European Conservative who are members of the National Trust should submit their votes for this upcoming AGM to restore this great charity to its great purpose.
Sebastian Morello is a lecturer, public speaker, and columnist. Trained by Sir Roger Scruton, he has published books on philosophy, history, and education. He lives in Bedfordshire, England, with his wife and children.