For seven years, as I described here, I have been noting the various ways that the National Trust has pursued a costly woke agenda, alienating its core supporters, and, as a result, being less able to deliver its core mission of saving historic buildings and lands. My Bennite grandfather, Sir John Winnifrith, who ran this body as its Director General, would, I am sure, have washed his hands of the NT in disgust by now, resigning his membership. This weekend, the Trust doubled up on its latest woke blunder: the publication of a detailed report which, effectively, branded one third of its properties as racist.
The Trust said, at the time, that the report was long overdue but that the Black Lives Matter movement had made it all the more relevant and pressing. Such statements show just how out of touch its metropolitan left leaning elitist leadership is with the country at large and certainly with its, generally “small c” conservative, membership. And as a result, thousands of those lifelong supporters have cancelled their membership in protest.
The Trust has, this year, handed one seventh of its staff either a P45 or an early retirement package and says, not entirely honestly, that its financial woes are down to the Covid lockdown. That cannot have assisted but there has, until now, been no recognition that its woke campaigning on BLM, climate change and LGBT rights has alienated supporters over a number of years and so has contributed to its plight.
I give money to an LGBT focussed charity, the Tatchell Foundation, because I support its work. I would be dismayed if it started to use those funds to campaign in support of old national treasures other than Mr Tatchell himself. The Trust does not seem to understand why folks donate to it.
And so in response to the mass cancellations, it emerged this weekend that it is now spending tens of thousands of pounds on the hiring of The Hanbury Partnership, a consultancy firm. Hanbury says that its work is:
“Providing political insight and analysis, communications strategies and cutting edge data and research.”
The spin, no doubt from Hanbury, is that the Trust wishes to “de-woke” itself. We shall see. There are two possibilities here.
One is that the folks who run the Trust are just hiring an expensive PR firm to polish a turd of their own making while, citing financial problems, they sack loyal workers. I very much suspect that this is the case and that the woke own goals will, after a while, continue.
The second is that The Trust really wants to change. If that is the case then why hire Hanbury at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds? The report into racist houses was, in the view of many, not needed. But without having to give ground on that, there is a far simpler get out here – simply to recognise its appalling academic flaws. This was not even a D grade at A level study.
I picked up on the lamentable fake history concerning Churchill’s Chartwell as did many others. But I also pointed out the utterly lamentable academic work which branded Charlecote Park, near my father’s house in Warwickshire, as racist and on Bodiam Castle’s non sins HERE. I am sure that a google search would allow the Trust to find similar dissections of other elements of the report all over the internet. Thus it could simply accept that the report was so academically flawed that it is being withdrawn.
But there needs to be more. Those responsible for commissioning and publishing it must fall on their swords and the buck stops at the top. Tim Parker, the chairman, and Hilary McGrady, the Director General, must be made to walk the plank. And to show that there is a real cultural change, the replacements must bring a diversity of thinking to the board.
That does not mean that the Trust should be seeking out an LGBT person of colour. Sexuality and skin colour are not the issue. The Trust needs a diversity of thought and that means reaching out to a minority which is grossly unrepresented at the top table: conservatives and free thinkers. Andrew Neil would be an obvious choice as chairman, or perhaps the great Kelvin Mackenzie, who appears not even to have been short-listed for the top post at the BBC. Might Luke Johnson consider the role? Or Tim Martin of JD Wetherspoon? I understand that such appointments would outrage those believers in identity politics who are normally at the forefront of calls for more diversity but the Trust needs a real diversity of thought if it is to change and flourish.
Appointing a conservative maverick and someone who would never have signed off on such sloppy academic work as the racist houses report would, alongside the sacking of Parker and McGrady, be the only way to send out a clear signal that the Trust accepts it has erred and wants to change.
My suggestions of how to deal with the crisis in which the National Trust finds itself are cheap and could be implemented rapidly and without the needs for expensive PR spinners. If it wants to repent, the Trust could do so easily. My fear is that the appointment of Hanbury shows that there is no repentance and no change of direction and that poor Sir John will be spinning in his grave again and again as the ship he once steered goes further and further off course.