National Trust war deepens as charity accuses anti-woke faction of waging ‘ideological campaign’

The culture war tearing apart the National Trust was ramped up further today after the charity sparked outrage by accusing ‘anti-woke’ activists of holding ‘extreme views’ as they campaign to oust its bosses.

The group called Restore Trust (RT) is backing a raft of candidates in upcoming elections for NT’s governing council having become enraged by the way properties have been ‘blacklisted’ over links to colonialism and slavery as well as new policies like making staff wear rainbow LGBT ‘pride’ badges. 

More than 6,000 current and former members including Tory MPs have thrown their weight behind the splinter group, with more than £40,000 raised in a ‘fighting fund’ to help battle the charity’s ‘anti-woke’ policies and as a forum ‘discuss concerns about the future of the charity’.

But the National Trust has today suggested it is being used as a ‘punchbag’ by RT and their supporters who they accused of waging an ‘ideological campaign’ against them and suggesting some of the anti-woke campaigners hold ‘extreme views’. 

They said in a statement: ‘Our national institutions need healthy and respectful debate if they’re going to thrive and be handed on to serve future generations, as they have served so many in the past and present. They must not be used as a punchbag, to divide people, or led by extreme views.

‘Our founders set out to protect and promote places of historic interest and natural beauty for the benefit of the nation. That means we are for everyone. Whether you’re black or white, straight or gay, right or left wing’. 

RT was established earlier this year following furious criticism of a sensational 115-page report which ‘blacklisted’ 93 of the National Trust’s estates over their alleged links to slavery – including Chartwell in Kent, home of Sir Winston Churchill.  

The culture war tearing apart the National Trust was ramped up further today after bosses turned on a group of 'anti-woke' campaigners. Pictured: Winston Churchill's Chartwell home in Kent, which was embroiled in controversy when the NT 'blacklisted' the property in 2020

The culture war tearing apart the National Trust was ramped up further today after bosses turned on a group of 'anti-woke' campaigners. Pictured: Winston Churchill's Chartwell home in Kent, which was embroiled in controversy when the NT 'blacklisted' the property in 2020

The culture war tearing apart the National Trust was ramped up further today after bosses turned on a group of ‘anti-woke’ campaigners. Pictured: Winston Churchill’s Chartwell home in Kent, which was embroiled in controversy when the NT ‘blacklisted’ the property in 2020

More than 6,000 current and former members have thrown their weight behind RT, with over £40,000 raised in a 'fighting fund' to help battle the charity's 'anti-woke' policies. Pictured: Neil Bennett of Restore Trust, who oversees the group's ever-growing list of donors

More than 6,000 current and former members have thrown their weight behind RT, with over £40,000 raised in a 'fighting fund' to help battle the charity's 'anti-woke' policies. Pictured: Neil Bennett of Restore Trust, who oversees the group's ever-growing list of donors

More than 6,000 current and former members have thrown their weight behind RT, with over £40,000 raised in a ‘fighting fund’ to help battle the charity’s ‘anti-woke’ policies. Pictured: Neil Bennett of Restore Trust, who oversees the group’s ever-growing list of donors

The National Trust told The Guardian: ‘We have always debated openly and freely to overcome differences of opinion, and paid-for campaigns that back candidates with ideologies opposed to our values are new and would be concerning for any charity.’ 

Among the six council candidates backed by RT for election this month is Stephen Green, the head of a Christian fundamentalist lobbying group, who accuses the National Trust of being overly concerned with ‘LGBQT+ issues’, reports The Guardian

Green, who says he has no link to RT, said if elected he would ensure ‘future donors feel safe from the Trust poring over their past and inventing salacious details of an imagined private life’.  

The splinter group is backed by Sir John Hayes, head of the Conservative Party’s Common Sense Group, and Neil Bennett who oversees RT’s ever-growing list of donors.

Mr Bennett said: ‘I agreed to take the role since I, like others, believe the National Trust’s management has lost its way and is failing in its duty to protect Britain’s heritage and present it properly.’ 

RT has been buoyed by increasing numbers of MPs, campaigners and National Trust members who back their goals to revert the 126-year-old charity to an ‘apolitical’ state.

In 2017, the charity came under fire after it emerged that the Trust had tried to force volunteers at a Norfolk mansion to wear the gay pride rainbow symbol on lanyards and badges to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality – a demand later dropped by the charity. 

RT lists its aims as restoring the Trust’s ‘apolitical ethos’ and helping it return to ‘doing what it does best’ by maintaining historic buildings, interiors and artefacts, gardens and countryside to the ‘highest standard’.

It also plans to reinstate ‘the aesthetic experience’ of the Trust’s historic houses and gardens ‘so that visitors can enjoy them visually, spatially, and sometimes peacefully, without intrusive interpretation.’

In 2017, the charity came under fire after it emerged that the Trust had tried to force volunteers at a Norfolk mansion to wear the gay pride rainbow symbol on lanyards and badges to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. [File picture]

In 2017, the charity came under fire after it emerged that the Trust had tried to force volunteers at a Norfolk mansion to wear the gay pride rainbow symbol on lanyards and badges to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. [File picture]

In 2017, the charity came under fire after it emerged that the Trust had tried to force volunteers at a Norfolk mansion to wear the gay pride rainbow symbol on lanyards and badges to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. [File picture]

Following the report, critics slammed the decision from National Trust bosses to move the historic charity in a ‘bourgeois’ and ‘politically correct’ direction. 

Ex-chairman Tim Parker sensationally quit just 24 hours after furious members launched an ‘anti-woke’ vote of no confidence in a bid to depose him in the wake of the findings. 

At last November’s virtual annual meeting, Mr Parker was slammed for describing Black Lives Matter as a ‘human rights movement with no party-political affiliations’ in a letter to a member.

In the UK, BLM has called for the defunding of the police following the murder of George Floyd in the US last summer.

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Parker said ‘we are not members of BLM’ and added that he hoped Trust members would see ‘that in no way the Trust has become a political organisation that has been taken over by a bunch of woke folk or anything of that nature’.

Mr Parker – who took on the role in 2014 – said the Trust was ‘committed to anti-racism and to creating a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment.’

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