Rebel National Trust members narrowly lost their opening salvo in a ‘war on woke and political correctness’ yesterday, deepening the divide between traditionalists and modernisers.
Restore Trust (RT), a group of campaigners seeking to uphold the conservation charity’s traditional values, vowed to fight on after narrowly losing two of its three resolutions at the annual general meeting in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Lucy Wood, a retired museum curator and member of RT, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I hope that the closeness of these ballots have given the National Trust a massive wake-up call. These resolutions were only defeated because of the chairman’s discretionary votes.’
Before the meeting, a Trust insider said the rebels were a ‘privately funded campaign’ operating against the spirit of the charity’s rules.
Ms Wood had earlier accused the bosses of an ‘arrogant abuse of many properties in its care by gimmickry in their presentation, by sheer neglect and increasingly acting as a money-making business rather than a conservation charity’.
Anti-hunting activists demonstrate outside the National Trust AGM at the Harrogate Convention Centre on October 30, 2021
Neil Bennett, one of the directors of RT, said last night: ‘We want to see a change of direction for the National Trust, a change of leadership and a change of attitude.
‘It has become a political vehicle where mandatory diversity training has become the norm.
‘I was contacted by one lady who has spent 20 years showing people around properties and was told that her ‘version of history’ was no longer wanted.
‘The senior management want to present an alternative version of history and have become very Maoist in behaviour.’
But Hilary McGrady, director-general of the Trust, gave members a ‘cast-iron guarantee’ the board will protect properties and their heritage, revealing that it will spend more than £360 million on houses, gardens and collections over the next three years.
‘I love this country and our rich history,’ Ms McGrady said. ‘And it is an honour and a privilege to lead the organisation that is entrusted with caring for it, and that is why we have been increasing our conservation year-on-year.’
Members at the meeting voted to ban trail hunting on National Trust land amid fears it was being used as a ‘smokescreen’ for chasing and killing foxes.
The National Trust has been embroiled in a battle with a splinter group called Restore Trust (RT) whose members have become enraged by the way some of its properties have been ‘blacklisted’ over alleged links to colonialism and slavery. Pictured, Chartwell House in Kent
Trail hunting is legal but the motion’s proposers said that ‘overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that trail hunting is a cover for hunting with dogs’.
Restore Trust, which claims to have a £50,000 war chest and about 10,000 present and former Trust members in its ranks, had backed six candidates for vacant positions on the 36-seat governing council, with three being voted in.
RT backed three resolutions. Two of them, concerning the treatment of curators and volunteers, were narrowly defeated by about 2,500 votes each.
The third, a proposal to disclose in full the pay of the National Trust’s senior staff, was carried by an overwhelming majority of about 120,000.
However, the Trust also backed the motion because it was ‘confident’ that it already complied with the resolution, effectively meaning nothing will change.
The National Trust denied the resolutions were only defeated because of the chairman’s discretionary votes.
A spokesperson said: ‘Discretionary votes are still cast by current members, the only difference being they choose to appoint the Chair of the meeting to vote on their behalf. The Trust publicises in its AGM booklet and on its website which way its trustees recommend members vote. So anyone choosing a discretionary vote will know whether their vote will be cast for or against a resolution. If anyone is unsure they can use the abstain option.’