The National Trust council is once again beleaguered by activists from within with an ‘anti-woke’ ideological campaign. The Restore Trust has a new list of candidates for the upcoming council elections and, this time, has been endorsed by Nigel Farage. It’s not surprising, he’s a family friend of one of the candidates.
Founded in 2021 in response to the publication of a report entitled ‘Addressing our histories of colonial and historical slavery’, Restore Trust describes itself as a forum where members, supporters and friends of the National Trust can discuss their concerns about the future of the organisation. It puts forward candidates to stand in the annual elections to the Trust’s governing council. But concerns have been growing that the campaign group is the result of a wider astroturfing campaign representing lobby groups with a specific and non-disclosed agenda.
In their 2021 campaign, presenting themselves as a grassroots group concerned for the future of the Trust, they won three out of the six available seats. At the time the group, its candidates and aims were relatively unknown, and despite a National Trust membership of 5.7 million, a negligible number of them typically vote in the council elections.
By 2022, the origins of Restore Trust started to be investigated and various articles were published questioning the real motives of the group. Twitter was alive with debate around the subject and the Restore Trust appeared caught out, firing off tweets to defend itself and denying any links to Tufton Street and the think tanks to which one of its founders, Neil Record, is linked. The twitter account was managed by an anonymous representative who was very sensitive to people posing awkward questions. They failed to win a single seat.
Farage and friends
This year, Farage has chosen to intervene in the campaign. Just this week he has waded into the debate saying that he hoped that Restore Trust “knocks a bit of common sense into what was once the great National Trust” and urged people to vote accordingly in the elections to save the Trust from ruin.
As already mentioned, this should not come as a surprise, as Farage is friends with one of the candidates. Specifically, Lady Violet Manners.
Manners is the eldest daughter of UKIP supporter the Duke of Rutland and her family’s estate, Belvoir Castle, has hosted fundraising events for the party. Farage has been a dinner guest at the castle which boasts 356 rooms and 16,000 acres of land. Manners and her two sisters were described by Tatler as the “best loaders in the UK”, referring to their skill in reloading guns with cartridges while hunting.
Apart from Lady Manners, others on the list include Philip Merricks, who in 2015 drew criticism from environmentalists over allegations that the bird life charity of which he was the chair, the Hawk and Owl Trust, had ‘got into bed’ with the grouse shooting industry. The blog, Raptor Persecution UK suggests that the charity lost its president, Chris Packham, as a result of the dispute along with many members.
Then there’s Lord Jonathan Sumption. He is an author, historian, former barrister, retired senior judge and proclaimed libertarian. The last case he tried as a barrister was defending the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in the controversial Berezovsky vs Abramovich case of 2012 in which he is reported to have earned the highest legal fee in British history. During the pandemic he was a prominent critic of Covid lockdowns and provoked outrage by telling the BBC that he didn’t consider all lives to be of equal value.
Candidate Andrew Gimson is described as a brilliant sketch writer by Charles Moore, his close friend and former editor of the Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Spectator. Concerned by the advance of ‘woke’ ideas, he has written for Conservative Home about ‘woke’ banks and ‘woke’ capitalism.
The remaining candidate is Philip Gibbs, and maybe it’s third time lucky for him as he has been a candidate every year since 2021.
Perhaps Neil MacGregor, former head of the British Museum sums up the appeal of the Restore Trust to the candidates. He thinks that it’s not the National Trust that’s being debated, but the nation’s history. “How you describe your past is always … how you describe what you want it to be.”
The candidates themselves have every right to put themselves forward and to hold the views they have. The problem isn’t so much the personalities standing for election, but the fact they appear to be representing a group which is in opposition to the Trust itself.
The National Trust and wider divisions
The National Trust, as owner of more than 1,300 farms, 775 miles of coastline and 250,000 hectares of land, is Britain’s largest private landowner. They have extraordinary powers to keep their properties safe from purchase by companies and interest groups who may wish to exploit such rich territory for financial purposes, including from compulsory purchase by the government.
It has recently embraced the concept of transition to net zero for its properties by 2030 and is providing the public with historically accurate information about the properties under its charge.
Whilst responding to a range of different grievances, Restore Trust putting up candidates for the elections to the National Trust council has the distinct whiff of UKIP standing MEPs in the EU parliament about it. Or of UKIP entryists joining the Conservative Party in 2019 to change it from within.
The appearance of Farage on the scene only serves to complete the picture.