Friday 8 September 2023

The Resistible Rise of Restore Trust

 ‘Tis the season for National Trust voting again. And once again Restore Trust have posted their very helpful list of people not to vote for.

Restore Trust thinks the National Trust has a problem. Or, to be more accurate, Restore Trust wants the rest of us to think the National Trust has a problem. On the face of it, Restore Trust are very nice people. But there is a not so very hidden agenda.

First of all, they claim to be independent. They claim that having an office at 55, Tufton Street is just coincidence. 55, Tufton Street houses a bunch of opaque organisations with right wing libertarian and climate sceptic agendas. Their common feature, apart from their very right wing politics, is their opaqueness. Restore Trust claimed not to be connected to any other organisation there until it was pointed out that board member Neil Record was chair of the IEA and climate change deniers Net Zero Watch. Restore Trust’s director, Zewditu Gebreyohanes, previously worked at Policy Exchange, which is described by George Monbiot as “a dark money lobby group, and one of the most deadly anti-environmental organisations in the UK”. They claim that all their funding is from small donors without revealing any of the sources – in common with most if not all the other tenants of Tufton Street.

They rely on imprecision, impression and deniability. For instance, the X (Twitter) handle RestoreTrustNT mimics National Trust practice, such as ClandonParkNT, SheffieldParkNT, giving the impression that they are connected to the main body. When pressed they will deny it, "Of course not, don't be silly", but the impression is there in the background.

They have a mantra - a form of words that gets repeated and repeated and repeated. In this case it is "get back to its original purpose". They provide little evidence that it has strayed from its initial purpose, and the evidence they do provide is very low quality. (More of that later.) They couch the idea of "original purpose" in their own language, without referring to the formal objects of the National Trust, which might not help their cause.

Such evidence as they use tends to get reused and repurposed over and over again, and is of very poor quality. The most notorious is the Hanbury Hall torchères, which they alleged had been removed because of a "woke agenda". Hanbury Hall corrected them, saying that the torchères were in a fragile state and had been removed from public view for protection and renovation. The inaccurate tweet has not been deleted, which would be standard practice for an organisation that respected the truth. (The tweet is here - checked on Sept 8th 2023.)

You might wonder what would happen if the National Trust did all the things Restore Trust wants. But culture wars, such as the campaign Restore Trust is waging, are not about results. They don't care if the National Trust changes or not; what they want is to keep their audience angry, like Dacre's Daily Mail, just angry enough to keep supporting Restore Trust. If the National Trust changed everything to be the way Restore Trust says it wants them to be, Restore Trust would find something else to complain about. What they want is a constant state of pre-emptive resentment.

What is the end game? They don’t say. Apart from abolishing woke. But I have a notion. It comes in two forms. One is to be a permanent thorn in the flesh - that would suit them quite nicely, so that they can push Tufton Street's exploitative agenda in the culture sphere. The second is more ambitious, and, frankly for me more frightening. They would enjoy being in charge of the National Trust. They would enjoy having a majority on the Council, appointing a chief executive sympathetic to their aims. They could claim to have won and no doubt all reference to slavery would disappear from all NT properties. And Restore Trust would have a direct line to the minds of the National Trust's membership: nearly six million thoughtful British people (thoughtful, but mostly "unpolitical" hence ripe for cultivating). What might they do with publications like the NT magazine to push their right wing exploitative agenda? Restore Trust, in my opinion, does not have the interests of the National Trust at heart at all. What they want is disruption and control for their own agenda. I would urge all National Trust members to resist. The immediate way to resist is to vote for the Council’s recommended candidates, and nobody else.